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How does GPS work?

TomTom Education

How does GPS work?

With modern navigation technology you always know your location and where to go. But how does it all work?

One can only guess what Christopher Columbus or Captain Cook would make of it all: man-made stars floating in space that can pinpoint your location, right down to which side of the street you’re on. On these pages you’ll find the story of the earliest explorers and traders to the dawn of modern navigation techniques to the latest wizardry of GPS. The accomplishments - some brave, some brilliant - make for an extraordinary and fascinating tale.

Navigation

In Latin, ‘navi-gare’ means to sail or to steer a ship (from ‘navis’ meaning ‘ship’ and ‘agere’ meaning ‘to drive’). We know that around 3500 BC boats began carrying goods for trade, which meant the birth of navigation.

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Digital maps

The world is made up of countless millions of roads, from huge motorways to quaint country lanes. The mapping of all these routes, as well as all the various street directions and other details that affect them, is carried out by governments and other statutory organisations across the globe. Their maps form the basis of all maps, including the digital maps for your TomTom.

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GPS

Thanks to a GPS signal you can figure out exactly where you are on this planet. But where and how is this signal created?

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The science behind GPS

Now that you know how GPS has been developed, it's time to dive deeper into the subject and find out what happens before your navigation device tells you exactly where you are.

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GALILEO

Galileo Galilei was an Italian astronomer (1564-1642) who discovered Jupiter’s four largest satellites and is generally considered the father of modern astronomy. No surprise that the Europeans name their answer to GPS, “GALILEO”.

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How does my TomTom device work?

Now that you know more or less how GPS works, you may be wondering what exactly your TomTom device does with all this GPS information it receives.

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Glossary

TomTom tries to keep things simple. But you have to use the odd bit of jargon or scientific language when you are discussing technical subjects. The TomTom glossary explains all the technical terms used in ‘How does it work?’.

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