Friday, April 3, 2009

GPS Tracking Defined

What is GPS tracking? How can you use GPS tracking on cars? Is tracking done in real time or do I have to download the information from the device? Is GPS reliable? Is it safe?

These questions and more are probably what have brought you here in a quest to find out how you can track your automobile. Let's take a look at each question and come to some sort of conclusion about what this technology is, how it is used, and what it can do for us.

What is GPS Tracking?
Right now, as you sit and read this article, there are at least 24 satellites orbiting the earth 11 nautical miles above its surface. They are continuously broadcasting signals that specialized receivers are able to pick up. Within each signal that the the satellite is broadcasting is some important information that a GPS receiver is going to use to generate position information in the form longitude and latitude. This information is the position of the satellite and the time the signal was sent.

A GPS receiver then takes this information and calculates how far away from the satellite it is. It does this by simply taking the speed of the signal (a known) and multiplying it by the amount of time it took the signal to reach the GPS tracking device. The equation for this looks something like this:

Speed x Time = Distance Traveled

This will tell you just how far away you are from one satellite. However, since the tracker only knows how far away it is from on satellite it cannot tell where it is in the world. One satellite just isn't enough. You really need at least two, but more like three, satellites to be able to get a true picture of where you are on the earth's surface. This process is known as trilateration and is very much like triangulation, except that trilateration is about finding an objects position in three dimensional space while triangulation is about finding an objects location in 2 dimensional space.

Once the tracker has established your position it logs that data in a database and then it does one of two things with that information - keeps it or sends it out. If the device keeps the information it is called a data logger. A data logger does not provide real time GPS tracking. For that, you need a data pusher. A data pusher will send the location of the device to a central processing station where the data will become available to anyone with access to it - where it is a parent tracking the car of their teen or a dispatcher tracking a police car.

How can you use GPS tracking on cars?
Like I mentioned above, there are two ways that GPS tracking for cars can work - data loggers and data pushers. A data logger is like a little black box inside your vehicle that silently records all the car's position data throughout the day. Some devices can be integrated with your vehicle's onboard computer and can provide remote access to the functionality of the car. Honk the horn, cut the engine, unlock the doors - these are the types of features that some GPS devices can enable parents or spouses to do remotely to their cars.

A passive GPS tracker will store all the data on its hard drive until you come and take it off. Some of the types of information it will store is the speed of the car, its location, where it started the day, where it ended the day, whether or not there were any unsafe braking or accelerating action - basically anything having to do with the day to day driving operations of a car one GPS device or another is going to be able to track.

Real time GPS trackers work in essentially the same way and with essentially all the same functionality of a passive tracker except that it can give you updates in real time about the status and location of your vehicle. You can watch your teen's entire drive to school from your work computer if you wanted to with this type of tracking for cars!

Is tracking done in real time or do I have to download the information from the device?
I have answered this already in my discussion of the difference between data pushers and data loggers. Data loggers require that you download information from them before you can view it. A data pusher sends out the data as it receives it from the GPS satellites. Whether you have to passively track your car or whether you can track it in real time depends entirely upon the device that you purchase and the plan you have with your provider.

Is GPS reliable?
Yes, GPS tracking for cars is very reliable. It can locate the position of a car to withing a dozen or so yards and with the assistance of mapping applications it can provide even more accurate information about the location of your vehicle.

Is it safe?
The military, commercial airlines, major shipping companies, the police, the fire department, many municipalities, school districts, and many, many companies with different sized fleets all use GPS tracking in one shape or form. They use it because it provides results for their business or organization and does so in a safe and cost effective manner.

GPS tracking for cars is not for everyone, but those that decide to use can rest assured that it provides, safe, reliable, and useful information to those that use it.

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