Technology Meets Outdoors

            Outdoor enthusiasts today donít have to search hard to find new technology that makes their lives much easier and safer.  One of the leading examples of this technology is the Global Positioning System (GPS).  A GPS device has the capability to tell you exactly where you are standing at any spot on Earth.  The original technology behind the GPS was brought about through our military during the Cold War era.  When first made available to the public the devices were very expensive and could only guarantee an accuracy of several hundred feet.  Interestingly, they were already capable of much greater accuracy but the military insisted on scrambling the signals for purposes of national security.  Today, with Cold War fears behind, these wonders of technology can reach accuracies within inches of the exact spot and prices are becoming much more reasonable.

            GPS systems work through a complex system of satellites and mathematics.  Some 24 satellites now orbit the Earth and continuously send out signals providing their whereabouts.  To find your exact location, the GPS device scans the sky for as many of these satellites as it can find.  Once several are located, the device triangulates its position in respect to the satellites and calculates your exact location. 

            Itís easy to see how this technology could be handy in the outdoors.  Hikers, hunters, horseback riders, and others can now pinpoint their location within seconds.  It also takes confusion over reading compasses and maps out of play.  These devices can also help navigate in low-visibility conditions.  For example, I was once in a boat headed for a duck hunt on the Pamlico Sound .  At 4 a.m. in Hyde County , it was pitch-dark.  On top of that a soupy fog had rolled in over night.  The fog negated any use of a spotlight to find our way.  Fortunately, we had a GPS and were able to drive directly to the blind without having to wait for the fog to lift. 

            Despite their relatively simple use, itís still recommended that you practice with these devices prior to using them under tough conditions.  One way you can do this is by accessing a website devoted to scavenger hunts called www.geocaching.com.  After accessing the site you then enter your zip code and find numerous locations where small tokens have been placed.  The site provides you with the coordinates for each location and you simply go try to find it.  Geocaching is the perfect fit for those technology driven people who are always looking for a challenge.  It can also provide an opportunity to get some exercise while youíre learning how to use your equipment.  And who knows, one day you may be able to use this skill to get yourself out of a much more dangerous situation.