GPS moving beyond locating

On: October 21, 2009
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About Albert Cornelissen
Student of the master New Media at the Universiteit van Amsterdam (UvA).


GPS in daily life is mostly used for connecting to the internet and navigating through an area. The focus of these types of GPS is giving you a precise location or finding a precise location. What would happen if GPS was used for different purposes?

The application TXXI for the iPhone, launched this year in the Netherlands, hopes to turn GPS on its head. TTXI allows a user to order a cab with three clicks on the iPhone, without any other physical communication. The application works like this: click on the application, it will determine you location which you have to conform, a button appears to finalize your order. What this application does is connect customers automatically to the nearest cab driver, where your order is shown on his or her board computer.

The interaction is reduced to linking two different codes, the customer and the cab, or linking two different networks. Determining your locale is not the focus of GPS, but the connection of two different codes. A user does not even have to know where he is or what number to call, you can simply push three buttons. William Mitchell in Designing the Digital City calls it ‘overlaying digital telecommunications on existing urban patterns’.

It can be argued that nothing really changes. You still ride the cab, only the communication is digitized. But that is saying reading a text online is the same as reading it offline, that shopping online is the same as shopping in a store, that e-mail is the same as writing a letter. When objects contain a digital code, think of RFID, and those codes can be brought together our consumption will change significantly. I’m not going to elaborate on the possible side effects, like being locked in your own preferences or the loss of human interaction (there are numerous articles on these topics), but to point out this new direction of GPS.

It is remarkable that GPS is not widely used other than determining ones location, that GPS is used as a tool for other purposes instead of being the end station. The reason is probably the need for software to take GPS in a new direction. If there is a creative climate for GPS software, the technology can move far beyond the simple task of locating.

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