GPS is short for global positioning system. The system consists of satellites in orbit around the earth, as well as the control facilities for those satellites here on earth. There are upwards of 30 satellites currently in the network. The concept was discovered by monitoring transmissions from sputnik, the first satellite launched into orbit. Based on observations, scientist envisioned a network of satellites that could tell a user their exact latitude, longitude, elevation, and local time.
The first test GPS satellites were launched in 1978, and new satellites have been launched in every year since. More than 60 launches have been attempted, although two failed. As older satellites became unusable, new ones were launched to replace them. Currently there are about thirty active satellites in the system.
But what does that mean for you as a parent? Well, the early GPS handsets looked a lot like WW II military phones. They required a full backpack to power them, and the signal from the satellites could be interrupted by things such as cloud cover and terrain. Today however, the most common user end devices for GPS are cell phones, watches, and automotive tracking devices. The auto trackers come very close to the ideal use for parents. Those devices can tell you where the car or truck in which they located is on the planet. More importantly, they can tell you where it is if you misplace it.
A simple phone, watch, or item on a keychain can fulfill the same function for your child. Have you ever turned around in the park and not seen your child? That moment is a gut wrenching affair. Your mind immediately conjures up images of your child kidnapped, or hurts. A GPS device on your child can give you additional piece of mind when you go out.
Of course, GPS is no substitute for parental involvement. You should still be active and alert, and know where your child is and what they are up to. A GPS device can tell you where they are, but it has no indication of what they are doing, and that is as important as their location.
Major cell phone providers such as Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon all have a similar functionality built into their phones. You can activate parental controls on the phone that will let you know where your child’s phone is. You can also control things like shut off times. Don’t want your kids talking to their friends at 1am? You can program their phone to shut off at your child’s curfew. To check your child’s location, you simply log into their system, and they can bring up a street map that highlights the location of your child’s phone.
The ability to check on someone’s whereabouts without their knowledge or permission has raised some privacy concerns. But the phones are only allowed to display location info for emergency (911) calls, and for the parents of a child. In both cases, the authorities, whether the parent or the emergency response units, have the right to know the location of the person in question.