A woman scrolls through options on a screen in her car as she tries to find the closest Thai restaurant while in an unfamiliar city on business. A reporter communicates with his editor and files his story from a remote location in the Amazon jungle. A director for a major Hollywood studio synchronizes her sound and camera equipment before the first take of a crucial scene from her latest movie, and an Air Force pilot drops a "smart" bomb on a secret target in Iraq.
What is the common thread linking these people together? They are all using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. GPS is a global radio-navigation system supported by a constellation of 27 GPS satellites in orbit, the most recent of which was launched by the U.S. Air Force on March 31, 2003.
Originally developed by the military for worldwide positioning purposes, GPS technology in the last two decades has dramatically improved the surveying, navigational and mapping professions with its precision and ability to collect data
and process it for various applications. Emerging GPS applications are transforming activities and opportunities in an array of fields, including communications, shipping, agriculture, construction, archaeology and biology.
GPS is also used to record accurate time, time frequency and predict weather by collecting information about the composition of the atmosphere, said Kevin Kelly, who teaches GPS courses for UC Riverside Extension.
GPS technology is no longer confined to use by the private sector or as an expensive add-on to a luxury automobile. Small handheld GPS devices cost between $200-$500 and are considered a must-have item for hikers, fishing enthusiasts and other outdoor recreation lovers.
Satellite telephones with GPS technology already exist, but they cost about $900 each and are primarily used by news reporters on assignment in remote areas. Less than two weeks into the war in Iraq, American military officials halted battlefield reporters' use of certain satellite telephones equipped with a GPS transmitter, fearing that signals from the instruments could give away U.S. troop locations.
Industry insiders predict that the common cell phones will be equipped with GPS in the next decade, said Kelly, who has more than 20 years experience marketing, planning and executing GPS surveys, including assignments in Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Canada. He is currently a geodesist and senior project manager for The Keith Companies, Inc., in Moreno Valley.
Extension offers a certificate in GPS technology, which provides students with a comprehensive study of the principles, techniques and contemporary applications
"We work with a pool of practicing professionals, like Kevin Kelly, who have the highest levels of GPS experience and expertise so our students can have balance of theory with the hands-on real world applications and situations," said Jon Kindschy, director of Natural Sciences for Extension.
This summer, Extension students participating in the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Summer Intensive program will use GPS technology to help the Santa Catalina Conservancy perform mapping tasks such as terrain modeling on Catalina Island as part of a hands-on class assignment.
Most Extension classes in GPS are highly mathematical and focus on survey grade tasks, which are much more technical and precise than mapping tasks. The students who earn the certificates can go on to use their knowledge in careers in surveying, civil engineering, natural hazard assessment, landscape architecture and urban forestry.
The certificate in GPS technology is just one of UC Riverside Extension's more than 85 certificate programs designed to provide the continuing education and training for those who want to maintain a competitive edge for career advancement or who want to change careers.