It's a GPS World

Farmers are tracking their Holsteins, parents are Lojacking their kids, and geocaching escapes the basement. Let us count the ways GPS has infiltrated the world.

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In 1993 when the modern incarnation of GPS (Global Positioning System) became “fully operational”–thanks to the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force 50th Space Wing*–suddenly hikers everywhere stopped getting lost and gas stations attendants were off the hook for misguiding poor, lost tourists. The value of a compass plummeted and people began lining up to offer their voices to Garmin.

WELL…perhaps the release of GPS wasn’t revolutionary overnight, but in the 16 years since it has become a household term and a staple of many daily activities and technical products. Besides being at work in the hand-held devices favored by hikers, or the dashboard models favored by drivers, GPS has inserted itself into the lives of farm animals, helicopter parents, and, even, Al Gore. Here, a look at the unique ways GPS is swirling around us everyday.

1. Swap Bessie’s Bell for a Tracking System

It’s called the National Animal Identification System, and the reasoning behind this U.S. Department of Agriculture program is to isolate/expose the sources of tainted beef, milk, etc. that find their way into the food chain (of humans or animals). It’s great in theory, but the three-tiered system (Premise Registration, Animal Identification, and Animal Tracking–insert GPS relevance here) is a daunting task to any farm with more than one moo cow.

2. Similar But Different: Precision Farming

The adoption of precision farming allows farmers to apply their precious resources (fertilizer, manpower, etc.) to the plots of earth that need it most. GPS is part of a stable of modern-day technologies that farmers are employing to assess their soil’s needs.

3. Geocaching!

GPS has become a sport, a hobby, and a game. The federal government must be so proud–it’s like Dungeons & Dragons for the outdoorsy.

4. The Military/The Government

I don’t even want to know, to be truthful. But, according to Wikipedia (which is never wrong), “In 1998, U.S. Vice President Al Gore announced plans to upgrade GPS with two new civilian signals for enhanced user accuracy and reliability, particularly with respect to aviation safety.” That was after he created the Internet, but before his PowerPoint presentation took over the world.

5. Toddlers on the Lam

Now, when Billy’s harness breaks free or Lindsay’s roller-skating shoes kick into overdrive, hovering parents can rest easy if their child is being tracked by Location Based Technologies’ PocketFinder. A New York Times’ writer (Azadeh Ensha) called it “Lojack, but for people” and that’s so true. The possibilities for this pocket tracker are endless: You can track your own Fed-Ex packages (might want to confirm that), receive an email when gramps arrives at his favorite karaoke bar, and even find out where your dog Rufus is really hiding your missing socks. –Katie Herrell

Now it’s your turn: Fill us in on all the ingenious or grievous uses you know for GPS in the comments’ section below.

* Source: Wikipedia; (The National Academies National Academy of Sciences