Real Time GPS Tracking

When most people think of tracking someone they think of real time GPS tracking. They want to know exactly where a person or object is at any given moment of time. They want to sit at their computer and be able to follow the tracker’s movements on a Google Maps like interface. In essence, people want to be a little like God – knowing where someone is at any given moment in the day.

If you haven’t tried it, you should.

What follows is a look at some of the common questions people might have about real time GPS tracking. Its not a definitive list, its just a start.

What Is Real Time GPS Tracking?

Real time GPS tracking is the process where a device communicates its position over a wireless communication network to a 3rd party. This third party then makes the information available on the Internet for the user to access.

Essentially the device is a combination of a GPS and a cell phone. Once the GPS figures out where you are the cell part of the tracker sends that information to the tracking provider. The provider takes the raw data, puts it on a map, and then lets you look at the map online in a slick interface that often uses Google Maps.

Like I said before, if you haven’t tried it yet you should.

How Does Real Time GPS Tracking Work?

The process is called trilateration and it involves some math. Some fancy math at that. But what you need to know is that there are dozens of satellites in orbit around the wolrd right now put up there by the folks in the United States Airforce. These satellites put out a constant stream of low energy radio signals that have data encoded in them.

Your GPS tracking device receives these signals and is able to calculate how far it is away from each of the satellites it receives the message from. Once it has 4 of these distances calculated it can determine its location on the surface of the earth to within just a few meters.

Now that it has calculated its position it will now try and broadcast the information to the tracking provider. Some real time trackers use cell phone networks to do this transmission while others use communication satellites. Both have their place, but most tracking devices that work in real time are going to work off of a cell phone network.

Once this information is calculated and transmitted the tracking provider gives you access to the information through a website. Sometimes they will let you share the info in a widget on a personal blog or Facebook, or they might let you send secure text messages or emails with your location to a select group of people.

Can You Block A Real Time Tracker?

Yes. And blocking is actually much easier than you think. Let’s say that you think you are being tracked by someone against your will and in an illegal way. Perhaps an estranged ex-boyfriend is showing up in strange places. Definitely call the police and have them do a once over of your vehicle, but then go out and buy a GPS blocker. (Update 4/16/2012:  GPS jammers are illegal and should not be used.  After several events in recent years the US government has really began to crack down on GPS jammers since they pose a significant risk to public safety and  national infrastructure.  Consumers should not buy these devices unless they are approved by the FCC.  Any jammer in use should be retired and an alternative method to ensure location privacy should be employed since penalties for jammer use could exceed $100,000 and include jail time.)

This small device will scramble the incoming GPS signals so that they can’t get to the device. The tracker will be unable to tell where it is and the tracking will stop. These devices generally have to be plugged into your car and have an effective sphere of several yards. They are illegal in some places, so be sure to check to see if you are allowed to own and operate them in your car.

There are other ways to stop real time tracking that don’t involve owning a potentially illegal device. If the device is your cell phone then turn the phone completely off (and take out the battery if needed). This will prevent anyone from using your phone as a tracking device.

Types Of Real Time GPS Tracking:

There are a few different types of real time tracking. Here is a brief synopsis of each of them to give you an idea of what exactly they are.

Car tracking devices

Real time car tracking devices come in two main varieties: hardwired and stand alone. There are benefits to each of them, but in most applications a hardwired device is going to be the way that you want to go. Hardwired real time trackers benefit from getting their power from the vehicle itself, making nearly continuous, long term tracking a possibility.

This is incredibly important for tracking a teen driver, recovering a stolen vehicle, or improving fleet performance. Some hardwired trackers do require a professional installation or some familiarity with vehicle electronics. Others are so easy to install you can do it yourself. Just slide it into the OBD-II port and you are good to go.

Stand alone real time trackers will work just like the hardwired variety and have the same costs but will need to constantly have their battery recharged. Let’s use the popular stand alone tracker, the Zoombak, to get some sort of bearing on the difference between the two. According to the Zoombak website, the tracker can perform 150 locates (determining the device’s position via GPS and then transmitting that information over a wireless network to Zoombak) before the battery runs out. If you only do 1 locate every 3 minutes you only have 7.5 hours of constant, real time tracking with the Zoombak. You will need to recharge the device a lot if you want to use it for certain applications.

Don’t get me wrong, it will still work and may even work better in certain applications. You just want to make sure you know what you are getting into.

Cell phone tracking software

Did you know that cell phones are the most widely used real time GPS tracking devices in the world? Its true. It was on CNN:

Pretty much any cell phone can be located in real time just by being turned on. Not all cell phones can be located by YOU, but they can be located by your cell phone carrier who can then give that information to the police or some other government agency. Some cell phones have the capability to contact third parties if special software is installed on them.
It is this software than can turn a cell phone into a real time tracking device for normal people like you and me.

There are two types of software out there that let you track a phone in real time. The first is free GPS cell phone tracking software. Some of these free tracking programs are actually incredibly powerful and let you do tons of things with them. Most free trackers are designed to be used by willful participants and are not necessarily going to work as secret real time GPS trackers. Things like Google Latitude, InstaMapper’s GPS Tracker, and Lookout Mobile Security can give you pinpoint locations for the cell phone – they just all require account creation and are easily accessed from any smartphone.

Paid real time GPS tracking programs are also available, but these only should be purchased if you are trying to do something very specific that a free tracker will not allow you to do. One thing that a lot of paid services provide is cell phone monitoring in addition to the real time tracking. These services let you see incoming and outgoing calls, read text messages, and see Internet usage. These programs are extremely powerful and can be set up to run “silently” so the user of the phone doesn’t know that they are there.

Personal GPS trackers

Don't get trapped adventuring without a real time GPS tracking device!

Personal real time GPS tracking devices are generally about one thing – safety. If you can imagine a group or community that might benefit from having their position readily accessible by concerned loved ones then you can rest assured that there is probably already a tracking devices for that market. There are real time trackers for kids, for teenagers, for Alzheimer’s patients, and for outdoor adventurers– just to name a few.

None of these trackers can hold a candle to the sheer amount of data that they can collect when compared to a built in GPS tracker in a car, but in a pinch these devices can save a life. They suffer from short battery life since they try to be small and concealable. Some only have a real time battery life of a few hours. However, most of these devices are better when used on demand. You simply find there device when you actually want to.

The Future of Real Time GPS Tracking

Everyone is going to be using this technology in the future. If not for themselves then in some other way that benefits them. Governments are becoming increasingly aware that providing real time data on public transportation improves user’s experience. Companies are realizing that tracking data is fun and interactive. And privacy barriers are being increasingly eroded by childhoods saturated in Internet culture. The question that still remains for use to determine is how we will own this new technology and make it integral parts of our lives in the future. Real time GPS tracking is the future. Is that a future you are looking forward to?