With one moment of innovation, GPS single-handedly revolutionized modern-day transportation.
Long gone are the maps of old.
Technology now leads the way instead – one whose reliance on humanity matters admittedly little.
These developmental wonders, however, can be mysterious at best and vexing at worst.
Too seldom do we stop to think about how and why a machine, a program, a system works. Yet these can provide valuable insight into our world.
Perhaps it’s time we ought to.
When you’re driving on a road trip, have you ever wondered “how do GPS calculate arrival time”. Or thought to ask what GPS stands for, or what GPS is?
I’ve the answers, and they may surprise you.
What is GPS?
The Global Positioning System – more commonly known as “GPS” – is a network that provides navigational assistance through the use of satellites. 31 satellites hover within Earth’s orbit, ready to transmit information to our phones, computers, and other such devices.
That’s right: your car does not “have” GPS.
Instead, our devices act as GPS receivers – machines that obtain the signals from the aforementioned satellites and transform them into information relevant to our needs.
These two components – GPS and receivers – depend on one another, but they cannot act alone.
Instead, they rely on one final anchor: the ground stations.
These stations keep the location and information of the satellites in check from the comfort of Earth.
This technological works together to communicate effectively and efficiently to us.
The next question is: HOW?
How Does GPS Work?
Whenever you activate the GPS functionality of your device, that receiver measures the distance to four different satellites in orbit.
The first three of those satellites will be incorporated into a process known as “trilateration”.
What is Trilateration?
Trilateration is the process of determining one’s location given the distance from three separate points. Those points, in this case, being satellites.
The place where those satellites’ signals intersect is where we exist.
That settles how to determine our position. But when we’re on the move, how does the GPS know how long it will take us to get elsewhere?
Apps, such as Google Maps, take advantage of consumer data to construct predictive algorithms.
These algorithms incorporate factors such as speed limits, real-time traffic reports, and even travel times from past drivers to provide you with a possible arrival time.
But, if GPS calculates location, how can it predict times?
How Do GPS Calculate Arrival Time?
Each satellite in the GPS houses atomic clocks that measure “GPS time”. Our GPS receivers, however, only come equipped with commonplace quartz clocks. These keep track of UTC (or “Coordinated Universal Time”), which allows for worldwide timezones.
Unlike our watches, which also count on quartz, receivers are held accountable by the system’s satellites.
Any discretion will be corrected upon connection.
In terms of mathematics? GPS Time – UTC Location = Accurate Time.
Our newfound understanding can allow us to adventure without worry, knowing that the GPS can calculate our arrival times safely, swiftly, and without space for error!