Location Tracking Explained

Posted in Digital Data, laptop, mobile app, Tech news  by Carol
January 26th, 2016

location trackingTracking technology has become a must-have for travelers, commuters, and car-users in general. Where would we be without GPS? Probably still looking for what one drive-in movie theater ┬áin Encino that everyone’s been talking about.

So how does location tracking work? The first distinction worth making is that between Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS). GIS is more for large-scale location-tracking systems; these necessitate that geographic information be captured and stored. Accordingly, GIS can capture, store, analyze, and report geographic information.

GPS, on the other hands, operates by combining the information detected by 27 Earth-Orbiting satellites (24 of which operate act one time and three of which act as failsafes). A GPS receiver like the one in most mobile devices can detect how far it is from each of these satellites and deduce the device’s location accordingly, through a process called trilateration. Trilateration requires that a clear line of sight be reachable to four or more satellites at once.

There’s also Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), which is comprised of small microchips that can be attached to consumer goods, cattle, vehicles and other potentially moving objects to track their movements. RFID tags can only transmit data if prompted by a reader, which transmits radio waves that activate the tag, which then transmits information on a particular frequency.

Finally, there’s Wireless Local Area Network or WLAN tracking, which uses a network of devices connected through radio frequencies. As these devices pass over ready waves, they provide users with a network that ranges from 70 to 300 feet.

satellitesMany tracking of location-based service systems use one or a combination of all of these different types of technology. GPS is used by equipping all relevant vehicles with a GPS receiver; as a vehicle crosses a mass of land, the GPS satellites can track its position. GPS also allows for an operator to request positioning information at any time. Unfortunately, when it comes to trying to find something within a smaller space and especially indoors, GPS hits a wall.

For more local-area and indoor tracking, the best choices are the RFID and WLAN options. The smallest of the small tracking areas likely warrant an RFID while WLAN takes up the middle ground. For example, to track a child in an amusement parks, some parks are offering parents the option of outfitting the child with a wristband that holds the RFID tag. Then park staff can help a worried parent locate his or her child.

Another excellent use of location tracking is when an emergency occurs and someone calls 911. The government has developed technologies which are expected to enhance the ability of E-911 to locate callers, even if they’re not calling from a landline. This has been mandated by the Federal Communications Commission, so we likely can expect the service to improve rapidly within the next few years. It will begin with a few other phases, but eventually there will be a phase that forces carriers to place GPS receivers in phones in order to deliver more specific latitude and longitude location information to law enforcement in the event of an emergency call.

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