GPS needs TLC

Trainee using sextant - US Library of Congress

There’s no question that the Global Positioning System is a great tool, although I confess I’ve never used it (unless you count sitting in the back of a taxi while the driver finds his way down unfamiliar roads via a little electronic map on the dashboard).

Coming on the scene in 1995, it wasn’t available during my days as an ocean navigator, when the trusty sextant, an almanac and a lot of arithmetic, were the most reliable system for position-finding, at least when the sky was clear.

But today’s news that the GPS satellites need investment to keep them operating beyond next year shows how far we’ve come in making navigation part of the average person’s life. GPS devices have become so good, and cheap, that they are used by many people to complement road signs, maps, and asking a “local” for directions.

GPS, or similar alternative systems provided by Russia or being developed in other countries, will be the foundation of so many new services provided via mobile devices. One way or the other, we all need to know where we are.