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  • David G

The History of GPS

The Global Positioning System (GPS) has become a ubiquitous part of modern life. It's used in everything from navigation systems to smartphones, fitness trackers, and drones. But the history of GPS dates back to the 1960s, when the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) first developed the technology for military purposes.


The Pentagon in Washington, D.C.


The Invention of GPS

GPS was invented by the U.S. DoD in the 1960s as a navigation system for the military. The DoD wanted a system that could accurately pinpoint the location of its military assets, such as ships, planes, and troops. At the time, the only navigation systems available were ground-based radar and radio beacons, which had limited range and accuracy.

The DoD's solution was to develop a system of satellites that could transmit signals to ground-based receivers. By measuring the time it took for the signals to travel from the satellite to the receiver, the receiver could calculate its distance from the satellite. By receiving signals from multiple satellites, the receiver could triangulate its position on Earth.


The first GPS satellite was launched in 1978, and the system became operational in 1995. Today, the GPS system consists of 24 satellites in orbit around Earth, which transmit signals to GPS receivers on the ground.


The First Car with GPS

The first car with GPS was the 1990 Mazda Eunos Cosmo. The car was only available in Japan and featured a built-in GPS navigation system called ECLIPSE. The system used a CD-ROM map database to provide turn-by-turn directions to the driver. However, the system was expensive and not widely adopted.

In 1995, the General Motors EV1 became the first car in the U.S. to offer GPS navigation as an option. The system, called "GuideStar," was developed by Hughes Electronics and used a CD-ROM map database. However, like the Eunos Cosmo, the system was expensive and not widely adopted.


Mazda's Eunos Cosmo, the world's first production vehicle with built-in GPS.


The First Consumer-Grade GPS Device

The first consumer-grade GPS device was the Garmin GPS 100, which was introduced in 1991. The GPS 100 was a handheld device that could display the user's position on a map and provide basic navigation information. The device was popular with boaters and pilots, who used it for navigation in remote areas.

Garmin continued to innovate in the GPS market and introduced the first GPS watch, the Forerunner 101, in 2003. The Forerunner 101 was designed for runners and could track the user's distance, speed, and route. Today, Garmin is one of the leading manufacturers of GPS devices, with a wide range of products for outdoor enthusiasts, fitness enthusiasts, and drivers.


Garmin's Forerunner 101, a precursor to smartwatches with GPS tracking.


GPS was developed by the U.S. Department of Defense in the 1960s for military purposes and has since become an integral part of modern life. The first car with GPS was the 1990 Mazda Eunos Cosmo, while the first consumer-grade GPS device was the Garmin GPS 100, introduced in 1991. Over the years, GPS technology has advanced and has been incorporated into various devices, from smartphones to fitness trackers and cars. Today, GPS is an essential tool for navigation and location-based services.

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