Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Recounting gains of GPS technology

The imperative nature of the Global Positioning System (GPS) has shown that even a missing person and goods could be found with the aid of technology, reports REMMY NWEKE.

With the values of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) continuously becoming apparent in the lives of Nigerians in less than a decade after the advent of the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM), many more Nigerians seem to have come to terms with the usefulness therein.

One of these apparent values is the power of the Global Positioning System (GPS). Though described as a complex technology, understanding it could be quite interesting and meaningful, mostly in terms of tracking of goods and vehicles as well as fleet management.

Experts at Princeton University, defined GPS as a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) developed by the United States Department of Defense (DoD), put forward as the only fully functional GNSS in the world. GPS uses a constellation of between 24 and 32 Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites that transmit particular microwave signals, which allow it, GPS receivers, to determine their current location, the time, and their velocity with its official name being NAVSTAR GPS, which is not an acronym.

Noteworthy is that the initial GPS satellite constellation being managed by the United States Air Force 50th Space Wing and often used by civilians as a navigation system, especially following the shot down in 1983 of the Korean Air Lines Flight 007, by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), for entering the prohibited airspace; forcing President Ronald Reagan to issue a directive, thus making GPS freely available for civilian use as a common good, thereby commercialized.
Ever since then, GPS has become a widely used aid for navigation worldwide, and a useful tool for map-making, land surveying, commerce, scientific uses, and hobbies such as geo-caching.

Equally, the specific time reference in GPS is used in many applications including the scientific study of earthquakes, just as it is a required key synchronization resource for cellular networks, such as the Globacom, MTN and Zain among other operators of both GSM and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) in air interface for wireless carriers in a large number of countries, especially in vehicle tracking and fleet management.

However, the first satellite navigation system, Transit, was used by the United States Navy, and could be said to be the first successfully tested procedure in 1960. Using a constellation of five satellites with the ability to offer a navigational fix approximately once per hour. In 1967, the U.S. Navy developed the Timation satellite which proved the ability to place accurate clocks in space, a technology that GPS relies upon.

In1970s, the ground-based Omega Navigation System, based on signal phase comparison, became the first worldwide radio navigation system.

As much, the GSM operators and other private sector operatives introduce commercialized GPS for car tracking services even as they also offer rapid response service for broken down vehicles, where that is part of the sign-on by the customer as support service.

Taking advantage of this, just few weeks to Christmas, a Lagos-based businessman, Ogbuefi Ezeputa, a native of Njikoka in Anambra State, over 2500 kilometres from the centre of excellence, Lagons, where he conducts his businesses, wanted something to show for the year at home during the season for celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

He decided to buy a Toyota Camry 2007 model and the next step was how to take the newly purchased car home with some important values, while he and the family take a flight to Enugu, the nearest, from where they could be picked up at the airport for less than 45 minutes drive to Njikoka.

So, Ezeputa found a driver from the west recommended to him as someone who had the experience of helping people to take their cars home anywhere countrywide at a price. Everything agreed, the man Iwolade (real name withheld), the Camry was handed over to him, unknown to the car owner that Iwolade had a different game plan to head to a bordering town known for disposing second hand vehicles, Cotonou in Benin Republic, which is quite a different route; less than 200 kilometres from Lagos.

Unfortunately and unknown to Iwolade, the newly acquired Camry car was installed with a tracking system, otherwise known as the GPS, but only known to the car owner and the tracking company, who were duly briefed about the movement.

So, instead of heading to Ibadan-Shagamu Expressway, Iwolade with his own agenda to also hit it big before the year runs out, headed to Mile 2, enroute Cotonou. And after about 20 minutes drive from Mile 2, the GPS tracking company called Ezeputa and reconfirmed the route to the town, Njikoka, located in the eastern part of the country. He was aptly informed that the car was heading to Cotonou. Hence with that confirmed, the tracking service company, literally hijacked the Camry byway of demobilizing the car electronically through the satellite with the aid of GPS, rendering the engine disfunctionable.

Few days later a Lagos-based oil worker, Ezreal James, learnt through a telephone call that his son was kidnapped alongside the driver on their way back on a school-run in the garden city of Port Harcourt, Rivers State in the South-South zone of the country.

Luckily for him, the Mercedes Benz ML9 jeep was equipped with a GPS tracker, Mr. James quickly reported this incident to the GPS service provider via another call on his GSM phone, and in the next few minutes, the car was demobilized.

And based on one of these values was the recent incident of using Google GPS search to find a missing child, Natasha Maltais, simply because her mobile phone has the service activated.

The nine-year-old girl, purportedly kidnapped by her grandmother, was found via a mobile phone signal and Google Street View anchored on GPS in the city of Athol, Massachusetts.

From all intent and purposes, car theft and kidnapping, for instance, could be immensely reduced when more and more vehicle owners recognise the importance of these values and equip their automobiles with this piece of equipment.

Therefore, it could be advocated herein that car manufacturers could even fix this services in their vehicles, leaving owners to either activate them with any given service providers of GPS, thereby ensuring a piece of mind for every owner of automobiles, especially at this time of economic crunch.

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