Have you ever been driving down the road, happily following your satellite navigation, when the thought hits you… what is GPS? How does it know where I am and how does it know which direction I’m going?

For most of us, we’re just happy to go with the flow and let it take us to our destination, but for those of us who are a little more inquisitive, we wonder about these things.

Well, you’ve come to the right place! We’re going to give you a quick rundown of what GPS is, so keep reading if you want to find out!

What Does GPS Stand For?

Let’s get this one out of the way—GPS stands for Global Positioning System. Makes sense, right? In fact, you might have even been able to guess that’s what it stands for.

While there’s no “wow” moment of its invention like there is for electricity, there is a fascinating story behind the history of GPS and how it came about. 

How Does GPS Work?

Have you ever been walking down the road and an ambulance or a fire engine whizzes past you? You’ll have noticed that the tone of the siren changes as it approaches and passes you. This is a phenomenon called the Doppler effect, and it’s this that is the basis of GPS.

Scientists were able to use the Doppler Effect on the radio waves from the Sputnik satellite to track its movements. 

You’re Watching Big Brother, Not the Other Way Around

You’d be forgiven for thinking that GPS works like this—satellites are watching your phone on your car and are able to locate exactly where you are. But it’s actually the other way around.

Your GPS device essentially receives signals not from one satellite, but from several. These satellites are in a very specific orbit, and so your device knows based on the information it receives where each one is.

Once it has decoded the information from several satellites, it’s able to figure out where you are.

What Happens Next?

Of course, we non-scientists need a way to see exactly what the result of all that processing and decoding is. Your GPS device, whether it’s a watch, a phone, or a car infotainment system, will cleverly display your position on a map.

When it’s linked with a map system, it can also provide you the exact route you need to take to get to your destination. Very clever! Check out castnav.com for some incredible positioning solutions.

What Is GPS? Now You Know

Now that you’ve read this very basic guide, you never need to ask again, “what is GPS?”

Technology is amazing, and because it’s all displayed to us on pretty screens, we often don’t consider the incredible processes that are going on behind the scenes.

So next time you’re holding your phone up high in the air trying to get a signal, just remember that you’re aiming for lots of satellites rather than just one!

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