Pinpoint | Greg Milner

Summary of: Pinpoint: How GPS is Changing Technology, Culture, and Our Minds
By: Greg Milner


Embark on an enlightening journey as we explore the fascinating world of the Global Positioning System (GPS) through Greg Milner’s book ‘Pinpoint: How GPS is Changing Technology, Culture, and Our Minds’. Discover how GPS has become an indispensable tool of the modern era, providing accurate navigation information to billions of receivers worldwide. Learn about the vital role of atomic clocks, the challenges in the early formation of satellite navigation systems, and the immense global impact of GPS, touching various aspects of our daily lives – from agriculture, aviation, and fleet management to natural disasters and city traffic systems.

The Evolution of GPS

The Global Positioning System (GPS) has transformed from a military tool to an essential part of modern life. With over 5 billion receivers, GPS has become a multibillion-dollar industry used for scientific experiments, fleet monitoring, earthquake prediction, automated farming, and traffic synchronization. GPS has become so ingrained that it is believed to be altering human thought processes.

GPS and Precision Agriculture

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a network of 31 satellites that emit radio signals carrying their location and time. A GPS receiver uses four of these signals to calculate latitude and longitude. Between 2006 and 2012, GPS-based precision agriculture tripled worldwide. The GPS system uses atomic clocks, and the Air Force’s 2nd Space Operations Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base monitors clock accuracy. The importance of accurate timekeeping is due to the necessity to compensate for relativistic time dilation, where time passes at a different rate on the speeding satellites than on Earth. Even a microsecond discrepancy could throw off navigation, resulting in missing a target by hundreds of miles. The Air Force initially assumed amateur sailors would be the largest nonmilitary GPS user segment.

The Evolution of GPS

The US launched the first satellite-based navigational system in the 1960s, known as Transit. However, it had limitations, requiring the user to remain stationary for a quarter of an hour to get a fix on the satellite. In 1973, the competition between rival projects gave birth to GPS. With the first operational GPS satellite launched in 1978, GPS became decisive in the 1991 Gulf War, assisting air strikes and enabling an unprecedented offensive across the desert by aiding troop movements, coordinating supply lines, and spotting targets. By the end of the 1980s, GPS satellites provided global coverage, marking the evolution of GPS technology.

How GPS Became a Global Navigation System

The book explores the evolution of GPS technology from its military origins to its widespread civilian use today. Initially, the Department of Defense was reluctant to share the technology, but eventually, civilian use of GPS was allowed. However, the precision of the military signal was reserved, and a degraded signal was provided to the public. This backfired during the Gulf War, and the technology was turned off for subsequent military operations. In 2000, the US military permanently turned off the degraded signal, leading to the growth of the commercial GPS industry. Today, GPS technology is an integral part of our daily lives, with billions of GPS-based apps in use on smartphones and tablets.

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