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How GPS became core tech at CES

J. David Grossman, executive director, GPSIA

J. David Grossman

GPS drives the innovation economy

By J. David Grossman
Vice President of Regulatory Affairs
Consumer Technology Association

This January, the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) — owned and produced by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) — returned to Las Vegas. As the premier global platform for innovation, each year CES showcases the latest and greatest consumer technologies, from smartphones and wearables to self-driving trucks and electric cars.

GPS continues to play a central role in the technology we use daily. At CES, GPS-enabled technologies are found in nearly every product category, including 5G, internet of things (IoT), smart cities, vehicle tech and fitness wearables.

They are also among the CES 2022 Innovation Awards honorees, such as a connected bracelet that can alert emergency contacts and a robot that can identify the difference between crops and weeds.

How did GPS come to play such a critical role in devices as diverse as drones and smartphones?

Over the past 40 years, GPS has transformed from its origins as a military technology to one that no consumer or business can live without. During the 1990s, CTA members such as Panasonic and Sony pioneered commercially available GPS receivers.

At CES 1998, Garmin introduced StreetPilot, described as “one of the first practical and affordable GPS-based road navigation devices” and paved the way for huge growth in the consumer GPS market.

By the 2000s, GPS was no longer just a stand-alone technology. Following new Federal Communications Commission requirements, GPS-enabled smartphones opened the door for all-in-one devices. These products could deliver turn-by-turn navigation or identify the location of a lost or stolen device. In more recent applications, GPS technology provides the foundation for ever-more-complex mobile applications.

Opening of the 2022 Consumer Electronic Show. (Photo: Consumer Technology Association)

Opening of the 2022 Consumer Electronic Show. (Photo: Consumer Technology Association)

Foundational Technology

The evolution of GPS reflects a broader industry trend: innovators integrate foundational technology into successive generations of products, spurring development of new products and services. We’ve seen the same pattern play out for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Near Field Communication (NFC), which enables the latest tap-to-pay technologies. Hundreds of companies simply would not exist without free, global access to GPS signals!

With GPS, ridesharing companies such as Lyft match drivers and passengers, lead drivers to a precise pick-up location, and chart out a safe and efficient driving route. GPS-integrated smartwatches allow runners and cyclists to easily track pace and distance, a huge boon for many of us in the pandemic era. Closer to home, GPS-enabled pet collars help families keep tabs on their furry friends.


Beyond the technology we use daily, GPS technology is also revolutionizing such industries as agriculture. Thanks largely to GPS, centuries-old businesses are now technology companies. For instance, John Deere leveraged its 185-year history of building tractors and combines GPS with other location technologies to steer semi-autonomous tractors with centimeter accuracy. In addition to the time and efficiency benefits for farmers, technologies like these support sustainable agriculture by reducing the use of pesticides, water, seed and fertilizer.

John Deere held a Media Days press conference at Mandalay Bay during CES 2022. (Photo: Consumer Technology Association)

John Deere held a Media Days press conference at Mandalay Bay during CES 2022. (Photo: Consumer Technology Association)

The success of GPS is important for our industry’s success, and I am proud of the role GPS plays in everyday life. Modernization of GPS, supported by the U.S. government and industry, will enhance the accuracy, reliability and resiliency of the technology, which in turn will ensure GPS remains central to the innovation economy.

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