Curious and Unconventional Applications of GPS Tracking Systems

Companies like ours sell GPS vehicle tracker systems to, well, track personal cars and fleet vehicles. However, people are inventive, and it’s not surprising to discover them using GPS tracking systems in creative and unusual ways. GPS riding art Michael “Wally” Wallace is a middle school science teacher. His hobby is using GPS vehicle tracking […]



Companies like ours sell GPS vehicle tracker systems to, well, track personal cars and fleet vehicles. However, people are inventive, and it’s not surprising to discover them using GPS tracking systems in creative and unusual ways.

GPS riding art
Michael “Wally” Wallace is a middle school science teacher. His hobby is using GPS vehicle tracking to transform maps of the city into art. The city streets of Baltimore is his canvas, his mountain bike and GPS technology are his brushes, and Google Maps is his template.

Think of his art as a giant Etch-A-Sketch as Wally bicycles up and down streets “drawing” objects such as a boot, a gun and a hammer. Lately he’s evolved into more complex “drawings” such as the Jellyfish Invasion and Tee It golfer.

His art can only be seen from a bird’s-eye view, of course, but fortunately that’s no problem with a GPS system. Wally’s vehicle tracker continuously sends location data to a satellite, which relays it to a GPS server that stores and records the data. The route data is then superimposed on Google Maps to reveal his “drawing.”

Wally’s art has been featured in various media around the world. You can see a showcase of his work by visiting his online gallery at WallGPX.com.

Who knows? It may lead you to digitally sketching your own masterpieces.

Like finding a GPS in a haystack
Each month the county Sheriff’s Department in Tillman County, Oklahoma was receiving calls from farmers complaining their hay bales were stolen.

Stealing hay is no minor problem in the county. Extreme drought has forced farmers to use more hay than normal, driving up prices and making hay very attractive to thieves. Another plus for thieves: hay is impossible to trace. Well, almost impossible.

When one farmer complained that more than 30 bales of his hay were stolen, Sheriff Whittington swung into action. He planted a portable GPS vehicle tracker in one of the farmer’s bales and waited for the thieves to strike again. They did.

Using a satellite tracking system, the sheriff was able to follow a dot representing the thieves’ truck on his smartphone. When he pulled the thieves over, they naturally claimed the hay was theirs; they were on their way to feed their cattle. When the sheriff showed them the GPS hidden in a bale, they asked if they could simply return the hay and forget the whole incident.

They went to jail.

Since then hay thefts have dropped dramatically in Tillman County, Oklahoma.

Solving a mystery of the seas
Manta rays are facing extinction. These graceful 25-foot fish are one of the ocean’s largest and least-known species. Almost nothing is known about their movements, their habits or their ecological needs. Answers to these questions are urgently needed because manta rays are now listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Manta rays have the highest brain-to-body ratio of all rays and sharks. And because they don’t have dangerous stingers like stingrays, they’re harmless to humans.
Unfortunately, humans aren’t harmless to manta rays. They chop the rays for shark chum, use them for traditional Chinese medicine and run over them with ships. If marine biologists hoped to improve the long-term survival of manta rays, they desperately needed more data.

Initial data came via GPS trackers, which scientists placed on six manta rays and monitored them for 64 days before the units fell off. Results of the tracking program were published in a study by scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Mexican government and the University of Exeter. Among their findings they discovered manta rays:

— Traveled almost 700 miles during the two months they were tracked.

— Preferred warm water less than 50 meters deep.

— Swam most of their time in coastal waters with plentiful zooplankton and fish eggs.

— Spent 90% of their time swimming in major shipping routes, leaving them vulnerable to being hit by ships.

This is only a beginning. There’s still a lot to learn about these gentle giants. It’s hoped satellite tracking technology will be one of the key components for understanding manta ray movements and the dangers that threaten their existence.

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