Commercial Use of GPS Expanding into More New Markets

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Just as military use of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology is exploding with successful battlefield applications like asset tracking and precision guided weapons, the well-established commercial market for GPS products is also taking off with an even greater array of new products.

Bruce Peetz, vice president of technology for Trimble Navigation Ltd., a GPS components and solutions company based in Sunnyvale, Calif., attributed the take-off to the successful integration of satellite navigation and positioning, Internet and mobile technology. By working in all of these areas , Trimble has been able to do more for customers in a variety of commercial markets, he said.

Similarly, Olathe, Kan.-based Garmin International has seen added growth on the consumer side of things, particularly in the automotive and personal fitness areas, company spokeswoman Jessica Myers said.

Agricultural trends

Peetz said one of the largest recent growth areas for Trimble has been in agricultural guidance equipment. GPS systems installed in tractors can be used to determine where to fertilize or spray insecticide, using maps of the field that take into account yields of previous years, he said.

“Chemicals are a large portion of a farmer’s budget, so that becomes a fairly important area,” Peetz said.

GPS also is being used more for the automatic guidance of tractors and other vehicles. “It almost becomes like a self-driven piece of equipment,” Peetz said. Guided navigation allows the farmer to concentrate on other aspects of his work and can help farmers do additional work at night, which can be critical near the time of harvest, Peetz said.

“It’s really hard to drive in a straight line at night, and this equipment really allows them to do that,” Peetz said.

Construction and concrete

“Construction is one of those businesses that if you were Rip Van Winkle, fell asleep in 1950 and woke up in 1990, you wouldn’t have noticed a lot of difference,” Peetz said. “With GPS and computer information and the wireless boom, you can now combine those three things and actually do a lot for construction.”

This includes using GPS technology to navigate bulldozers and decrease the amount of time needed to fill dirt. Bulldozers are equipped with light bars which use arrows to instruct operators how to position their blades in conformance with a particular grade plan, Peetz said.

The company currently has a joint venture with Peoria, Ill.-based Caterpillar so that their GPS technology can be incorporated into the construction of some equipment prior to sale.

Another area of growth for Trimble is the concrete trucking business, Peetz said. GPS technology can be used to transmit data from sensors aboard a truck directly to a dispatcher. That data will provide the dispatcher with precise information about a concrete truck’s condition to determine how soon a truck should be brought back to a dump site, or whether there are problems with a particular load.

GPS technology also has been used as a preventative measure against concrete trucks rolling over on the highway, Peetz said.

Automotive

While GPS for automotive navigation is nothing new, Garmin’s customers are starting to demand increased traffic detection capabilities, Myers said.

“If someone is coming up to a traffic jam or accident, whatever it might be, GPS can try to route around it,” Myers said.

And while navigation devices could often direct passengers to “turn right” or “go straight,” they now are being equipped with street names and specific destinations, she said.

The future trend for automotive technology will be using Internet and mobile technology to make more information available to the consumer while he is in his vehicle, Peetz said. He envisions that soon, people will be able to locate a restaurant of their choice with food specifications, get directional navigation and even pull up restaurant reviews before they make their decision on where to go.

“You’d be able to do all this from the comfort of your car,” Peetz said.

A challenge, however, the industry faces in developing those capabilities is who’s going to pay for it, Peetz said. Most consumers are used to having Internet-related technologies for free or at a low cost, making development in this area somewhat more limited, he said.

Fitness

Garmin also has seen significant growth and interest in products which can be used for exercise and fitness purposes by individual consumers, Myers said.

Devices are outfitted with GPS which can be used for running, swimming and cycling, she said.

“People are able to monitor their workout, go back and analyze every step of the way, where they did well and where they were holding back a bit,” Myers said.

Various technologies can be integrated to measure cadence, rate of ascent and altitude, and to download exercise courses into Web-based topographical maps, Myers said.