When was gps in cars invented?
By Debra Haynes
One of my fondest memories growing up was when my family would go on camping trips. Every year my dad would go down to the local convenience store and buy one of the state road maps, bring it home, and open it up on the dining room table. Markers in hand, he would color code the route we would take to our destination, mark all of our stops for food or roadside attractions, and any detours if we decided to see something off the beaten path.
That trip down memory lane brought me to our current lives and into thinking about when exactly did we let go of paper maps in lieu of GPS routing via phones? When did our technology advance from drawing lines on maps to handheld GPS tracking? Of course, my thoughts begin to snowball and I start to wonder if technology in our personal vehicles with GPS tracking systems trickle into public vehicles such as school buses. I decided to do a bit of digging and find out how GPS routing came to be and if school buses use the same GPS tracking software as personal vehicles.
To start with, GPS is an acronym for Global Positioning System and was previously named Navstar GPS. Owned by the United States government, the GPS system is operated by a branch from within the Department of the Air Force known as the United States Space Force (USSF). It was initially created for government use but expanded to civilian and commercial use worldwide later on.
There are three (3) parts to a GPS system: satellites, ground stations, and receivers. Satellites are used as a source of figuring out the location of a receiver from space as a satellite's exact position is known at any time which is a major reason for GPS tracking to be so accurate. Ground stations ensure the location of the satellites are where they’re supposed to be using radar, and receivers get signals from a group of satellites to measure how far they are and pinpoint the location of a receiver.
Satellite navigation had been used before what we now know as GPS, but it’s early predecessors had limitations that spurred the United States Department of Defense into launching the GPS project in 1973. While navigation devices have been seen inside vehicles dating as far back as 1930 and the first satellite navigation system being the United States Navy built TRANSIT, it’s specifically the GPS system that excelled and continues into the present time.
Initially created for the United States military and government use, civilian aircraft were able to use it in the 1980’s due in part to President Reagan, though the system wasn’t fully operational until 1995. Later on, in 1998, Vice President Al Gore wanted to include two (2) additional signals for non-military use focusing once again on civilian aircraft.
It wasn’t until 1999 when GPS finally made its way into mobile phones by the manufacturer Benefon. While Benefon safety phones were mostly within Europe, other mobile phone manufacturers quickly joined in and it spread like wildfire around the globe.
GPS navigation for vehicles began officially in 2001 from private companies due to the growing technology and shrinking receiver size, which in turn brought about personal navigation devices inside civilian vehicles such as Garvin and TomTom.
GPS tracking isn’t limited just to cars, ships, or aircraft. With the accessibility and reasonable price of GPS trackers, people are now able to track pets and assets to ensure they aren’t lost. While I’m only listing
Personal trackers are used for pets and people. Pet collars with tracking devices are becoming popular, especially with those who have escape artist four-legged friends, due to accessibility, price tag, and accuracy.
Theft has never been a new concept, so what better way to protect your assets by using a GPS tracking device? The most commonly seen of this variety is in shopping carts for stores, but it isn’t limited to just that as GPS trackers can be used on nearly anything from a small jewelry box to a large T.V.
The type of GPS tracking that we’re all most likely familiar with is a cell-based GPS vehicle tracker. Using map apps from our cellphones for directions and finding specific locations is exactly what this is, and is currently the most common type of GPS tracking there is. This method of tracking is much faster than satellite GPS as it uses nearby cellphone towers to send and receive signals rather than a ground station with a receiver.
However, there is a small loophole when it comes to the differences between satellite-based GPS vehicle trackers and the previously mentioned cell-based GPS vehicle trackers; businesses and homes in very rural locations with a lack of cellphone towers are likely to use the satellite method rather than cell as no towers mean no connection availability. Satellite-based vehicle GPS trackers are a fantastic fallback for truckers who drive to various destinations with limited, or no, cellphone access.
Lastly, there is cellular-based tracking. A good example of this is when I worked for a parcel delivery company that didn’t own company vehicles. To track their multitude of drivers on their routes, keep up to date with delivery times and locations, as well as being able to accurately send help if it was needed, drivers were given a company phone during their shift which had a tracking app installed. This helped starter businesses in keeping up with the workflow without needing to spend thousands of dollars on GPS systems that couldn’t be installed on rented vehicles.
With technology progressing as it has been, I don’t think there’s any vehicle that can’t use GPS tracking. It was initially invented for military use which would be for planes, ground vehicles, ships, and submarines. GPS is now being hardwired into civilian vehicles, but can also use standalone devices for tracking as well as cell-based trackers. Semi-trucks, vans, public transport buses, school buses, and even trains are no exception when it comes to using and benefiting from this amazing system.
100 years ago, motoring was a novel but jagged experience. Streets were often poorly signposted and barely lit. Against this backdrop, early inventions like the Jones Live Map and Baldwin Auto Guide represented a quirky lunge into modernity. These used simple rotary technology to feed directions to the driver. The best documented example is the Iter Avto device, into which the driver would load scrolls depicting fixed routes. With moving paper, glass lenses and brass housing, these systems carried a certain post-Victorian quaintness.
Fast-forward a half century to the 1980s, when digital modernity began dripping into consumer homes and cars. Enter Honda Electro Gyro-Car, in many ways an updated version of the Avto. It wasn’t quite GPS, but instead used an ‘inertial navigation system’, or gyroscope that was sensitive to both rotation and movement. There was nothing portable about it —to receive positional information it needed to be hardwired to a modified car transmission.
The forerunner of the GPS came in 1985, with the Navigator from Etak. It used geocoding, meaning it could reference a street address with a latitude/longitude point. This dallied with a digital compass mounted in the car, and two wheel sensors fitted to the non-driven wheels. But for all its technical prowess, it remained a niche product, shifting only a few thousand units.
Steven Lobbezoo developed the first commercially available satellite navigation system for cars in Germany. Nicknamed ‘Homer’, after a tracking device from James Bond, it was quite the gadget: a modified IBM PC integrated into the glove compartment, a large disk for map data, all displayed on a flat screen. It used dead reckoning—a navigational technique that orients itself with fixed positions, measuring distance and direction traveled from these positions.
At the end of the decade, Japan pushed CD-ROM routing technology. These informed the dead reckoning system inside Toyota’s Crown Royal Saloon G, available only in Japan. Afterwards, fellow countrymen Alpine released their version of CD navigation using GPS satellites. But CDs could only map a limited area, while taking up space in the car. So a few years later, Ford piloted SD cards in their MyFord Touch system.
The ‘90s saw commercial car navigation heat up. Eunos Cosmo became the first production car with a built-in GPS navigation antennae system, which Mazda claimed was accurate to 45 meters. Reviewers at the time remarked that it took just nine seconds for the screen to zoom in, which is as amusing as it is unrelatable.
Mazda may have been the first, but GPS soon became an industry buzz, with several carmakers piling on. Toyota introduced “Electro-Multivision” GPS inside the Toyota Soarer, featuring an attractive 6-inch color LCD screen. Mitsubushi added a GPS system to its 1992 Debonair model, and BMW released the first European model with GPS: the BMW 7 series.
By the turn of the century, market weight was shifting toward portable navigation devices (PNDs), which allowed consumers to buy road navigation separately from their cars. Amsterdam-based TomTom, originally a B2B applications company, pivoted their focus onto PNDs, and became a household name alongside US company Garmin.