Where are Carmen and Waldo?
While everyone keeps talking about Twitter and Facebook something else has been quietly going on behind the scenes. One of the most important changes starting to affect almost everything we do today can be summed up in one word: location.
These days it’s all about where you are:
Where did I take that photo? What route did I cycle today? Where am I now? What shops or services are available near me? Is anyone nearby who’s using the same services as me? Where is the bus and when will it arrive at my stop? Where is that huge deforestation project going on? Where are the migrant birds stopping on their route North? Where is the fishing fleet right now? Where’s the parcel I ordered online? Where did I park the car?
GPS: the global positioning system
For the most part these location services depend on GPS.
For about the last 20 years a number of US and other satellites have been orbiting the Earth. Those satellites know exactly where they are and exactly what the time is. They continuously send out this information.
With a suitable receiver, you can tune into these signals, and find out to within 5 or 10 metres where you are on the Earth’s surface.
Small, cheap, ubiquitous GPS receivers
Until recently you had to have a specialised GPS receiver. Now however we are increasingly finding GPS receivers in cell phones, cameras, sports watches, in-car navigation, and other devices.
What’s more, many of these devices can interact with websites, or Web services, such as Google Maps.
Where am I?
When I snap a photo with my iPhone, it automatically embeds GPS coordinates into the photo.
If I call up Google Maps while I’m walking the dogs, a marker on the map zeroes in on my position, and I can use my iPhone to give me directions to where I want to go.
I can use an application on my iPhone to track where I’ve been walking, running, or cycling, send that information to a web page, and give me statistics like speed and distance as well.
Forget the spy movies
One colleague used GPS to help track his partner via her iPhone while she was on a lonely long distance bike ride.
He had her permission to login to her account and use a piece of software to report the position of her iPhone at any given time. Since she was cycling on isolated country roads, and was alone, it gave her some sense of security, because her partner could always know where she was. You can read the whole story in the article called Find My (Wife’s) iPhone.
The ‘Little Buddy’ GPS device (US$100) will even allow you to track where your child is at all times, as explained in the article Little Buddy Child Tracker Makes Spying on Your Kids Easy.
Location is the new big thing. Check your cellphone, sports watch, and camera. Do they do GPS?
Written by Miraz Jordan for, and reproduced from CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui, December 2009. This article has been modified for publication here.