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Posts under tag: mapping

April 12, 2016

Have we become too reliant on GPS?


In 2008, a Syrian truck driver was faithfully following his satellite navigation system and ended up 1,600 miles away from where he was supposed to be. He’d meant to go to Gibraltar, off the south coast of Spain. He arrived at Gibraltar Point, England, surrounded by a group of befuddled birdwatchers. For most of us, GPS works extremely well. The mapping apps on our mobile devices get us to where we need to go and are very accurate–so much so that we don’t think twice about it. However, GPS can fail miserably in unexpected ways.

The Global Positioning System consists of 31 satellites orbiting Earth from 12,550 miles up, transmitting signals as they go. The system was designed to assist the Department of Defense with military navigation but can now be accessed to anyone who has a GPS receiver in their car or phone. The receiver needs to receive at least four signals to determine its location.

Roger McKinlay, president of the Royal Institute of Navigation, submitted a paper on the subject highlighting that more satellite systems will help to improve accuracy over time (he specifically mentions the efforts of the European Union, Russia, and China respectively) but that knowing your position is only the beginning:

A sense of direction, a sense of scale and a map are essential. And knowledge of where you want to go also helps. The disappearance in 2014 of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is a reminder of the vastness of our world.

Navigation is where complex systems meet capable users. Marrying them to enable truly intelligent transport will position us to get the best out of people and technology across many fields. The solutions lie around the next bend, just over the hill.

McKinlay goes on to advocate for a tripartite approach to greater capability both in navigation technology and navigation and orienteering education to be able “to¬†make better use of our innate capabilities. Machines know where they are, not the best way to get to a destination; it might be more reliable to employ a human driver than to program an autonomous car to avert crashes. If we do not cherish them, our natural navigation abilities will deteriorate as we rely ever more on smart devices.”

For more information on this topic, check out these articles:

Roger McKinlay’s paper on the interaction between technology and innate navigation.

Vox wrote an article on the possibility of the over-reliance on GPS systems and the correlation between navigation and the size of the hippocampus.