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The Innovative Ways GPS Is Being Used in Today's Society

10/08/2015 05:26 EDT | Updated 10/08/2016 05:12 EDT
BlackJack3D via Getty Images

The Global Positioning System, more commonly known by the abbreviation GPS, is much more than a simple map tool for driving. While using GPS satellite navigation can help save time and gas money on long car trips, GPS applications go far beyond travel to areas such as farming, animal tracking, and even gaming.

After getting its start in the U.S. military in the mid-1990s, having been in development for two decades prior, GPS expanded and became available for civilian use in the early 2000s.

As with any new tool, humans want to use it for everything they can; the increasing availability of GPS to the public has led to many new insights, with more uses emerging every day. The following applications represent just a few of the many innovations for GPS technology so far.

Improving Agriculture

As the human population continues to grow, efficient food production is becoming increasingly important. One way farmers are keeping food prices down and supply up is by using GPS technology in agriculture to guide their tractors and provide more precise data for planting and harvesting. Large-scale and smaller farms alike are combining GPS with other technology, such as geographic information systems, or GIS, to optimize factors such as soil treatments and proper irrigation for various types of crops.

Monitoring Vehicle Usage

Whether there is suspected misuse of government vehicles or a company wants to make sure its trucks are not taking detours to pick up illegal merchandise, attaching a GPS transmitter to a vehicle provides for a relatively inexpensive crime deterrent. One type of transmitter on the market is the Plug N Track GPS device, which attaches inconspicuously to the car's computer system through the ODB-II port under the dashboard. Keeping track of government vehicles ultimately saves taxpayer dollars while holding police and officials accountable for any visits to questionable locations. Meanwhile, heading off illegal trade with GPS technology saves more than money; it may even save lives by stemming the trade of dangerous illegal drugs, for instance.

Tracking Endangered Species

Most animal activists would agree that prevention is preferable to punishment after the fact when it comes to illegal poaching and trade of exotic animals. National Geographic has already employed GPS toward saving elephants, producing and circulating artificial ivory embedded with GPS tracking devices in order to investigate and put an end to the criminal organizations largely responsible for the ivory trade. Tracking collars worn by endangered animals also help zoologists discover how changing environments affect species' habits so they can implement successful preservation strategies.

Tracking Children and Elderly Individuals

In an increasingly busy world, losing track of a vulnerable loved one can be a terrifying experience. With a GPS wristband and a corresponding app, wandering children and their grandparents can be located quickly and easily without the family needing to alert the authorities. Some GPS locators, such as the Caref GPS phone watch, also allow users to talk to caretakers through them while looking like nothing more than a typical wristwatch. This technology is already allowing many seniors to enjoy increased independence later in life than has been previously possible. Similarly, parents are better able to find their children in a crowd when using GPS, helping would-be "helicopter" parents feel more at ease.

Real-world Gaming

People have been thinking up ways to have fun with GPS since it first hit the mainstream. Geocaching, a game in which individuals bury items and list a GPS location on a message board or app for others to find, has been around since the early 2000s. Pokémon GO is a much newer evolution of GPS gaming that is set to release in 2016, allowing players to use GPS to find monsters that they can see and train using an app on their smartphones and a specially designed, interactive bracelet. There has been further speculation as well regarding games that may combine virtual reality headsets and GPS to produce the most immersive gaming experiences yet, though no such game has been announced at this time.

These innovations are far from comprehensive since there are more novel uses for GPS being developed every day. GPS continues to connect the world and the people in it in ways never thought possible before, increasing both recreational and business opportunities as well as saving lives.

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