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GPS Slowly Changing How Things Are Done 292

Hemos forwarded me a link to a story at Fast Company about how GPS is changing the way people do business. Several good examples are used, from farmers in Alabama to anti-theft devices. Some notes on GPS' military origins as well. Also worth noting is how GPS, like computers, wasn't adopted overnight, but rather over time as applications were found.
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GPS Slowly Changing How Things Are Done

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  • No really! (Score:5, Funny)

    by I Like Swords!!! ( 668399 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @09:08PM (#6425715)
    "I'm working late tonight, don't wait up..."

    "Oh really? Then how come your cell phone is in Joe's Tavern with your secretary's pager bobbing over your coordinates?"


    ..err, I meant to say, cool!
  • Love My GPS! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NetJunkie ( 56134 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `hsan.nosaj'> on Saturday July 12, 2003 @09:09PM (#6425717)
    I have a Garmin GPS V and LOVE it. The turn-by-turn routing has been a huge help. We started looking to buy a house and would print out a ton of MLS listings. Without the GPS we'd have to spend a lot of time planning our route. With the GPS we just punch in the address of the next house and off we go. Very accurate.
    • Re:Love My GPS! (Score:4, Informative)

      by thynk ( 653762 ) <slashdot&thynk,us> on Saturday July 12, 2003 @09:42PM (#6425812) Homepage Journal
      What you should of done was planned the route for all the houses at once, then fed that info into your palm/ppc/gps device, probably would of saved a few miles on your total route. Or maybe that's what you did and I misread it.

      I've always wanted to do this for garage sales back when the technology was out of sight for prices. Now that it's cheap, I no longer do the garage sale circuit.
      • Handheld garmins can probably do this. However, 2 years ago, we were shopping for a car for my wife, who is a realtor. The factory-installed BMW GPS could do turn-by-turn directions, but only for 1 address at a time, and entering addresses was tedious.

      • This is the TPS ... if you're going to visit more than a couple of houses, you're going to need some serious computational power to get the optimal path.
      • I have a GPS V, and it can indeed do that. You can enter every house as a waypoint in advance, and then plan the route accordingly. Though if you wanted, you could also just enter every single address along the way, really wouldn't be that bad.
    • by NanoGator ( 522640 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @10:34PM (#6425983) Homepage Journal
      "The turn-by-turn routing has been a huge help. "

      My step mom has that feature built in too. My dad says the command recognition's a little off, tho.
    • I don't see how you need GPS for most urban areas, especially ones that you're already partially familiar with. Maps OTOH--I love having Mapopolis and the local county map on my Clie, this tiny device replaces a whole lotta paper maps and books. Finding an unknown street just involves locating it on the map, to get the general idea of the neighborhood. If you've lived in town for any length of time you'd know how to get to any particular area anyway.
      • You don't see the need for a GPS for urban areas, but you see the need for a PDA and software? What's the difference? They are both small devices that hold map data. I don't carry a PDA normally, so that is extra trouble for me. The GPS was designed for one thing and does it very well and easily.

        The only difference between your setup and mine is that mine can tell me exactly where I'm at plus give me specific directions for the best path to follow.
  • by Nom du Keyboard ( 633989 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @09:17PM (#6425736)
    Maybe SCO can use GPS to locate *nix code in Linux. So far they sure don't seem to have found much of it otherwise.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 12, 2003 @09:17PM (#6425737)
    search ebay for the visor prism, - color palm handspring unit - $150 with shipping - used - 65000 colors

    nice organizer with handspring expansion slot
    staples, etc. - handspring unit GPS magellan - 12 channel - $49 - new on clearance - software for moving map, location, speed, etc.

    this unit with good mapping software for $29 rivals dedicated color moving map GPS units costing thousands.


    get the spint phone module from ebay for $20 for the visor handspring and now it is a phone too.

  • by Thinkit3 ( 671998 ) * on Saturday July 12, 2003 @09:19PM (#6425741)
    Comparable to DirectTV (see slashdot article about them). The signals would be scrambled unless you paid $9.99 per month for a "license fee". They could use the stupidest encryption around, and anybody who broke it would be put in jail and fined. Scramblin it for a military purpose makes sense, but scrambling it to protect "intellectual property" is just stupid. Unit cost for one more person to use it is zero. Like America's Army game, an example of good use of government to keep things sane. A libertarian might argue for donation-based entities, but either way it gets done.
    • And if a corporation had set it up, they would have shouldered a huge installation cost that they'd then have to make back.

      But instead the government just spends our tax money so people can look for buried garbage in the woods.

      How much of the 1/3rd of my salary the feds take funds this? I'm thinking 9.99 a month sounds pretty nice. It's only free for mooching foreign nations who do nothing but whine about it.
      • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @10:31PM (#6425972) Homepage Journal
        This is soooo wrong on so many levels:
        But instead the government just spends our tax money so people can look for buried garbage in the woods.
        No, it was built for the military. Someone thought "Hey, if we're building this anyway, we might as well also make it available for civilian use". But it wasn't built for civilian use, it was built for defending the country.
        It's only free for mooching foreign nations who do nothing but whine about it.
        No, it isn't free for the countries "whining" about it. The countries "whining" about it are building their own system, rather than "mooching" off the US's.

        And the funny part of this is that the US government is pretty pissed they're doing that.

      • Oh, GOD FORBID if the government spends a teensy little bit of your money on somethig that can benefit every PERSON and CORPORATION on the planet, and stimulate the economy (and not the bottom line of the one company that would own it if it were private). Look at Iridium. They shot themselves in the foot and almost had to destroy the whole system. I would NOT want GPS under the control of one company, no matter how well managed and intelligently run the company is. Furthermore the gov't doesnt try to profit
    • While your analogy has some merit, it's important to remember that DirecTV doesn't have any content of their own. They resell other people's content. As such, there is something to be stolen. If you steal DirecTV you're not hurting DirecTV. You're hurting them, and Showtime, and Starz, and Cinemax, and Blockbuster (who does all the PPV movies) and countless others who only get revenue through selling subscriptions (you could argue that it would actually BENEFIT the commerical networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, HG
  • by Demodian ( 658895 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @09:21PM (#6425753)
    We worked on a turn-key project over a year ago (before matters got screwed by an acquisition), and one aspect of the product was to track GPS position and record it every so often with a few other real-time parameters, such as speed, direction, and average MPH. The project completed the first product phase of deployment, but actually using the GPS data (while recording WAS working) was slated for phase 2. Unfortunately, I think the whole thing got mothballed because the company receiving the product was not technically inclined one bit. Such a waste of effort. It would have helped cut their yearly expenses down a lot.
    • One of the things that I love about GPS data is that they've pretty much decided on a standard -- the NMEA data format. When I first got my Navman GPS for my iPAQ, I thought it was cool. I thought that the included navigation software was cool, and I thought that seeing my exact coordinates was cool. That could have been the end of it, and I would have been happy.

      However, most GPS devices dump their data out in a standard CSV format. This makes it very easy for 3rd party software developers to treat a G

  • by basho3 ( 660338 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @09:22PM (#6425755)
    As a long-time sailor, I have heard more stories than I can count about vessels lost or damaged because skippers entered bad coordinates for a buoy or harbor entrance. Are rogue tractors next?

    "For the moment, they've managed to resist the hottest new GPS tool: tractors that steer themselves. The price is still too high, but the idea is appealing, because with an auto-steer tractor, they would be able to work at night."
    • Better yet what part of GPS is jammable do people not understand? A ship is pretty safe it has a big margin of error. Now it's nice to use GPS to guide things what happens when the kid down the road starts messing up the system. Yes you can have a good inertial guidance as backup potentialy a good referance correction (DOT uses them plant a GPS on a known fixed point and tranmit how much it's off moment to moment to get sub centimeter accuracy)
      • by Realistic_Dragon ( 655151 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @09:44PM (#6425815) Homepage
        I think you are refering to DGPS?

        Conventional civillian GPS (which is not the same as Military GPS, even with SA turned off as it is now) is accurate to typically ~10m. You can enhance that a long way by doing phase matching as well as code matching - survey GPS devices can get down to a few cms (for a price!).

        DGPS works on the basis that for each satellite in the area the error arriving at two units within a couple of hundred miles is roughly the same. (Extra delay is caused by things like atmospheric conditions.) You put one reciever on a known point, and calculate the error for each satellite you can see. You then send all of the calculated corrections to the roaming reciever so it can remove the error in the signals it's getting before it calculates it's position. This is considerably cheaper than using a survey grade GPS, as well as faster, but unlike a survey grade GPS you need to have set up a nearby DGPS transmitter first. The (FAA?) have done this around US airports I believe, to allow autolanding systems to double check against DGPS data as well as ILS beacons.

        It's worth noting that to be able to use DGPS it's _not_ enough to calculate the error in your _position_ and transmit the correction to that as the roaming unit may be using different satellites to you - you have to transmit the error on each satellite signal. Some Garmin units let you extract this data using an undocumented API.
    • Uh... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "...because with an auto-steer tractor, they would be able to work at night."

      Most tractors these days have headlights. Some of the larger tractors come with enough lights from the factory that it almost feels like daylight when they're all on.

      You're not going to see a lot of GPS guided tractors any time soon. There are too many random factors to consider, like random patches of soft soil (mud or sand), animals (my grandfather accidentally ran a lame deer through a combine once... Ick.), debris in the
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 12, 2003 @09:23PM (#6425759)

    without paying an outrageous monthly fee akin to protection money, or calling a company to do it for me for a fee, then gps will have arrived for me.

    One stolen car, recovered by my family, not police.
    One van, stolen twice, recovered by my family twice, not police.
    One 4x4, stolen, never recovered, $10,000 loss, insurance settlement was a joke after months of haggling and threatening to sue.

    • Easy, I've done this with my boat.

      Get an old cheap laptop, gps pcmcia card, a GSM phone and a phone-pc cable. Hook it up to your mascot dc ac converter.

      Make a tiny script to send the coordinates and run it with "scheduled tasks" every 60 minutes or so.

      Easy, and very cheap (less than a dollar a day, if your sms charge is sane).

      • After I read the parent post, but before I read yours, I was thinking along very similar lines. However, I was thinking of setting it up so that your computer would simply wait passively for a phone call on the line. Then if it gets a call, it hooks you up to the GPS reciever and you can track it. This avoids the problem of continuous outgoing messages (and associated charges). Of course I haven't actually built the system. So I'm just curious, what made you decide to do it the way you did it?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Sounds to me you should invest in a garage door.
    • insurance settlement was a joke after months of haggling and threatening to sue.

      Perhaps it was the fact that you had two cars stolen previously that made them reluctant to pay! Where were they parked? Out in the street with the keys in the ignition and a big "STEAL ME" sign on the front?

      I live in Australia... but is that kind of theft normal where you live? It just boggles my mind - out of all the people and family I know, only one car has been stolen from them, and it was recovered the next day in the n
    • "One 4x4, stolen, never recovered, $10,000 loss, insurance settlement was a joke after months of haggling and threatening to sue."

      I am sorry for you getting ripped off... But if it was such a joke of a settlement, then shouldn't you back up your threat and actually SUE them?
  • Geocaching (Score:5, Interesting)

    by IwannaCoke ( 140329 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @09:23PM (#6425760) Homepage
    My father and I use GPS receivers as often as possible. We are both Geocachers [].

    For those of you that don't know what Geocaching is, here is a quote from the FAQ:

    "What is Geocaching?

    Geocaching is an entertaining adventure game for gps users. Participating in a cache hunt is a good way to take advantage of the wonderful features and capability of a gps unit. The basic idea is to have individuals and organizations set up caches all over the world and share the locations of these caches on the internet. GPS users can then use the location coordinates to find the caches. Once found, a cache may provide the visitor with a wide variety of rewards. All the visitor is asked to do is if they get something they should try to leave something for the cache. "
    • by Timesprout ( 579035 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @09:45PM (#6425819)
      Just as a word of warning for inexperienced geo cachers there are a few things you should not put in your cache or the results might not be quite what you intended (unless you like being visited by lots of military grade explosive)
      1. Weapons of mass destruction
      2. Plans for gas centrifuge machines
      3. Middle aged paunchy men answering to the name Saddam
      4. Middle aged bearded men answering to the name Osama
      5. Any music recordings for which you cannot prove ownership
      6. Modded X-Boxes
      7. MS Source code
      • I'd laugh, if only that wasn't close to home. See, I had a GREAT cache hidden near the Sacramento International Airport, and then that whole 9/11 thing happened and the Sacramento County Sheriff department started patrolling the area around the airport.

        Imagine my surprise when cop cars & some guy in a black truck come rolling up on my ass all A-Team style when I pulled over and got out of my car to go check on the cache.

        After my heart jumped up into my throat, I showed them the cache, and while they a
      • There's a ton of MS source code geocached, you just need to visit the right websites to find it. []
        Longitude: -122.13099913, Latitude: 47.63839512

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 12, 2003 @09:24PM (#6425763)
    Wardriving is a perfect example of how GPS has changed the way we look at computer security, especially where wireless LANs are concerned.

    Check out [] to see if your wlan has been scanned.
  • Question (Score:4, Interesting)

    by thomas536 ( 464403 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @09:27PM (#6425767)
    Can someone enlighten me as to why a farmer driving a tractor would need to know their location to a 1' accuracy?
    • Re:Question (Score:5, Informative)

      by randyest ( 589159 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @09:30PM (#6425775) Homepage
      so he can drive over the same tracks in his wheat field every year (I'm not kidding, read the fine article) and compress as little of his soil as possible
      • "so he can drive over the same tracks in his wheat field every year (I'm not kidding, read the fine article) and compress as little of his soil as possible"

        As opposed to following the stupidly obvious tyre-tracks, marked by a 3-foot dip in crop height along the places you've driven before?

        C'mon, look at the photos [] and tell me you need a GPS to figure out where the last person drove their tractor?
    • Re:Question (Score:2, Informative)

      by thmitch ( 24244 )
      My brother, who farms in Iowa, has been using GPS for a couple of years now. One use of GPS is he when he harvests the combine uses the GPS to map out the yields in small areas of the field instead of just knowing the yield for the whole field. Using this info and soils tests he can determine what areas have good amounts of nutrients and what areas do not. The next summer when he plants he feeds this info into the equipment and with the GPS it automatically adjusts the amount of fertilizer that each part
    • Re:Question (Score:3, Informative)

      by heli0 ( 659560 )
      Agricultural GPS uses

      Yield Monitoring

      Chemical Application History

      Developing fertilizer application plans

      Tracking Soil Analysis Results

      Identification of "problem areas" on fields

      Finding the best locations for equipment

      Profit /Loss charts by field

    • Re:Question (Score:2, Informative)

      by puetzc ( 131221 )
      Here is a simpler example - With a 40 foot implement (what the tractor is pulling), an average driver may overlap the end of the implement 3 feet into the previous pass to be sure that he doesn't miss any soil. It is hard work to drive accurately enough to be closer than this. With GPS, the overlap can be cut to 1 foot. The tractor is now doing 5% more work (39 vs 37 feet) with the same fuel and wear and tear. This can quickly pay for the GPS.
    • by jstockdale ( 258118 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @10:44PM (#6426014) Homepage Journal
      One of the principle uses of GPS which I have seen in farming is doing year to year yield mapping. Thats where you have sophisticated equipment on your harvester that does realtime yield analysis (ie. figures out how much corn/soy/etc. you are pulling off the specific patch of land you are harvesting) and associates that number with the GPS coordinates the harvester is currently at. That way not only does a farmer know their per acre yield but knows where each of their good/bad yield spots are quantitatively and can either cross reference that with soil maps or other data to determine the reason for the different yields and if possible increase yeilds.
    • Re:Question (Score:3, Interesting)

      On my family's farm we use GPS for accuracy in chemical application. My father has a Case IH sprayer [] which he modified to be 105 feet wide. In the past, sprayers used foam dropped from the end of the boom to indicate where the end of the swath was, but on something this big moving about 15 MPH across a field it can be difficult to drive accurately using just a row of foam dots 52.5 feet away from yourself for guidance. The GPS system on the sprayer lets my dad just follow the lights on an indicator and k
    • Re:Question (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mdielmann ( 514750 )
      I've talked to clients in the agro business, and they mentioned GPS-mapped ariel surveys of their crop fields to determine where the weeds were growing (apparently they absorb - or don't - a specific IR range). This would be coupled with a GPS-equipped tractor, the data would be downloaded, and the GPS system would spray only the regions that showed as having a troublesome level of weeds. This may not have required 1-foot accuracy, but it was still GPS, and could reduce herbicide use to 1/3.
  • by Goonie ( 8651 ) * <{gro.arbmaneb} {ta} {lekrem.trebor}> on Saturday July 12, 2003 @09:42PM (#6425809) Homepage
    The mind boggles. How many people are going to accept a system that lets their insurance company track everywhere they drive? Yes, I'm surely more obsessive about this kind of thing than Joe Average, but surely you don't have to be a privacy nut to have some issues with this.
    • by MBCook ( 132727 ) <> on Saturday July 12, 2003 @09:56PM (#6425859) Homepage
      This will be market drivin, I think. There are some, probably a great many people who wouldn't mind this a bit if it caused their insurance rates to plummet. Everything is a tradeoff, and this is one that many people will be willing to take.

      There are many people who, like you, would be too worried about the big-brother aspect and would want different insurance. These people would flock to insurance companies that work like those today and would be covered.

      The only real problem would be if the government were to regulate that all insurace MUST function this was, but seeing as how this is the US (if you're not in the US, I don't know what will happen), you'll be fine. Here in the US just find other people like you (it shouldn't be to hard to find others who don't want to be locked into the system, or believe that people shouldn't have to be locked into it whether they personally like it or not) to be able to elect new people to abolish the rule.

      I really don't think you have too much to worry about.

    • Thank you. And here I was afraid thinking that I'm the only who thought of this as a prviacy problem.
    • " How many people are going to accept a system that lets their insurance company track everywhere they drive?"

      Oregon's been talking about installing GPS in all cars to track their movements within the state and tax proportionally. Lots of people saying "WTF?!"
  • by toupsie ( 88295 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @10:05PM (#6425889) Homepage
    Ever notice that human technological evolution closely mirrors our desire to more efficiently kill our neighbor? Or at least take his stuff for less than the cost of taking his stuff. GPS is a major advance for economical, global force projection. Instead of a squadron of big, lumbering, gas guzzling bombers, you need one little black jet to hit a target. Kill more, spend less. With most military technological advances, they have civilian applications. GPS is a shining example. My favorite is the computer. It was first built to help calculate military equations so mankind could kick his fellow mankind in the ass faster.

    What will ever happen to human progress if we start all being nice to each other?

  • Also worth noting is how GPS, like computers, wasn't adopted overnight, but rather over time as applications were found.

    I hate to sound pessimistic but since when is something this glaringly obvious considered "worth noting"?

    Or maybe, given the topic, my pessimistic little note should be restated to ask how accurate would your GPS unit have to be to measure the size of the rock you'd have to be living under to not know that GPS wasn't adopted overnight?

    Goodness. I'm starting to sound as biter as

  • by doormat ( 63648 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @10:15PM (#6425922) Homepage Journal
    Like utility infrastructure. I work at a water company, and before a contractor burries pipeline, we use RTK (realtime kinematic) GPS to record its location down to 0.04' (or 1cm). So when line locators need to mark facilities its much more accurate. Normal GPS isnt that accurate, but we use base stations and radios to send correction data in real time out to the GPS collection devices.
  • by Eminor ( 455350 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @10:31PM (#6425971)
    Several good examples are used, from farmers in Alabama to anti-theft devices.

    Up here in Canada, farmers have been using it to level their fields for years now. Canada is usually pretty quick to pick up new technologies.
  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) ( 193358 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @10:46PM (#6426019) Homepage Journal
    One university's avionics department put a GPS receiver in each wingtip of an airplane and used them as a bank angle indicator. They just compared the altitude of one wingtip with the altitude of another wingtip.

    If you have a ham radio license, you can hook your GPS to a transmitter and experiment with tracking yourself and things. The telemetry standard used for this also allows flagging your position with status information (e.g. "on duty") and weather information. See to track hams who are doing this, or google for "APRS".
  • by norweigiantroll ( 582720 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @10:46PM (#6426022)
    Just mark your car, ride miles away, and when you're ready to go back, just follow the arrow. No parking near landmarks to remember where the car is.
  • by devross ( 524605 ) on Saturday July 12, 2003 @11:03PM (#6426073) Homepage
    "Imagine," he says, "the end of property crime. Everything that has any value and could be stolen -- a car, a laptop, a piece of construction equipment" (not to mention every ship, plane, truck trailer, and toddler) -- "everything like that will know its location and be able to report it. We can go even further: You tell your laptop that it should only find itself at your office or your home. And if it finds itself in a car trunk, it wakes up, notices that it's in the wrong place, calls your cell phone, and says, 'Hi, this is your laptop. I'm at this location on this map you see. Is that okay?'"

    That instantly made me think of the Phrack article on the Low Cost and Portable GPS Jammer. [] Never know when that baby's going to come in handy.
  • Can anybody explain to me why these farmers get 1 feet of accuracy while I have to struggle with 18 feet maxium accuracy?
  • by Pvt_Waldo ( 459439 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @02:52AM (#6426869)
    We had to pay $60,000 for a rack mount GPS unit for the research ship I was on. We only got 2 or 3 satellite fixes and even then that was for only a handful of hours a day because the constellation wasn't complete. But by cracky we loved it! It was good enough then and by god ... by god... what we wouldn't have done for one of those modern sub $200 contraptions. Oh yea and a full constellation of satellites.

    Navigation for scientific research (gravity & magnetic surveys) was interesting. We'd post process and combine a few hours of GPS a day, Transit Sat Nav (crude sat fixes + dead reconing), plus ARGO ranging navigation. The cool thing about ARGO was that it required shore stations where someone had to be by the transmitter for several weeks. And since the cruises were in the Carribean and off Brasil, sitting around a shore station (aka "the beach") for several weeks was pretttty fine.
  • You can download a Java App to track your cell phone at [] I have a free service running that recieves UDP packets sent by the phone and creates a web page with a link to mapquest showing your current location

God made the integers; all else is the work of Man. -- Kronecker