The Value Of GPS Is More Than We Ever Imagined

Blaine Kelton

Remember when personal GPS systems were new? They were clunky, handheld devices used primarily in lines of work like the military or scientific research that suddenly became available to average consumers. We saved up for them or asked for them as a gift and then proudly displayed them in our cars as means of managing routes without Mapquest. For a brief time, the use of GPS for personal navigation was something of a revelation.

Oh, how times change. Within a few years of GPS devices truly going mainstream, we had phones that could do the job for us. And now, we don’t even have to touch anything to find a route pretty much anywhere. “Siri, show me the route to the nearest movie theater” basically gets the job done. And as a result, most of us have begun to take GPS for granted. It’s great, but it’s kind of just there.

Or so we thought. As it turns out, our world of increasingly interconnected technological devices and systems has more uses in store for GPS than we could only have dreamed of a decade ago. The rapidly expanding and ever-improving “Internet of Things” relies heavily on GPS data for a number of crucial functions, some of which help businesses, some of which help individuals, and some of which can make you a little bit uneasy about the future of government surveillance.

Where business is concerned, we’re already beginning to see that GPS systems have enormous potential to enhance in-transit visibility of products and thus impact supply chains in a major way. Large-scale businesses often ship huge amounts of product from manufacturers to distribution centers, then on to retailers (sometimes all over the world) and customers. Being able to accurately track the status and whereabouts of all that inventory without any extra effort is of immense value to these businesses. And modern GPS tracking systems that are hooked up to the Internet of Things, with the ability to automatically report data, allow them to do just that.

On a more individual basis, GPS is being used in a lot of ways that can make people safer and improve living conditions for those with natural disadvantages. For instance, one of the most fascinating new uses of the technology is to assist people with visual impairments to get around town. It’s done through an app that announces obstacles, crosswalks, and other points of interest to people, and even tells them what they’re facing if they point the phone in a given direction. The thinking is that a system like this, rooted entirely in GPS technology, can be just as effective (if not more so) than a guide dog or other means of getting around. And this is only one example of how GPS systems are being used to benefit the lives of individuals. We’ve also seen the technology used to keep tabs on elderly family members who might wander off or get lost easily, and parents can use similar tools to track young children, within reason.

Of course, there’s a flipside to these types of uses of the technology that some find worrisome as well. Government surveillance and privacy happen to be pretty hot issues right now, and there are some who worry that increased GPS usage will lead to new levels of mass surveillance. Essentially, because most of our electronic devices (or at least “smart” devices) have GPS chips in them already, the government could conceivably track each and every one of our whereabouts at all times. And with the IoT, it wouldn’t even be that difficult for them to do so. The whole process could be automated, so that our movements, habit patterns, and the like are all on record. The intent, at a very basic level, would be security, but some still view this as the dark side of GPS and IoT innovation.

It’s clear overall that there are probably going to be both positives and negatives to the increased use of GPS in the Internet of Things in the years to come. But many of the positives are pretty incredible, and from a sheer capability standpoint, it’s becoming clear that GPS is more than we thought it was. We’ve taken its basic functionality for granted for years now, but we’re clearly moving well beyond the basics.

Fighting supply chain losses means employing not just detectives but also data. Learn how in our research inquiry on 3 Ways to Fight Fraud, Waste, and Abuse in the Supply Chain.