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What is GPS Used For Today and How Does a GPS Receiver Work?

Aug 27, 2008
When you hear about General Positioning System (GPS) system, you should first consider the GPS receiver. It is the part of the device responsible of processing the signal sent by the satellite in the space to find out your actual location. The receiver is usually placed on the dashboard of your car or underneath it. It renders on a dedicated output device your screen your destination.

The entire GPS is a constellation of about 27 satellites rolling around the center of the Earth at a steady speed. Amongst these satellites, 24 of them are responsible of processing signals emitted by the receiver and the remaining satellites are used for storage purposes on case of an unplanned event. The GPS receiver is responsible of hooking up with satellites used for storage purposes and working out its position from that satellite by computing their distance. The mathematical tenet used for this purpose is named trilateration.

Trilateration can be achieved in two dimensions and also in three dimensions. The rationale of this mathematical principle is to work out a triangle where you are located at the center of it. As soon as the GPS receiver emits its position and makes a connection with other satellites, it immediately works out three nearest points and computes your position.

Three types of GPS receivers can be noticed: those which can be installed in a car, lightweight and mobile GPS receivers and tracking GPS receivers. It is obvious that portable receivers are a huge boon for outdoor activities.

Finally, it is good to know that the actual process of GPS receivers is a little bit more intricate than what was described in previous sections. However, throughout this article, although the main objective was to give a broad overview how they work in theory the next paragraph will delve into advanced details about GPS computations.

From previous sections, we learnt that the GPS receiver computes its distance to the nearest available satellites in space by noticing the time spent by the emission of a given signal from the receiver to the satellite. There are another category of GPS receivers that you have not mentioned throughout this article. In order to overcome the lack of precision of the traditional GPS receiver, differential GPS receivers were born. Their rationale is to estimate the level of GPS errors at a stationary receiver station with a location that was already computed before. Since the Differential GPS hardware at the station is already aware of its own location, it can work out its receiver's level of errors in a straightforward way. The station then broadcasts a radio signal to all Differential GPS-equipped receivers in the nearby area, providing signal correction information for that area. In general, accessing this correction information makes Differential GPS receivers much more correct and precise than traditional GPS receivers.

The most essential function of a GPS receiver is to pick up the transmissions of at least four available satellites and combine the information in those transmissions with information in an electronic almanac, all in order to figure out the receiver's position on Earth.
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