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Chapter 2: Global Positioning System

Information Technologies of Tomorrow
The evolution of information technologies has surpassed expectations for more than a half-century, and the next
50 years hold even greater promise. As researchers improve the intelligence capabilities of computers — particularly the ability to imitate the human process of reasoning — they will become an integral support in key decision processes. Decisions that include large numbers of factors involving natural and human processes, such as those on the military battlefield, will benefit from this capability. Soldiers will carry wireless devices with sensors that will “read” their surroundings — physical terrain, air quality, and compass direction — as well as the soldier's own vital signs. A tiny transmitter will continuously relay the data back to a command post for analysis by larger computers as part of an ongoing, real-time decision-making process. As a result, commanders will have many more options available at an earlier stage, improving the chances for military success.

Closer to home, we need only consider that there are an estimated 20 billion microprocessors embedded in products around the world other than computers: our cars, watches, air conditioners, microwav e ovens, and VCRs. Soon we will live in “smart houses,” where we will plug dishwashers, clocks, stereos, and other household appliances into the Internet along with the electric power grid. At that point, instead of e-mailing home to ask the family to start dinner, we'll be able to e-mail our kitchen appliances directly and order them to move the lasagna from the refrigerator to the oven and cook it at 375° for 45 minutes. The ma rvels of the Information Age are limited only by the imagination of future engineers and consumers.

Mapping Remote Regions

GPS technology has become instrumental in efforts to map remote regions. The GPS network enables cartographers to create extremely accurate maps of previously uncharted territory.

G PS has brought enormous benefits to people who live, work, and play in uncharted terrain. For example, there was no reliable map of China Camp, a 1,600-acre site in Marin County, CA, which draws more than 2,000 hikers, campers, and mountain bikers every summer. Firefighters sometimes needed an hour or more to locate a wildfire — and even more time to find a lost or injured hiker. Now firefighters ride the tr ails of the park on a mountain bike, using GPS data to follow a highly accurate computerized map of China Camp that can be used by visitors as well as emergency personnel. These maps have decreased the department's average emergency response time to
20 minutes.

Across the globe, in sub-Saharan Africa, malaria takes the lives of more than 1.5 million infants and children under the age of five each year. In 1995, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initiated a five-year study of the disease, using GPS equipment to map the location of 450 households, three rivers, major roads (permanent and seasonal), mosquito breeding sites, medicine stores, local health clinics, a lakeshore, and other relevant features. By providing more accurate maps of locales — and even establish ing clear correlations between specific dwellings and frequency of illness — the project has quickly demonstrated the practical value of GPS for researching tropical diseases
in remote locations.

What would it be worth if you could pinpoint your location anywhere on Earth, whenever you might need to know it, to an accuracy within a few hundred feet, usin g only an inexpensive handheld device? Would you answer this question differently if you were an airline pilot concerned that you had drifted off course? What if you were general manager of a trucking company trying to save time and money as you schedule the next two days' pickups and deliveries for a fleet of 200 long-haul trucks? What if you were a weekend sailor sending a distress radio call because you're in danger?

During the past decade, real people like those described — and thousands of others in a wide range of scenarios — have relied increasingly on the Global Positioning System (GPS) to calculate precise location. This ability, undreamed of before the age of satellites, has already saved countless lives and dollars for those who use it.
GPS consists of a constellation of 24 satellites that orbit the Earth every 12 hours, each emitt ing radio signals coded with data about its position and the time — accurate to within a billionth of a second. The satellites are deployed so that every point on Earth can always receive signals from at least four satellites. Receivers on Earth interpret these signals to pinpoint their own positions, anywhere on the globe, at any time of day or night, in any kind of weather.

Saving Lives

Mitch Buffim of Buffalo, New York, knows firsthand what GPS can do. Buffim is one of 500 volunteers in Erie County who are testing a new GPS-based automatic collision notification (ACN) system . After working a late shift one night last April, Buffim fell asleep at the wheel while driving home on a rural road. His car ran off the road, rolled on its side, and slid down a steep embankment. With no witnesses and his car invisible
from the roadway, he could have waited hours for help. However, almost before the car stopped moving, Buffim heard the emergency dispatcher's voice in t he car. “This is Erie County Dispatch. We have your location. Are there any injuries? How many occupants are in your car?” Thanks to the ACN system in Buffim's vehicle, the dispatcher knew the exact location of the vehicle, its speed, and the force of the impact. Help was on the way almost instantly. Single-vehicle rural crashes like Buffim's account for one-third of all fatal crashes nationwi de. ACN is connecting these crash victims with emergency care well within the “golden hour” that often means the difference between life and death. If help can arrive ten minutes sooner during this first hour, 9,000 lives may be saved across the nation each year.

A Breakthrough Based on Basic Research
The GPS we use today would not have been possible wit hout basic scientific research in atomic and molecular physics or advances in satellite, launch vehicle, and telecommunications technology. GPS technology actually grew out of pure physics research, starting in the 1930s, by scientists studying the nature of the universe and how to measure time exactly. By the 1950s, this research had developed extremely accurate atomic clocks, which would later be crucial in developing the concept of GPS. The adve nt of space satellites, with the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik I in 1957, allowed scientists and engineers to envision a system of navigation that would rely on satellite signals keyed to precise timekeeping. By 1973, the Department of Defense had approved the navigational concept that became GPS. Rockwell International began building the Navstar satellites that make up the GPS constellaion, each the size of a large automobile and weighing slightly less than a ton. In 1978, the first GPS satellite became operational; by 1993, the full 24-satellite system was in use. Technological advances in solid state electronics, microchips, and microwaves also contributed to the commercial success of GPS. In 1983, the first GPS receivers cost over $150,000 and weighed more than 100 pounds. Today, a handheld GPS receiver weighing less than a pound can be purchased for less than $100.

Most Americans first became aware of GPS when the U.S. military used it successfully in the 1991 Gulf War to target “smart” bombs and cruise missiles. In the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq, GPS gave U.S. forces a precise and reliable sense of where they were in unfamiliar territory. GPS again made headlines in 1999, when a U.S. F-16 went down in the northwestern part of Serbia during Operation Allied Force in the liberation of Kosovo. The Ame rican pilot was rescued by NATO forces and taken to safety within a matter of two hours, thanks to GPS technology.

Improving Transportation Efficiency

Public and private organizations rely on GPS and other technologies to improve transportation safety and efficiency. The cascade of benefits includes millions of dollars in savings thr oughout the economy, enhanced customer satisfaction, and improved air quality. For example, each of Denver's 800 buses is equipped with a GPS-based automatic vehicle location system that reports the location of the bus every two minutes. Dispatchers have improved their ability to keep buses running on time by viewing bus locations on computer screens that are fully integrated with digital city maps. The syst em is credited with increasing use of the bus system, relieving traffic congestion, and reducing smog.

GPS tracking technology at the American President Line's Global Gateway South at the Port of Los Angeles automatically matches a cargo container's identification number with its location in the yard. Back at the terminal, a computer stores the GPS location and con tent data for each container. Using on-board navigation, drivers can now negotiate the 6,000-space holding tank and drive straight to the proper container the first time, eliminating costly mistakes and saving time and money. The system increases the overall efficiency of the cargo storage space, an important benefit for port facilities with no room for expansion.

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