Paul E. Ceruzzi

In daily life, GPS is pervasive. Many modern vehicles come equipped with GPS mapping as standard equipment, and smartphones have geolocation services built-in. Without GPS, driverless cars won’t be able to travel; GPS makes Uber and Lyft viable. Paul Ceruzzi provides a brief history of GPS in this installment of the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series. He explains how this formerly obscure space technology evolved to be as crucial to modern living as electricity or clean water.

GPS receivers on land, at sea, and in the air get the exact time and positioning data from orbiting satellites. Although private businesses have the option to commodify the offered data, it functions on a global scale, and its core signals are free. In his history of GPS, Ceruzzi also discusses its predecessor technologies, such as the first satellites and airplane navigation systems. In the years following Apollo and before the launch of the Space Shuttle, GPS was developed as space technology, and he discusses its initial military and commercial applications. The creation and use of GPS technology were made possible, according to Ceruzzi, by the confluence of three significant technological advancements: the microprocessor, the Internet, and cellular telephony. Other nations are now developing or have already created their own satellite positioning systems in recognition of the significance of these systems in a changing geopolitical landscape. Ceruzzi covers these initiatives in the European Union, Russia, India, China, and Japan.