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DGNSS of Korea, South Korea's industrial positioning Leading to the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Satellite Navigation Central Office

History of Positioning Systems

Humans have spatial perception and recognition ability. Although this is true for all creatures, this ability is limited for lower animals, which can only recognize one- to two-dimensional spaces. This can be demonstrated through a simple experiment; place an insect on a plate with steep edges, and it will only crawl on the edges all day. This is because its spatial perception and recognition is limited to one to two dimensions.

Higher animals including the primates have the ability to perceive three-dimensional objects and spaces. There may have been studies on the correlation between the spatial recognition ability of animals and their intellectual levels; however, one should note that certain fish, bird and insect species have an outstanding homing instinct, or the ability to return to their original habitats. For instance, there are some fish species that travel thousands after hatching from eggs and return to the place where they hatched. This is more of an instinctive behavior based on their well-developed sensory organs, and does not reflect their intellectual or spatial perception ability.

In contrast, humans may not have the outstanding sensory organs as other animals, but have the ability to perceive four-dimensional space. In fact, humans are the only animal with the ability to perceive the three-dimensional space with x, y and z axes in addition to the fourth dimension of time. This is the basis of positioning, which has come to symbolize the living activities of humans.

Humans have developed various positioning systems from the primitive age, even before the advanced global navigation satellite system (GNSS), and it could be said that these were the ultimate measures used by humans to compete and survive against other animals with superior sensory organs.

For instance, in a dense jungle, if humans had not been able to accurately locate their prey and their own position, they would have failed to capture their prey and return home. Thus, humans needed more accurate positioning ability as they traveled farther from their homes, and the advancements in the positioning system greatly expanded their radius of activity.

Later on as people began to navigate the vast ocean, the positioning system developed even further. This was because accurate positioning was essential for accurate navigation. However, unlike the situation on land, there were no objects on the ocean that people could refer to in order to determine their coordinates.

When people first began sailing along the coasts, they probably observed the geographic features to locate themselves; however, as they traveled farther out to the sea, they inevitably had to observe the locations of the stars in the night sky. This eventually led to the ‘sextant,’ a positioning tool that has been used in navigation until recently. Although the sextant was a precise positioning device developed by integrating every bit of knowledge people had in geometry, it resulted in significant errors depending on the experience and competency of the observer and it was impossible to use under certain weather conditions.

Thus, people were in dire need of an accurate position system that could work under all types of weather conditions, and they began applying the radio wave to the positioning method. This gave rise to the radio positioning systems such as deca, omega and Loran that have been used until recently. The early radio positioning systems used electromagnetic waves in the long to medium short wave range, and coastal and nighttime errors were caused by interruptions. Later on with the advancements made in electronic technology and space engineering, a navigation satellite system, or more specifically the Global Positioning System (GPS), was developed.

We now have a nearly perfect positioning system that our predecessors only dreamed of and can use a hand-held GPS device to obtain accurate location information anywhere on the planet in all weather conditions. This positioning system has made the entire planet called Earth to be within the radius of human activity.

This system is currently used to a limited extent, i.e., it is applied to aircrafts and ships and by certain groups of people. However, it is only a matter of time before its application to all the vehicles for widespread use, and people will never become lost again.

Everyone on this planet will be able to obtain information on his or her location with near-perfect accuracy and pass on this information to others. In order to realize this long-cherished dream of the human civilization earlier, we need to take an interest in this area and make the necessary investments.