The global positioning system (GPS) was originally designed for military and intelligence applications at the height of the Cold War in the 1960s. However, since the 1980s, GPS has been available for civilian applications. Today, millions of users rely on satellite navigation for finding their way from A to B and a whole lot more besides.
The most obvious GPS application is satellite navigation for vehicles, aircraft and shipping. It allows anyone with a GPS receiver to pinpoint their speed and position on the map, in the air, or at sea, all with incredible accuracy. Drivers can use in-vehicle, portable Sat Nav devices to follow a route, find detours around traffic problems and with additional software loaded get traffic alerts and warnings on safety camera locations.
GPS is used by a wide variety of users. Hikers and others enjoying the great outdoors can use GPS receivers to make sure they are following their chosen route and to mark rendezvous points along the way. While gamers can take part in geocaching, a kind of treasure hunt for the digital age, which uses precise GPS signals to help the players track down a hidden stash.
The emergency services, for instance, can use GPS not only to find their way to an incident more quickly than ever before but also to pinpoint the location of accident and allow follow-up staff to find the scene quickly. This is particularly useful to search and rescue at sea and in extreme weather conditions on land where time can be a matter of life or death.
Scientists and engineers also have applications for GPS receivers, in scientific experiments, and in monitoring geological activity such as earth tremors, earthquakes and volcanic rumblings. They can use strategically positioned GPS devices to assist them in tracking climate change and other phenomena. Fundamentally, GPS can now be used to produce very accurate maps.