10 Myths about GPS
Not necessarily the top 10 myths, rather myths we’ve been hearing lately.
- The Government can use GPS to track my movement. While there are some GPS receivers which have the capability to broadcast your position, the vast majority of GPS devices can only receive information from satellites and cannot broadcast any information.
- GPS receivers don’t work well when it is cloudy. People often describe GPS receivers as needing a “clear view of the sky”, however the clear view simply replies to not having any obstructions to the view of the sky such as mountains, tall buildings, dense canopy, etc. A cloudy day will not prevent your GPS from working. As an example of this, airplanes can use GPS to navigate down to a runway in cloudy or foggy conditions.
- Garmin is the only manufacturer of GPS devices. Garmin is the largest producer of GPS devices, however they are not the only manufacturer. This myth also takes on a slightly sarcastic component too since there are lot of people who say you shouldn’t consider anything other than a Garmin. Garmin is #1 for a good reason, they make great GPS devices, however there are lots of other companies who make great GPS products too.
- You should only buy a GPS device if it has a SiRF Star III chipset inside. The SiRF Star III chipset does have fantastic reception, and could be something to consider when purchasing a GPS, however it doesn’t trump sliced bread. For many uses og GPS even a 12 channel GPS receiver will work just fine and perhaps save you a couple of bucks too.
- If you buy a GPS today it will have up to date maps with the new development by my house. Unfortunately, this is a myth. Updated and corrected maps often take years to reach consumer devices despite claims from the manufacturers that their maps are up to date. The maps they provide might be the most recent set they have purchased (since they don’t make the maps themselves), but don’t expect the maps to be 100% accurate with the physical world.
- A GPS will prevent me from getting lost. (Outdoor recreational use.) A GPS will not always prevent you from getting lost. GPS devices are good at telling you were you are. A map and compass is still essential to carry to ensure you can get from where the GPS says you are to where you want to go. A GPS can’t read your mind and don’t often tell you where you want to go. They rely on batteries for power and when your batteries die you will still need to navigate.
- A GPS will prevent me from entering prohibited airspace. (For general aviation pilots.) Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) can pop up anywhere, at any time. Your GPS data is only as good as the last database update which for many people can be years old. Always check for the latest NOTAMs and mark critical areas on both your paper charts and (if your GPS device supports it) in your GPS.
- The GPS navigation system available from the factory in my car must be better than “aftermarket” GPS devices. I’ve found most of the factory installed navigations systems to be difficult to operate… they just are not as intuitive to use in most cases. They are significantly more expensive than an aftermarket portable navigation device (PND). While they are more difficult to steal, they are also much more difficult (and costly) to upgrade with new maps, POI databases, and features.
- Auto GPS navigation systems will pick the best route to your destination. You could have fooled me while driving up the East Coast of the US and the GPS wanted to send me over the George Washington Bridge during rush hour. But even aside from traffic there is always “local knowledge”. Ever have an argument with someone over the best way to get from one place to another? Don’t expect the GPS to settle that debate. While there are companies coming up with some very clever ways to learn this “local knowledge” the technology isn’t quite here yet.
- It is perfectly legal to use my GPS aboard a commercial flight. It might be okay, depending on several factors. Remember, at all times you must obey crew member instructions. On some airlines it is in their policies to not allow GPS receivers to be used while onboard the aircraft. On other airlines there might not be a policy against it, in which case it is up to the crew. If they tell you not to use it, you don’t use it, end of story. Additionally, some GPS devices carry transmitters of some sort such as the Rino series from Garmin as well as Bluetooth GPS receivers. Since transmitter devices are not allowed on commercial flight this will also ground those types of GPS receivers from being used. In the end it is rare for all of the stars to align properly to allow the use of GPS onboard a commercial aircraft and I imagine it will only become more difficult with today’s security threats.