Article > Tech

Automotive telematics will rule, only if GPS keeps working

By Mark Phillips

Almost a year ago, I wrote a column titled, “I Tele You What: This Technology Will Rule.”
Mark Phillips
Almost a year ago, I wrote a column titled, “I Tele You What: This Technology Will Rule.” In it, I discussed telematics and how it’s believed vehicle telematics technology will flourish in the future, potentially creating huge opportunities for the aftermarket. (Vehicle telematics is anything to do with sending, receiving and/or storing information about a vehicle, normally via radio waves.) But there’s a potential hiccup in the underlying technology that may drive much of the tech revolution that some believe will be a boon to the aftermarket.

One very important part of telematics has been and will continue to be GPS or the Global Positioning System. It’s a group of 24 satellites that orbit 12,000 miles above earth and allows GPS users to pinpoint where they are, or for a vehicle to tell where it is in relation to other vehicles, among other things. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is in charge of making sure the system works.

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) claims GPS will begin failing next year unless some repairs, upgrades and more satellites are sent into space. The Department of Defense says the GAO’s report is bunk and that it has a plan in place to ensure there are plenty of good satellites overhead to allow GPS to work. In fact, the DoD points out there are plenty of spare satellites to make sure nothing goes awry with GPS.

There’s a whole range of civilian applications for GPS, from finding your way to a family picnic, tracking an ATM that “walks off” in the back of a thief’s truck to, in the future, vehicles telling other vehicles that there’s a traffic jam up ahead. All of this is fantastic stuff, when it works.

In my household, there are three devices with GPS — my phone, my wife’s phone and a GPS unit in my car. But even with all three of these devices in the car on two recent weekends, we couldn’t find where we were going. It took nearly 10 tries between the different devices to actually find the destination we needed to get to. I’ve never had much of a problem with GPS before, but on these two weekends, it just didn’t work. On the most recent trip, GPS put us smack in the middle of a parking lot more than three miles from our destination. My GPS unit said my cousin’s house was literally three parking spaces from a light pole outside a western Pennsylvania mall.

The weekend before, it told me to drive through a building. Hiccups like this have been known to occur with GPS before. While getting bad satellite guidance on a family trip isn’t inherently dangerous, in the future, if we rely on vehicles to alert each other through GPS that there’s a nasty traffic crash up ahead, these little satellite snafus might not be so trivial.

If GPS and telematics are poised to be a potential panacea for the automotive aftermarket, we need to understand some of the technology behind it is reliant on entities other than the aftermarket to make sure it works.
  Previous Comments
avatar   Joe Bob   star   2/6/2010   10:07 AM

I wish i new superman, Clark Kent is so cool becuase he knows superman

avatar   Jimmy Olsen   star   2/2/2010   3:22 PM

Why don't we just tell Clark Kent when one of them is failing, and he can ask Superman to just fling it out of orbit and let the Martians deal with it?

avatar   Matt   star   1/20/2010   11:21 AM

There's actually 32 GPS satellites currently in orbit, although as of yesterday 4 were offline for maintenance/testing. But more would always be welcome. As others mentioned, without the occasional new satellite, orbit adjustment, etc., the network will eventually fail. The navigation challenges mentioned aren't so much an issue with the satellites themselves, but rather conditions on the ground are the most likely culprit. The type of GPS receivers currently found in vehicles/phones only use a small part of the data being transmitted. As production costs continue to drop, hopefully we'll see carrier phase and dual frequency receivers become available for the average consumer. Although even that alone may not be enough for GPS vehicle collision avoidance systems, especially in urban areas where GPS signals bounce off of buildings, causing increased inaccuracy.

avatar   Josh   star   1/15/2010   5:31 PM

Satellites are in a "decaying orbit." That means eventually the Earth's gravity will pull it into the atmosphere destroying it. Most are launched in such a way that their orbit puts them back in the atmosphere around the time their service life runs out. What goes up must come down.

avatar   Chris   star   1/12/2010   4:23 PM

Too bad there's no way to put a little rocket on them to shoot them back down into the atmosphere when they go bad.

avatar   Wolfe   star   1/1/2010   9:17 AM

The problem with those missles is that there are too many unknown variables. If the dead satalite moves into an unknown trajectory, they have to recalibrate, which takes time due to the distance. That delay can cost a lot of money if the missle explodes near an active satalite. Not to mention that the missle itself can have issues. And even if everything goes successfully, there is still an issue of the smaller parts having too much momentum and destroying or damaging a working satalite. The government hates using them and are only considered in "certain" circumstances. Not to mention that we are not the only company with satalites, which means approval has to pass by others if the dead satalite is too close to someone elses active satalite.

avatar   Dan   star   12/28/2009   2:11 PM

Ed really does know everything!!!!

avatar   Ed   star   12/22/2009   8:44 PM

Mike, satellite destroying missiles are used to remove satellites from orbit, leaving only small debris that burn up upon re-entry.

avatar   mike   star   12/21/2009   7:53 AM

who is going to remove all the non working outdated satellites ?

avatar   noob   star   12/20/2009   6:51 PM

use scoth tape to intergrate it 2 ur toaster XD

avatar   Wolfe   star   12/19/2009   7:36 AM

Actually Ferran, yes, there is. The mod kit for it is inexpensive too. You take your Blackberry (this works best with the more expensive phones) and take the USB adapter or cable, depending on which type you have, and split open the wire. Find the red and white wires, leave the blue, black, and green alone. Connect the white with the left side of the toaster elements and the red wire with the right side elements. Place your phone inside the toaster and press down on the lever to start integration. *Anyone that requires a disclaimer with this post deserves any and all results.* Congratulations, you're done!

avatar   Chris   star   12/11/2009   3:37 PM

Well, I for one certainly wouldn't want to lose my toast! XD

avatar   Brad   star   12/8/2009   7:35 PM


avatar   Ferran   star   12/8/2009   11:23 AM

Does anyone know if there's someway to integrate GPS with my toaster?

avatar   Wolfe   star   12/1/2009   5:20 PM

Come on Bob, you say that like it's a bad thing. Technically, any mechanic out there is a geek. Anyone who has an "overactive" appreciation for something can be referred to as a geek. Personally, I prefer to be called a nerd. That generalizes it to technology a little bit more. ;)

avatar   Chris   star   12/1/2009   3:14 PM

...and proud of it =D

avatar   bob   star   11/30/2009   2:06 PM


avatar   Chris   star   11/26/2009   1:38 PM

Ah, you'll have to order the special Atari GPS from Japan. Since this GPS was made in 1982, it's gonna run you about $900.

avatar   game genius 2.0   star   11/16/2009   6:45 PM

I can't figure out how to integrate the GPS with my ATARI!!! Can anyone help???

avatar   Solitude   star   10/10/2009   8:25 PM

"F" it. Solitare is the game of choice.

avatar   Ed   star   10/2/2009   4:15 PM

The European Union has taken up the challenge to improve upon GPS accuracy. Yesterday they announced the EGNOS, European Geostationary Navigation Overlay System, satellite system that will be deployed within the next 10 years. However, as it's name implies, they will take up an orbit only over Europe, unlike the US Department of Defense current setup which is used for more than just your TomTom. EGNOS will allow for accuracy down to 2 meters, a far jump ahead from the current 10 to 15 meter accuracy.

avatar   Chris   star   9/23/2009   5:59 PM

Speaking of GPS and games, I know I could certainly have used one back in the early nineties with Wolfenstein 3-D and Descent!

avatar   Nick   star   8/31/2009   4:12 PM

OMG Only lvl 64. Talk about an epic fail. Maybe you should be leveling your toon instead of making remarks on a message board.

avatar   Joey Atnip   star   8/31/2009   10:48 AM

This past July,we were on a trip to Six Flags over Texas. A good friend of mine relied heavily on his GPS and it came back with the wrong directions,we passed our exit 3 times. I think GPS is ok but I would rather rely on a map any day.

avatar   Ed   star   8/27/2009   8:30 PM

Yes, Jody, GPS is slowly integrating itself into our daily routine. Prior to the release of the V-series performance Cadillacs, GM tossed around the idea of implementing GPS to enforce local speed limits. While this did not make it to the production model, Nissan picked up the ball and ran, by placing both speed and power restrictions on the Nissan GTR unless the GPS recognized the current location as a sanctioned race track.

avatar   Chris   star   8/27/2009   10:45 AM

I'm still waiting on the day where you can type in your destination and the automobile will drive it's self to the place you wanna go. But I fear we are far from it. Though we do have cars that will parallel themselves! And yes Undead lock, WoW is an AWESOME game and lm@o Johnny.

avatar   Wolfe WHM75   star   8/26/2009   6:14 PM

Ed, I was referring to my fathers '99 Chrysler Town & Country, which has a GOS system built in but requires a disk for the eastern half of the country, and it was out dated pretty fast. Any company that moves or goes out of business (and with this economy, good luck finding Rider's Hobby store). I should have clarified that better. As far as the Merriweather Lewis thing goes, I failed my History classes. It probably would have been funnier if I caught the reference. World of Warcrack sucks, Final Fantasy XI is better. But I still need a GPS in Vana'diel. I get lost too easily.

avatar   Jody Ard   star   8/26/2009   11:42 AM

I honestly think technology is great...and also believe that GPS will become common place in most automobiles in the not so distance future. My family and I travel every summer. We've been from New York city to Los Angeles and the GPS has never failed me. In factseveral times I thought I could find a quicker route on my own, and wished I had listened to my TOM Tom. I also have GPS on my cell phone, but what happens when you loose cell service in unpopulated areas? GPS...It's better not to rely on the cell phone. I do agree that nothing is perfect or fool proof, but I also think perfection is over rated. We should embrace technology and be happy our lives are much easier than our parents and grandparents.

avatar   Lvl 64 Undead Lock   star   8/25/2009   10:31 AM

Forget Crysis, World of Warcraft is the game you should be playing! And you dont need and GPS in the world of Azeroth!!! LONG LIVE THE HORDE!!!!!

avatar   Not Merriweather   star   8/24/2009   6:47 PM

I think the Merriweater thing was a joke. You know, Lewis and Clark expedition? Check the history books. It was pretty funny I thought. Nice to see a sense of humor on the boards occasionally, not some guy trying to "man up" and show how much knowledge he has of GPS? Shouldn't you all be selling Auto parts? Where are your managers?

avatar   Wolfe   star   8/21/2009   2:00 PM

You know, Merriweather, from the sounds of it, you seem to despise technology. Can you honestly say that GPS devices are so horrible? Before you answer, remember that you can not bash one piece of technology without bashing more. That "bad" GPS technology that you seem to hate is the backbone of OnStar. A service that saves lives everyday (I know first hand, I used to work for them). What about ambulance drivers that are unfamiliar with the area that they have to go to in order to save that life? Do you want an ambulance driver that is going to pull out a map, to sit for 5 minutes and determine the best route to take? Individual addresses are not listed on maps sweetie. You can wait for The Great Personable Sacajewea to drive an ambulance or firetruck to your house. I'll take the evil GPS drivers any day of the week.

avatar   Ed   star   8/21/2009   1:38 PM

Wow, this has turned out like a bad Doctor Who episode. So Wolfe, how does a simple electronic device, such as a GPS, become "out-of-date" in a year? Especially when its maps and GPS satellite locations are updated each time you connect the USB cable to your computer? We are not talking about running Crysis at 1920x1200 resolution, with 4X anti-aliasing, in an attempt to get 45 FPS on a blueberry iMac with a Windows emulator. A former co-worker showed me the earliest form of electronic GPS that he picked up from Radioshack back in the early 90s, a distance calculator, and you know what? It may be over 15 years old, but its still spot on. Allons'y!

avatar   TRH   star   8/21/2009   1:25 PM

If you have to go into a BIG city they are great if you need to find a particular address if you don't know where the streets are.

avatar   Merriweather Lewis   star   8/20/2009   6:14 PM

What are these GPS devices of which you speak? Back in my day we had our own GPS device. The Great Personable Sacajewea. Had it not been for our GPS, we shant never found our way to the western coast of the brave new world. It sounds to me like this modern GPS is a foolhardy proposition at best. Why, we keep all our maps in handy leatherbound cases, as to not let them see moisture. Lest we have to stop the expedition and wait for new maps. Anyway thats my two haypennies worth of advice on the subject. Sincerest Regards, Merriweather Lewis ( somewhere in what will become Montana)

avatar   Wolfe   star   8/19/2009   5:45 PM

Hey Bill, you do realize that chip implants have more to do with the "rapture" than aliens, right? And Matthew, I agree that buying a GPS is a waste of money. However, having one built in to your phone (I have the Verizon Alias) is not really a waste. I can use/pay for it whenever I need directions and it is either $3 for a 24 hour use or $10 a month. To me, that is a lot more cost efficient than paying $500+ for one that will be out of date next year. And LOL @ Ralph, seconded! Remember that technology is getting better all the time. How crazy was it when a home pc was 286 and state-of-the-art? Do you think people would have believed that my cellphone can out perform that computer in 15 years (or what a cellphone is for that matter)?

avatar   Ed   star   8/19/2009   3:46 PM

I'm with you Matt, along with my collection of BetaMax videos. Do not shun technology, it has made all of our lives easier. The telephone, electronic invoices, electronic cataloging, the personal computer, even your razor has technology in it. We all use these items everyday and it makes our lives much easier, lot less prone to alcoholism or nicotine addiction due to being addled with stress of nothing but paper invoices and looking up everything in the books. Technology takes time, it takes practice to perfect the art, so, just give it time. Besides, Linux wasn't compiled in a day.

avatar   ralph fiebiger   star   8/19/2009   2:29 PM

I still get better instructions from my GPS than I do from my wife and I can turn my GPS off.

avatar   Matthew Vaughn   star   8/17/2009   6:37 PM

I have to say, some of these comments are entertaining. I personally, don't like GPS devices. I think they are a waist of money. Yes, they have helped a great deal with finding folks, and other things when it was necessary. But, to have one just to get where you need to go, nothing beats a good ol' fashioned map. Some say, "I can't read a map!" I couldn't either till I got one and started looking at it. I have tried to use a GPS 4 times, and every time, it put me several miles away. Once it put me in the wrong town. Luckily, I did it without actually driving there. I was just checking accuracy. I think I will just stay with the maps. Technology has let me down too many times.

avatar   Bill   star   8/15/2009   9:36 AM

Well, you all forget that Barack "The Islamic Shock" Obama is going to force us all to implant a chip underneath our skin so that the reptoid aliens and international bankers can track our every move!

avatar   T.S.   star   8/6/2009   4:56 PM

GPS system dont have anything to do with the maps. The maps is in the computer that is receiving the gps signal from the satelites.

avatar   TIM   star   8/2/2009   8:44 PM


avatar   Wolfe   star   7/25/2009   10:55 AM

I think that people are forgetting that while, yes, this is a great tool, it is not a replacement for maps and general knowledge. You are not supposed to be so dependent on the GPS device that you lose common sense. When it is off by a few houses/feet, do not cry about it. The world is not over (yet). This is to help people who are completely horrible with directions (i.e. Me!) find the general area, instead of driving around forever looking on the wrong side of the street because they did not realize that there is a Main Street and a North Main Street. Or that 8th Street is not the same as 8 Mile Road. Furthermore, if you are looking for the nearest Taco Bell (any road trip for me), while it may not show you that the Taco Bell was moved down the street to a new location, it gets you close enough that you can figure it out easier. It's a convenience that too many people get upset over because they want it to always be 100% perfect. Nothing out there is perfect, not even OnStar, which relies on cell ph

avatar   Wolfe   star   7/24/2009   2:25 PM

Ed, you are slightly off, the hats are aluminum.

avatar   Ed   star   7/23/2009   1:29 PM

Corey, no worries, I didn't take it all that seriously. However I do look forward to the day when the car as we know it, is replaced with the PTD, Personal Transportation Device. When we can drive down the road and Digg this and Like that, that you are integrated into a social network, sharing shortcuts, maps, traffic conditions, weather conditions. As for the big brother, black helicopter and tin foil hat aspect of it, I still welcome it, GPS imposed speed ranges, having the ability to track criminals that robbed a bank or kidnapped a child, the positives of it far outweigh the price of "freedom". As for the safety aspect of it in a system failure or EMP attack, just look at today's airplanes, littered with electronics and for each system there are at least three redundant systems all designed and programmed by different companies, and in case all electronics fail, there are still plenty of analog gauges and controls to fly the plane. In spite of this, crashes are still largely blamed on human error.

avatar   Corey   star   7/22/2009   9:45 AM

I don't recommend going downtown Atlanta under ANY circumstance, however, I still bet I'd be fine with good ole' RAND McNALLY at my side. This is all for the sake of humor of course. Don't take it too seriously there Ed. We all love our gadgets, even Hansell & Grettel have picked up on the technology!

avatar   Ed   star   7/21/2009   4:01 PM

You've missed the point entirely corey, he was trying to convey that the DoD's strategy of "set it and forget it" is slowly leading to the downfall of GPS. Few years ago my TomTom was precise, going to the very same destinations today, it drops me short, with apparently 8 GPS satellites agreeing that 760 McKelvey St is really 336 McKelvey St and I should not continue any further. Do not even dare go into downtown Atlanta with your GPS, it becomes Emily Rose, the display spins and spews out random directions in a continous loop, "go left", "go right", "do a u-turn" all without moving an inch. If we are to one day rely on GPS and other telematics to drive the cars, the system must improve.

avatar   Bob   star   7/20/2009   4:12 PM

The only problem I've had with GPS is road construction. I may be told to turn left and the road is blocked off but I have no problem just going to the next turn and getting back where I need to go. I laugh at Jill (the GPS voice) all the time when she says "recalculating".

avatar   Steve Abrams   star   7/20/2009   2:32 PM

Let's not start the whole paper is better than computer thing again!

avatar   Joe   star   7/20/2009   11:41 AM

I agree with corey

avatar   Johhny   star   7/19/2009   5:10 PM

Be careful with GPS tracking technology. Its just another Federal government system that can be abused by big brother to control your movements or can be used against you in the future. If you think that's just "black helicopter" stuff think again! ALso in the event of an EMP (electro magnetic pulse) such as that casued by an atomic weapon or high intenisty EMP weapon anyone driving a car with an electronic ignition will be out of transportation. Lead sheilding won't help.

avatar   corey   star   7/16/2009   1:13 PM

Perhaps you should invest in a map.

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