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GPS Global Positioning Systems

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Global Positioning Systems or GPS are used to find the exact location of things.

Who has heard of GPS?

GPS Stands for Global Positioning System. GPS are now used all over the world. A GPS unit is a receiver that picks up signals from satellites.

Global Positioning System satellites send (transmit) signals to GPS receivers on the ground. Receivers need a clear view of the sky, so they are only used outdoors and do not work well in forests or near tall buildings.

The satellites transmit the exact time the signals are sent. By taking the time the signal was transmitted from the time it was received, the GPS can tell how far it is from each satellite. The GPS receiver also knows the exact position in the sky of the satellites, at the moment they sent their signals.

Watch this Youtube video to find out more about how GPS works. 

Uses of GPS 


GPS has many uses, for example;

  • Setting time - auto updating cell phone times when daylight saving begins and ends
  • Emergency services need GPS to find places
  • Tracking a vehicle, aircraft, person or a pet which has been chipped
  • Bus stops: to show how long the bus will take to arrive at a bus stop
  • Navigation
  • Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs): used to tell search and rescue experts where someone is
  • Recreation: eg tramping, climbing, diving, sailing
  • Surveying: Surveyors use GPS locations to make maps and work out property boundaries
  • Tectonics: using GPS the movement of faults during earthquakes can be measured.

Can you think of any other uses for GPS?

Audio Māori keywords: 

How do you think GPS has changed the way you do things?

This is an artist's impression of a GPS satellite, used to transmit location and time signals used to calculate a position. Image: NASA.

GPS devices are useful for activities such as tramping and climbing where it is important to know where you are. Image: LINZ.

Nic Donnelly from LINZ shows the GPS equipment used for finding exact locations during surveying work. Image: LEARNZ.

Car navigation systems use GPS to give directions. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a Car navigation system? Image: LINZ

Mapping Our World
Adding More Information to Maps With GIS


I wonder if GPS could track very small things like golf balls

I wonder if GPS could track very small things like golf balls. I guess GPS technology can already track small things like cellphones but for items like golf balls that have a more limited life, it would need to be a very cheap solution. I wonder how it could be personalised so, from your smartphone, you could just track your own golf ball. It would be great to hit your golf ball and walk straight up to it - the game would be more enjoyable and quicker.