Since the advent of the first primates, the greatest factor contributing to the development and enrichment of the human race has been its curiosity and the thirst to explore far off regions and locations. Whether it be the stone-age, full of jungles, or the modern era with its technology is driven growth and ever expanding horizons of new found lands, the need for a reliable navigation system is now as great if not greater compared to the days gone by. It adds to an explorer’s confidence in the face of uncharted/unseen territory and literally carves a path where none may seem to have existed before.
As is the case with most of the technological innovations, navigation to has seen some unprecedented development in the last century. There was a time when travelers used the alignment of stars and basic instruments like compasses for charting a route. But we have come a long way from that. Road maps which were once the nectar of life for an adventurer are considered today as part of that minimalistic setup which in polite terms,may be called the Launchpad for any endeavor. Differently put, maps have become so typically rudimentarythat from here, one can only move forward. And why not? With the advancement in technology, man has gone to the moon and planning to go beyond. Therefore, it is but natural, that we have come to rely on increasingly accurate and awe-inspiring systems.
1. GPS System
Take, for example, the GPS system. It is one of the most widely used navigational contraptions in the modern world. Although it was developed by the US in the 1970s, it remains magnificently relevant even today all over the world. It is freely accessible to anyone with a GPS receiver and requires unhindered line of sight (LOS) contact with at least four satellites among the thirty one which is in orbit as of now. It has provided valuable services across the spectrum and has catered to civilian as well as highly classified military requirements. It seems to have such an impact upon the present world that its utility has been recognized by many other entities apart from the US. Which is why efforts have been made in the form of GLONASS (Russian GPS) and IRNSS (Indian GPS) to diversify its ownership and guarantee the availability of this technology.
2. Gyro Compass
Another fine yet simple instance of navigational refinement is the Gyro Compass. It is similar to a conventional compass except that its orientation remains unaffected by thechange in magnetic fields making it less susceptible to tampering or futility in functioning. It is guided by a fixed rotational axis which is also the axis on which the earth rotates. It has been tremendously useful in seagoing vessels as it remains unaffected by the ferromagnetic materials which may be present in the ship’s hull.
Not only on land, there are tools available these days which can help us take stock of all nearby terrain and objects, even if it is in the air. Radar (Radio Detection and Ranging) is a detection paraphernalia which utilizes radio frequency microwaves to find out the exact position of an object as accurately as possible using determining factors such as range, direction, angle, velocity and shape of objects. It is a widely used device in which a transmitter is used to send and receive the electromagnetic waves which are bounced back from nearby objects as per the range of the device in use. This helps create a very detailed picture of what is in and around an area or an object and can simplify navigation by quite a few degrees. It has been beneficial in controlling traffic (both air and ground) and has also advanced the ecosystem of astronomy and air warfare.
While there is Radar to help us navigate on land and above it, there is also this system called SONAR (Sound Navigation and Ranging) to help us traverse under water as well. It is used in a medium where the speed of sound is greater like liquid, predominantly water and is a major part of underwater transport systems namely Submarine navigation as underwater mapping and surveys. While passive sonar is there to record sounds made by vessels of objects, active sonar emits its own sound waves and scans the wavelengths for echoes which on further analysis can reveal a lot of minutiae. The range of operational frequencies varies a lot here and may be infrasonic for one purpose and ultrasonic for the other and speaks volumes about its versatility and reliability.
Also, we have various modern techniques such as:
It is also called Celestial navigation. It is based on accurate estimations and usually employs schemes based on approximations made between any heavenly body and the visible horizon. It uses protractor like instruments implementing the utility of angle based instruments with relation to those celestial figures which have been mentioned in the nautical almanac, of which there are almost sixty.
6. Dead Reckoning
It is a method in which future course and the navigational routes are decided upon based on the previous information regarding the ship’s course or fix which has been recorded previously. As expected, it is not entirely accurate and aggregate errors have to be accounted for.
7. Radio Navigation
It is the implementation of radio signals and wireless frequencies in sync with direction finding, distance measurements and wave velocity to radio locate an item on the surface of the earth accurately.
8. Indoor Navigation system (INS)
When combined with GPS, is another potent teaming which can help improve the accuracy and reliability of direction finding equipment. Indoor object mapping GPS systems have changed the face of indoor navigation as we know it. But scientists are on the verge of an even greater breakthrough.
Recently, vigorous efforts have been made to form up new technology that will consist of navigational vehicles which would utilize not only the GPS or INS, rather, it would have the capability to tap into virtually every kind of signal there is. Whether it be TV, WiFi, cellular waves or something else, this system will utilize all of it combined with satellite geolocation and help to triangulate any location with an improved precision of more than a few degrees.
With all the rush in the navigation industry, one thing is sure that we are about to witness a major revolution and it might happen sooner than we think. The human spirit is all about exploring the unknown and it seems we are well on our way to empower the Wanderers amidst ourselves to follow their heart’s desire.