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What Can Use GPS? Five Different GPS Devices

A quick Google search of “GPS device” will result in hundreds of GPS enabled gadgets. It can get very confusing what the different GPS devices are and how they work. Today, we at Black Knight list a few of these devices and explain how they use GPS.

GPS Tracking Device

Black Knight is classified under this category. A GPS tracking device requires three connections to be fully operational: GPS, the telco networks (Black Knight runs on 3G) and the company server providing the service. GPS allows for the tracker to be located and the telco network sends the location data to the server where it gets translated into map data. Much like a mobile phone, connecting to the telco networks requires a SIM-card and an ongoing payment. This is why, unlike a GPS navigation device (which only uses GPS), a GPS tracking device will incur an ongoing fee (usually a monthly or yearly subscription).

GPS Navigation Device

When you think of GPS and cars, you'll most likely think of a GPS navigation device. Whether it's built into the car's dashboard or a separate unit, dedicated car navigation devices work by connecting to the GPS and displaying your location on a 2D or 3D map stored on the device’s internal database. Since they have no other connection aside from GPS, you must regularly connect these devices to the internet to keep the maps up-to-date. Some GPS navigation devices are also compatible with GPS's Russian counterpart GLONASS or the EU’s Galileo. Utilising multiple satellite constellations allows for more accurate positioning (at the cost of more intense battery use).

Personal Location Beacons (PLB)

(photo by Toby Webster, via WikiMedia Commons)

These devices are found in aircraft and marine vessels, but are also used by mountaineers, back-county skiers or anyone who spends prolonged periods in the wild. A PLB is an emergency device that send out a distress signal. However, not every PLB uses GPS. Instead they use satellites operated by the International Cospas-Sarsat Programme. Once switched on, they send out a signal on two standard frequencies: 406MHz which is detectible by satellite, and 121.5MHz which emergency and rescue services can detect and locate the beacon with specialised equipment. GPS compatible PLBs also transmit their coordinates to rescue services.

Mobile Phones

Most people, at some stage or another, have used their phone’s GPS to find their way when lost, either through a dedicated navigation app, or through Google or Apple Maps. GPS connectivity is switched on through the phone’s “location” options. This is also what allows other app, most notably Facebook and Instagram, to tag a location for all your photos, statuses and check-ins. Once “location” is turned on, your phone can connect to the GPS. Then, like a GPS tracking device, it will send its location data over the telco network or Wi-Fi to the service you are using (data roaming will also need to be switched on).


These small remote-controlled hobby aircraft are great for photographing and filming aerial shots. Some of the more expensive drones come equipped with a GPS module, making its flight path trackable. Should you ever lose control of it, it can be easily located. GPS allows drones to remaining stationary when hovering, by locking onto a coordinate, and it can even allow for semi- and fully autonomous flight. A GPS module also enables a “return to home” function – where the drone can fly back to its owner automatically when the battery is low or signal to its controller is lost.

As soon as GPS went public, the ability to accurately track the movement of objects greatly improved navigation and safety of vehicles and individuals. From dedicated GPS navigation devices and beacons, to being implemented with pre-existing gadgets. It feels like we’ve only scratched the surface of what we can do with GPS.

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