The Evolution of Portable GPS

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While the term GPS might seem like a relatively new technology, the beginnings of what we use today were started in 1958 by the U.S. Navy when Roger L. Easton created the Navy Space Surveillance System. Over the past 50 years GPS has evolved from military to civilian use, and can be found in everything from running watches to cell phones.

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The Evolution of Portable GPS infographic

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GPS Available to Civilians

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan allowed access to GPS for applications in the civilian sector such as aircraft use, shipping, and transport for location purposes to avoid entering into restricted foreign areas. In 1989 NAVSTAR launched the first production GPS satellite after a great deal of testing. GPS was widely used for the first time in combat during the Gulf War between 1990 and 1991. Additionally, the United States military used selective availability for GPS by scrambling public GPS signals to protect national security.

GPS Became Even More Accessible

The GPS system, including 24 satellites, is fully operational by the year 1995. By the year 2000, President Bill Clinton signed off on a bill that discontinued the use of the selective availability in an effort to provide more reliability for civilian and commercial GPS users worldwide. Continuing the progress of technology, the Federal Aviation Administration created the wide area augmentation system (WAAS) to help improve accuracy for aviation. This technology also proved useful in turn-by-turn directions for automobile GPS use.

The Number of Satellites Increase

In 2010, the U.S. Air Force released a new group of satellites called GPS IIF to include advanced features with 8 out of 11 of them in orbit. The production of a group of satellites called GPS III started with all including advanced features and without selective availability. By 2015, there was a new group or block of satellites called the GPS III that had begun production, also without selective availability and with advanced features. The expected launch was 2016, when production started.

Automobile Applications

While GPS had come a long way over the years, the portability of it was the most impressive and markedly useful feature of all. In-car GPS got a good start with the GuideStar developed by GM for the Oldsmobile 88 in 1995. This consisted of a removable display that was mountable on an adjustable dashboard fixture, a computer within the trunk, an antenna in the rear window and a cassette with the operating software and mapping information. The typical cost here was $1,995.

The BMW IDrive was created in 2001 and is still available today. This system was essentially a GPS computer in the trunk of the vehicle with only map CD reading capability when it was first developed. By 2003 DVD updates where created for the GPS offering a faster processor and birdview map display capability.

The Audi MMI Navigation system was developed in 2002 and is still available. This includes a touch screen that rises up from the dash, Google Earth capability and has detailed mapping. The cost for this system is typically between $2,000 and $3,000. The MyFord Touch goes even further and has been around since 2010. This is a map-based navigation application that works through an optional SD card provided by TeleNav. Since an SD card is smaller than the CD or DVD versions, it is easier to manage and place in the vehicle. The average cost of this is $795.

Hand Held and Non-Vehicle Options

An even more portable version of GPS is found in the non-vehicle options such as the Texas Instruments TI 4100 NavStar Navigation developed in 1981. This was the first commercial GPS receiver and offered portability to everyone in the commercial arena interested with a weight of 53 pounds, size of 14.7 x 7.5 x 8.3 inches and a cost of over $100,000.

Next in line in 1989 came the Magellan Nav 1000 as the first consumer hand-held GPS device weighing 1.5 pounds, measuring 8.75 x 3.5 x 2.25 inches and having a cost of $2,000. In 1999 the Benefon Esc! was developed as the first mobile phone with GPS available to the commercial sector. This came with a weight of 5.29 ounces and a size of 5.08 x 1.93 x 0.9 inches. The phone was primarily sold in Europe yet was a trailblazer for the future GPS-enabled phones.

The Garmin Nüvi 2457LMT came on the scene in 2013 as the one of the smallest GPS receivers for the automobile. The weight was 5.5 ounces, the size was 4.8x 3.0 x 0.76 inches and the cost was $159.99. When it comes to small, the Retrievor RET-100 developed in 2013 was the smallest fully integrated GPS including on-board antenna. The weight was 0.4 ounces, the size was 28 mm x 10 mm and the average cost was $299.

GPS You Can Wear Makes the Scene

Wearable GPS has been one of the most rapidly changing forms over the years. In 1999 Casio created the GPS Watch weighing only 5.2 ounces with a cost of $500-$600. By 2013 the smart phone and GPS combined to create the Vuzix M100 Smart Glasses allowing the user to have hands-free smartphone display with wireless connectivity. The weight on this was 13.1 ounces and the cost $999. 2014 brought the Sony Smartwatch 3 SWR50 being the first smartwatch to support offline music and GPS. The weight was 1.59 ounces and the cost was $249.

Unique GPS Products

In addition to the many practical products developed over the years integrating GPS, there have been some unique GPS products. The Zeal/Recon Transcend Ski Goggles developed in 2010 give the user GPS head-mounted display options so they can keep track of where they are with on-board sensors. In 2011 Pioneer developed the Avic-VH09CS which offered the first in-dash GPS system to use augmented reality or AR. There is also the Canon GPS Receiver GP-E2 with the ability to catch digital recordings of GPS information and the SkyCaddie Touch GPS with pre-loaded golf courses numbering 35,000.

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At the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, graduates of the online Master of Science in Electrical Engineering program are equipped with the skills to research, design, develop, and test new technologies and industry applications — and to position themselves as leaders.