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GPS Navigation Systems for Your Car, Truck or RV - Making Travel Easier and Safer

Don has been an avid traveler and motorhome owner for most of his life. He shares his experiences along with valuable tips for RV owners.

GPS Tracking System

GPS used to track the location of a vehicle

GPS used to track the location of a vehicle

What is a GPS System?

Commercial Global Positioning Systems or "GPS in a box" units became popular when the US government allowed civilians to use the existing military satellites already placed in orbit around the Earth.

These satellites were originally placed in orbit for use by the military to accurately navigate around the land and seas on the planet. A specially designed receiver on the surface could receive the signals from at least three of these strategically placed satellites and after some calculations, the receiver could estimate where it was positioned on the planet with an precision of less than 4 meters, or 13 feet.

Once this data was made available to the public, commercial navigation systems were developed to help the average person as they traveled.

The data these systems received for location calculations was in latitude and longitude coordinates, and companies immediately started converting these coordinates into actual addresses on maps which the average citizen could use.

Commercial GPS Receivers

Companies such as Garmin and Tom-Tom were among the first to develp a stand-alone unit that could receive GPS signals and at the same time display a recognizable map of an area of the country.

On this map, they could accurately display the actual location of their GPS receiver on the map for the user.

The GPS receiver already knew where it was on the map, and if the user added the address of the place they wanted to travel to, the unit it could estimate the distance to this destination.

And because it also had a database of the legal speed limits on all of the roads mapped, it could estimate the time (ETA) remaining to arrive at the destination.

These first GPS receivers were sold cheaply and immediately became popular everywhere.

Of course, the government GPS systems used today have a far finer accuracy for locations, but whatever that accuracy may be, is secret and we could only guess at this number.

The Evolution of Navigation Systems

These navigation systems made more and more information available to the owners which inspired many travel, hotel, dining and entertainment applications.

The first class of additions available on a commercial GPS system was collections of POIs, or Points of Interest. POI files could be added to the maps of some GPS systems and they would be displayed right on the owner's map as they traveled.

Originally POIs included fuel stops, hotels, restaurants, fast food chains, service stations, and more.

Eventually the demand for more and more information led to today's navigation systems that even allow the operator to search for any address they desired with a high degree of confidence that it would be in the database of the navigation system.

Automotive Navigation Systems

Automotive manufacturers were quick to recognize that drivers wanted a good navigation system in their vehicles.

In their more expensive vehicles, manufacturers added a display and contracted with the top GPS navigation system manufacturers to develop a software version that would work in their vehicles.

SmartPhone Navigation Systems and Search Engines

Along with the evolution of SmartPhones around the world, there was an ongoing evolution of numerous apps, or applications, that utilized the built-in GPS receiver chips that were in all SmartPhones.

Over time some apps used GPS data for other things, but the most popular apps were navigation-oriented packages, the most popular of which were Maps (by Apple), Google Maps, and the third is most likely Waze.

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All three, and the others I didn't mention of course, had something else available to them and that was the web. The web was sitting there, being used most often at that time for emails and personal searches for information.

Navigation Systems on the other hand already had access to the SmartPhone owner's contacts data including the contact's address, so the next step was to utilize the available web access and then search for and include any address the user might enter.

This way of providing directions to and from any place anywher, was accepted by users with a yawn by this time in the evolution of personal technology, but it has made the use of SmartPhone-provided locations revolutionary.

And, right now, major companies are out driving the streets of America and the world taking thousands of miles of video data of the locations they drive by and through each day. So yeah, you can not only get directions to a location, but more and more often, you can see a video or a still picture of that location.

CarPlay and Android Auto

Smartphones have two major operating systems: Apple IOS, which is used in APPLE cell phone products only, and Android IOS, which is used by pretty much all other cell phones.

Each of the companies that own these cell phone operating systems has developed a special software system that automotive manufacturers can install in their vehicles to allow their automobiles to connect to and use certain of the apps on the owner's phones uses.

These interconnect software systems are CarPlay (from Apple) and Android Auto (from Android).

If your automobile has these packages installed in them then the SmartPhone owner can connect a cable between the phone and the automobile's USB connector. Once connected, the automobile will display certain apps and even allow them to operate on the automobile's display and sound systems.

In fact, many automobile manufacturers no longer provide a built-in navigation system of their own, but rather allow the owner to use their own smartphone's navigation system while viewing the phone's maps and data on the automobile display.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Don Bobbitt


Don Bobbitt (author) from Ruskin Florida on December 10, 2019:

What a great story. Thank you so much for sharing it with myself and my readers.

My story of navigating the roads of the USA in our motorhomes over the years are actually quite similar except that I had to do the trip planning and driving. (My wife had a very bad back then and she had to move to our sofa every hour or so for relief.)

So you canimagin my excitement when the (for me) Garmin GPS came along.

And as you said, as the technology evolved, our travels were made wit a lot less stress.

You have a Great day,


Arthur Russ from England on December 09, 2019:

I’m the Navigator, and my wife does the driving. Which meant that in the old days (before satnavs) I would have my nose buried in a Road Atlas, and one eye on the road to see where we were, and where we were going; and then give my wife instructions as and when appropriate. It was hard work (especially in France, avoiding the Toll Roads), but rewarding; although I was concentrating on navigating so much that I had little opportunity to enjoy the scenic views and beautiful countryside.

Navigating in France was the hardest because all their road signs point you towards the Toll Roads, whereas with motorways being free in Britain we resented paying the Tolls; so I would ignore the road signs and use the Road Atlas to find all those free motorways that run parallel to the toll motorways. The free motorways (if you can find their entrances and exits) are just as good as the toll motorways, and although the journey might take a bit longer, I think in many ways they are better because they take you through the French towns and villages (many of which are beautiful), and the views are more scenic (rather than being just a monotonous straight road that bypasses all the towns and villages). Besides, parts of the free routes on the motorways are the unmarked free entry and exit points onto and off of the Toll Roads (used by the locals); one such free exit from the toll motorway was the exit point near Charles de Gaulle airport (north of Paris), which we used when visiting Disneyland Paris.

When we got our first satnav, it was a TomTom, very basic by today’s standards but it made my job of navigating a lot easier; especially when we’re on holiday in France, because the first question it asked was whether I wanted to use the ‘Toll Roads’. I’d always so ‘No’, and it would then take us on the free motorways. Although last time when we were in France I momentarily thought it’d made a mistake because it was taking us towards a ‘Toll Booth’ (we could see it just ahead of us); then suddenly it instructed us to take a sharp left onto a narrow side road, that went underneath the toll booths and brought us up on the other side of the booths, and onto the motorway; and likewise, it took us off that motorway (on a free exit point) before we reached the next toll booth (obviously routes used by the locals, who know the roads).

Alas, our TomTom (after many years of faithful service) eventually died a few years ago while we on holiday, and making our way to southern France; so we stopped at the first shop in France that sold satnavs, and bought a new one; another TomTom. That was quite an experience, because we don’t speak French, and the French Sales Assistant didn’t speak English. However we did manage to communicate with each other well enough to be understood. Which I was grateful for because the satnav we had our eye on the Sales Assistant advised us not to buy because it didn’t have ‘free maps’. Whereas the Model the Sales Assistant recommended (not much more expensive) had a ‘lifetime, free maps’; which has saved us a fortune.

The new TomTom we have, although it’s only a basic model (which is all we need) is nevertheless a lot more sophisticated than our original, early Model; and it does seem to have character e.g. if my wife starts ignoring it because she knows the route, it will start repeating itself by for example by saying “turn left; turn left; turn left” three times in a row, which only provokes my wife into arguing with it (banter).

The upshot is, as the navigator my life is a lot easier with the TomTom, as I can now relax more and sit back to enjoy the scenery; while keeping just a causal eye on the satnav, and conveying useful additional information to my wife as and when necessary e.g. by looking out for petrol stations that pop up on the TomTom when we need more fuel, or giving clarity at complex road junctions etc.

Don Bobbitt (author) from Ruskin Florida on December 08, 2019:

Liz - Yes, I remember the early days of these systems taking me down a country road and then into oblivion, at least on the map anyway.

Now, they have access to so much data that getting lost is nearly impossible. But it was fun, at times back then, I have to admit that "back then" was only maybe ten years ago. LOL!

Thanks for the read and comment.

And have a great Holiday season!


Liz Westwood from UK on December 08, 2019:

This is an interesting and very useful article. I tend to avoid using my phone as it takes up a lot of my data allowance. I have noticed that now we are onto our third sat nav, how much each improves on the other. I used to have one that told me I was driving in a field and that I needed to rejoin the nearest road, when it didn't recognise a new road layout.

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