We are just back from a vacation in Florida. The sunshine state really pampered us and so did our hosts. Florida is one of the hottest destinations during Christmas, not only for its sunshine, but also for the numerous attractions it has to offer. Looked like all kids in America had come down to spend Christmas with Mickey and folks! For us it was a great break, away from all the chill in Boise. We spent almost a week there, and a lot of our time was spent in the car with a new mate, our friend, philosopher and guide, the GPS.

I have read in my textbooks about the system, but never knew its capabilities were this amazing. Thanks to our cousin in Florida, who lent this device to help us drive around the busy roads of Orlando, where paying for toll roads would itself cost a fortune! I had in mind that I must write about this when I get back.

“The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a U.S. space-based radionavigation system that provides reliable positioning, navigation, and timing services to civilian users on a continuous worldwide basis — freely available to all.

How it works — The GPS is made up of three parts: satellites orbiting the Earth; control and monitoring stations on Earth; and the GPS receivers owned by users. GPS satellites broadcast signals from space that are picked up and identified by GPS receivers. Each GPS receiver then provides three-dimensional location (latitude, longitude, and altitude) plus the time.”

The handset comes in different brands and would cost around $250-350 based on the features offered. The one we used was a tomtom gps device. Basically, the system tells you your current location and time; on your request to navigate you to any location, the tomtom plans a route, asks you whether you want to take the shortest route with tolls or longest route without them. 🙂 The best part is that if you take a wrong turn(how many ever times), tomtom doesnt yell at you. It patiently prepares a whole new route and gets you going on the right track again(see, enough to avoid an argument between a couple!). Apart from a graphical view of the route,  there is a navigator’s voice that guides you all along, tells you well in advance about the next turn, reminds you again when you get there and warns you about any wrong action. The system lets you change settings of the navigator, that is, if you dont like Richard from UK, you can switch to sweet Mandy from US (unfortunately, no Sams or Johns from India this time). You can also set the system to show public utility or emergency services you would need on your route, like, ATMs, gas stations, hospitals, restaurants, police stations etc.

Coming to the flaws, you cant get way too specific with the system, like, you cant say navigate to parking lot of universal studios; if you key in the address, it takes you only to that address. GPS also doesnt get updates about roads that are under construction. So, with the device on your windshield, you are like a blind man being pulled by his dog, with not much effort in navigating by yourself and observing your surroundings. I cant really think of any more major flaws. The system is so beautifully designed and is of great use in western countries like the US where you cant stop by the panwala to ask him which way to go! In fact i have heard that gps has been introduced in Delhi, without major success as the system steered people to roads where the tar has still not been laid!

I hope people read more about this technology; wikipedia is a good start, you can also check sites like

·     http://www8.garmin.com/aboutGPS/

·     http://www.gps.gov/

for simpler and better understanding.