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The evolution of GPS

October 12, 2020  - By
Headshot: Clem Driscoll

Clem Driscoll, founder & principal, C.J. Driscoll & Associates

I spent much of the 1980s working for Magnavox Government & Industrial Electronics Company, which held a number of patents on the GPS system and also developed prototype GPS user sets for the military. I, and others at the company, often gave presentations to industry groups talking about the many commercial and consumer applications for which GPS would be used as the cost and size of GPS receivers declined. By the early 2000s, the applications we had envisioned had been far surpassed.

In the early 1990s, I spent several years at Teletrac, now Teletrac Navman, which was beginning to market a vehicle tracking solution based on its own proprietary time-difference-of-arrival (TDOA) technology, using in-vehicle devices and metro-area-based receiving/transmitting towers. One day, the co-founder and chairman of the company roamed into my office for an update on sales and marketing progress. I changed the subject and, at some risk to my job, said “Dennis, the future of location technology is GPS. It will not just be used to locate vehicles, but even cellular phones. With teams of talented engineers focused on reducing the size and cost of receivers and adapting them to specific applications, ‘the sky is the limit’.” He didn’t fire me, but spent the rest of our discussion telling me why I was wrong — that GPS receivers would always be too large, too expensive, too susceptible to signal blockage, and other limitations.

Thirty years later, the applications I had envisioned for GPS have been greatly surpassed and are constantly expanding. In recent years, my primary focus has been on researching the growth and trends of the commercial telematics market in the U.S. and abroad. Today, in the U.S. alone, some 16 million GPS devices are being used to monitor fleet vehicles and assets, such as trailers and heavy construction equipment. Even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the market remains stable and is on track to grow for the year.

In the future, GPS will play an essential role in the deployment of autonomous vehicles, with help from other technologies needed to optimize location accuracy and reliability. My hat is off to the founding fathers of GPS who include some of the most brilliant technologists of this era.

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