The History of GPS Vehicle Tracking

December 5, 2017 Published by

We recently devoted a post to summarizing the history of the Global Positioning System, beginning with an examination of Sputnik in 1957 and concluding in 2005, when the current generation of Block II satellite was launched at Cape Canaveral. Now, with a new era of spacecraft on the horizon and set to take to the stars next year, the limitations of GPS capabilities are on the verge of expanding once more.

With that in mind, we come to you this week with a more specialized (and probably more pertinent) history: this one on how the technology has been used in vehicle tracking since its becoming available for public use in the 1990s, and how it may continue to evolve in the coming years.

The Early Days: An Impractical New Tool

GPS was an available resource for companies to utilize even in its earliest days in 1996, when then-president Bill Clinton declared the technology a dual-use framework that civilians could access alongside the government and military agencies already using it.

Fleet managers immediately saw the benefit of being able to better keep tabs on the locations of their vehicles, but, as with so much fledgling technology, it was a costly and cumbersome new world to explore: impractical enough that, for many businesses, its faults largely counterbalanced the convenience it was supposed to provide. Every vehicle had to be equipped with a tracking device that was large, exceedingly expensive, and restrained in its capabilities. Outfitting an entire line of trucks was pricey enough, but that wasn’t the end of it: companies also had to pay a large fee in order to actually access the satellite system that the devices needed to function.

Along with the relatively slow improvement in computer technology and limited speed and range of the Internet at the time, GPS tracking was consequently a privilege that only the largest and most successful enterprises could afford. And though it was primitive, it was a tool that still proved to be much more reliable and efficient than the traditional, manual methods for vehicle management, and served to further widen the wealth gap between the already dominating fleet companies and the smaller, newer ones attempting to break into the industry.

Growth and Greater Accessibility

In the two decades since the inception of the technology, GPS, like the mobile phone and personal computer, has evolved from a luxury novelty to an everyday piece of go-to hardware. As the number of satellites available for consumer use increased and their capacity for data steadily improved, the costs of accessing the system dropped. And along with the greater convenience of the software and faster Internet connections of today, fleet GPS systems have become dramatically cheaper and easier to install and employ as a result.

Looking at the Road Ahead

Nowadays, managers and companies have an unprecedented degree of control over their assets. Beyond basic location data, GPS can be used to track everything from fuel usage and vehicle speed to driving patterns and idle times, which is invaluable in gauging and subsequently improving efficiency. It isn’t all about speed and saved money, however: better oversight also leaves room for the technology in the coming years to enhance driver safety on the road and extend the accessibility of the system to portable devices and beyond.

With the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) having recently passed a mandate requiring all commercial vehicles to maintain electronic logs (see our information on this here) by the end of 2017, we can likely expect a further increase in the use (and therefore possibilities) of GPS tracking in the coming months. The road only goes forward from here!

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