The Thens & Nows of GPS Tracking

I was a weird kid growing up. Rather, my friends teased me for being a weird kid because I was crazy about history. My friends asked, “When are we ever going to use history? What happened in the past stays in the past.”

The reality, outside of me seeking self-validation, is that history is important. History teaches us to use the past to improve the future. Let me present an example.

Who likes vacations? Did you know the idea of taking a vacation comes from history? It’s true; vacations came from the idea of taking pilgrimages to visit shrines. This video shows other examples of history helping us today.

That being mentioned, what is the history of GPS tracking and how did it make the technology into what it is today?

I’d separate the timeline into 5 parts.

gps tracking timeline

  1. Birth, 1960s. During the Cold War, the US and the Soviet Union competed on who could create the coolest tech. The Soviets launched into outer space the “Sputnik”, the first satellite to orbit our planet. The American military also saw value in this technology and launched their own satellite. Throughout the 60s, the US military tracked its submarines, and hence, the GPS was born.
  2. Civilian use, 1983. It took a tragedy for the GPS to be released to the public. In 1983, Korean Air Lines Flight 0007 veered off course into restricted Soviet airspace. It was mistaken for a spy plane and was shot down. President Reagan, in response, decided to release GPS technology to prevent future tragedies.
  3. Innovation, 90s-00s. Since being introduced to the public, GPS tracking continued improving. The first consumer GPS device cost $3000 and ran on short-lasting batteries. Since then, engineers improved size, cost, and accuracy to the point where GPS tracking was installed on many fleets.
  4. Internet Age, 00s. Other technologies also grew and supported GPS tracking. One of these technologies includes cell phones. Cell phones switched to 3G networks and can be used as a remote computer.
  5. Present & Future. Due to the progress of tracking and related technology, there are cool new ways to use GPS tracking. Recent advances include using collision avoidance in self-driving cars and using 100% mobile-based tracking.

Mobile Tracking

Speaking of exciting advances, a hot trend is to use smartphones in order to satisfy tracking needs. Businesses can now subscribe to an app instead of installing devices.

What are some of the common uses of mobile tracking?

Location tracking. Going back to the historical question, “where are my drivers?”, mobile tracking can also provide live tracking. Managers can look up driver location and set location-based alerts to update customers and ensure productivity.

Tax reporting. In Canada, the CRA allows a tax break for (a) employers that paid business fuel expenses, and (b) employees that paid, out of their own pocket, for business trips. A common issue is for taxpayers is how can they verify personal vs. business trips. Enter GPS tracking: some GPS mobile apps such as Mobile Trax allows users to mark these their trips for accurate tax reporting.

Geotab: History of GPS Satellites and Commercial GPS Tracking
Mother Jones: The 2,000 Year History of GPS Tracking
Business Insider: The 17 Most Important Moments in the 70-Year History of the Cell Phone
Canada Revenue Agency: Allowable Motor Vehicle Expenses