Work and Life in the Mobile Society/Technology/GPS

How is GPS leaving its mark on mobile society?

We will explore how Geographic Information Systems, the Global Positioning System, and mapping are being used together and how this merging of technology is leaving its mark on our mobile society.

Geographic Information Systems


Imagine you could represent on a map of an area being considered for development the number of people in every home as well as the age, gender and income of those same people living near by? This would no doubt be a powerful tool to help the government and urban planners make educated decisions regarding how to develop the area in question. This is one example of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). GIS technologies were predominantly used at first by governments and planners for this very purpose. A common example of how GIS technology is being used today would be entering an address as a point of origin and another one for a destination on MapQuest or Google Maps. You can then request directions from the first point to the second. “GIS technology allows users to use a digital map, combined with statistical or other featured information about that area, and conduct spatial analyses (Stone, 1998).”

Global Positioning System


In the early 1970s the US government developed Global Positioning System (GPS) as a way to deliver weapons to their targets with more precision. This technology consists of a network of satellites that send out radio waves. Devices on earth can use these signals to triangulate a location. Today, standard civilian GPS technology is used to triangulate to an accuracy of about 10 feet (Mcginn, 2007).

GIS and GPS Together


“By 2004, Garmin’s StreetPilot series offered touch-screen controls and preloaded maps. Reviewers loved it, and the market took off (Mcginn, 2007).” Most GPS units today, have software on them that compiles the triangulated coordinates and displays the unit’s location on some kind of map, making them a kind of GIS in their own right. Drivers, cyclists and joggers alike, have the ability to enter addresses such as in our example above and get verbal, turn by turn directions to get them where they are going.



Today, GPS technology is being used for five primary applications:

Navigation: As well as turn by turn directions, GPS technology today offers points of interest, such as restaurants or pet friendly hotels (Mcginn, 2007). This requires extensive GIS systems running in the background.

Emergency location: GPS technology is being used as emergency locator beacons by boaters who may fall overboard, downed airplanes, hikers and mountain climbers.

Data Logging: When live tracking isn’t necessary, a less expensive option is for a unit to log its location every few minutes. This data can later be downloaded to a computer for analyses. This way the routs, average speeds of travel and length of stops can be ascertained.

Tracking: Real time tracking can be used for various applications such as asset management or security. High value assets can be tracked in real time in this way.

Asset management: A fleet manager overseeing a number of service vehicles can more effectively manage routes or identify the closest truck for new service calls using GPS technology (Sheinberg, 2008).

This technology is becoming more and more mainstream as it becomes more accessible and more affordable. Today, many cellular phones are being equipped with GPS technology. GPS manufacturers are offering more and more services on their personal navigational devices in hopes of turning them into a daily information portal that will compete with what is being offered on cell phones (Mcginn, 2007).



Some recent advances in this technology include Assisted GPS (AGPS) and Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) GPS. AGPS is assisted by cellular signals to maintain tracking abilities even when there is no line of site with the GPS satellites (Sheinberg, 2008). RTK GPS allows a surveyed GPS base station to be used to make real-time corrections to GPS data, raising the GPS accuracy to the centimeter level, within a defined area. The regional manager of one construction equipment manufacturer says that GPS technology has increased productivity by 40% or more in construction projects (Hildreth, 2007).

Some other applications of personal GPS units include things such as chaperone services, buddy lists overlaid on a map or geocaching. The chaperone service allows parents to track their kids and receive messages when they arrive at their destination. The buddy list will send an alarm to users when they are within a certain distance of someone on their buddy list facilitating spur-of-the-moment encounters. Geocaching is a GPS game best described as a global treasure hunt using web posted coordinates (Hesseldahl, 2007).



GPS and GIS technologies have made their marks on today’s mobile society. Users can obtain navigational and point of interest data on the fly and nearly instantaneously. They can better track, secure and manage assets. As these technologies become more commonplace and it becomes more and more accepted to allow commercial entities to track our every move through our GPS enabled personal devices, we should however ask ourselves one question. Are we getting closer and closer to George Orwell’s representation of our world of the future?


  • Hesseldahl, Arik. (2007, November). THE PAPERLESS MAP IS THE KILLER APP :Forget media downloads. Cell customers really want GPS and navigation features. Business Week,(4060), 71. Retrieved October 24, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1386262691).
  • Hildreth, Sue. (2007, April). ON THE CORPORATE RADAR. Computerworld, 41(14), 23,26. Retrieved October 24, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1253810501).
  • Mcginn, Daniel. (2007, November). Setting A New Course :Garmin is a leader in consumer GPS technology. But it now faces plummeting prices and competition from cell phones. Can the company find its way?. Newsweek, 150(21), E10. Retrieved October 24, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1382110921).
  • Sheinberg, Brian. (2008, September). Cover Your Assets And Track Them Too -- GPS technology matures as a viable security option. CRN: CRNtech 20,20. Retrieved October 24, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1559060191).
  • Stone, Jennifer. (1998, May). Geographic information systems. Online, 22(3), 65-70. Retrieved October 24, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 29397050).