Uses for GPS

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The use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology is proliferating rapidly worldwide. The removal of selective availability has further increased the appeal of GPS. Here are just a few examples of the commercial and personal uses of GPS.

Auto Insurance Premiums

Launched in 1998 as a test pilot program, Progressive Auto Insurance equipped 1,000 vehicles in Houston with GPS devices that track the number of minutes customers drive as well as where and when. Called AutoGraph, driver’s premiums are based on the actual driving time rather than the traditional flat rate. Now offered as an insurance program, AutoGraph collects miles driven, where and speed once a month in order to streamline insurance costs.

Balloon TrackingThe website,, is one of two sites covering the annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, the nation’s largest hot-air and gas balloon meet. The festivities include a coast-to-coast balloon race, and this year the balloons are equipped with GPS units. The GPS coordinates of all the balloons are fed back to the website, so that when you click on the link to any particular racing team, the site’s GIS application uses those coordinates to display a series of maps provided by MapBlast. The maps are centered on a marker pointing out the last known coordinates of the balloon.

Business Logistics
A growing number of companies like actra and Air-Trak that dispatch fleets of delivery or repair trucks are tracking their vehicles via GPS in order to monitor their employees’ whereabouts and determine who to send to what job site.

In a program started by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in partnership with NavCom Technology Inc., (a wholly owned subsidiary of Deere & Company) GPS sensors will be attached to tractors. These sensors will help with navigation at night and during periods of poor visibility. In addition, soil sensors and other monitors will also help pinpoint locations where changes in watering, fertilization or weed control are necessary in the farmers’ fields.

GeoCaching was launched May 3, 2000 as a way of celebrating the lifting of Selective Availability. This game, played worldwide, sends eager GPSers on the hunt for hidden treasure with a pair of coordinates as the only clue.

Lost Pets
Several companies sell implants for the family pet that, like the Digital Angel, track an animal’s whereabouts and monitor its heart rate and temperature.

911 Assistance
Most cell companies can already pinpoint callers’ locations, and by 2002, the Federal Communication Commission will require all cell phone systems to have this capability so 911 calls can be tracked.

Personal Emergencies
Applied Digital Solutions has a GPS device called the “Digital Angel,” which is worn on a watch or taped to your body. By monitoring vital signs, Digital Angel is used to help summon medical help when the patient is unable to via wireless technology.

Roadside Assistance
OnStar uses GPS to track vehicles’ whereabouts and allows motorists to summon emergency help or to ask directions.

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