News You Can Use 11/09/00

Where Are We?

     If your car is stolen, with the right alarm system installed, it will call the police and tell them where your car is at the moment. Get lost while driving and you can press a button on the dashboard and ask someone who already knows where you are how to get to your destination. How do they do that? The answer is GPS (Global Positioning System). Until two or three years ago, only technicians outside the mainstream of society used GPS. Now it is becoming more common and will provide enhanced functionality to many areas of our lives. The GPS we see is a spin-off of technology used by the military. It's how they put those smart bombs through the windows of buildings in Iraq during the Gulf War. The foundation of the GPS system is a network of twenty-something satellites that orbit the earth in a fixed orbit. From any point on the earth's surface there are up to 12 satellites overhead. You can locate any point by triangulating on three known points. GPS uses a minimum of four points to assure accuracy, and most receivers can interpret the signal from up to 12 satellites. The signal was originally degraded for civilian use and you could only pinpoint your location to within 60 to 80 feet. The thinking was too precise a signal could be used against us by terrorists. In July 2000 the government turned off the degraded aspect of the signal and now a handheld GPS unit can pinpoint your location on the surface of the earth to within 12 feet.

    There are a number of ways we can benefit from GPS technology. Those moving map displays in new car dashboards help us get to our destination or around congestion. Private pilots are able to make a precision approach at any airport, not only those where the FAA has installed millions of dollars of precision landing equipment. Services like OnStar will dispatch emergency vehicles to your exact location if your airbag deploys; this could save your life or reduce medical costs. In many communities ambulances and police units are now dispatched based on which unit a GPS monitoring computer knows is closest to the call; this could result in lower medical and property insurance rates. Insurance losses could be further reduced because armored car companies know exactly where their vehicles are. This also holds true for long haul trucking companies. Not only will they know where your freight is, but also if it has made any unscheduled or unauthorized stops along the way.

    A number of companies produce GPS based products. But before you run out and buy their stock keep in mind that despite increased sales more and more companies are entering the market and the chip sets you find in these receivers are being made by an increasing number of companies. The technology is great, but at this point in time we don't believe there are any investment plays in this area. We'll let you know if this changes.

QUOTE"He who is afraid of a thing gives it power over him." - Moorish Proverb

Back to the Index