Friday, April 8, 2011

Where is it?

Left image: Crossing the Thames at Tower Bridge.
Right image: The Thames at night, London.

Related sites to the Spatialworlds project
Spatialworlds website
21st Century Geography Google Group
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Geography Teachers' Association of South Australia website
Email contact

Where am I??

Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

Using spatial technology to track anything and everything

As with most new technological development we just take for granted that we now can do it, whatever it is. Sometimes we need to just stop and think, how does it work?; what is the technology behind the capacity?; and how amazing that we can do whatever it is. This came home to me recently when I needed to find out where a parcel I had purchased was. The TNT tracking that I was referred to showed me exactly where my parcel was and the estimated time of delivery. Such capacity to track goods, whether parcels, animals, ships, prisoners is because of spatial technologies, such as GPS in particular. Here are some sites which give an insight into how pervasive this ability to track has become in our society. Often without even thinking, we just expect to know where something is and how long it will take to arrive. The old excuse that “it is on the wharf” when we are waiting for goods just does not rub anymore (although the tracking may show that it is on the wharf!! – but at least we know that it is the truth!)

Shipping tracking
We can track shipping across the globe using the Sail WX site. This is a fantastic site that provides ship location, recent route, climatic conditions, average speed, water temperature, visibility, wind speed and distance travelled in the last 24 hours (even the ships call sign). The map also include the location of weather stations and buoys across the oceans. If you want to see a picture and details for the ship just Google the name i.e. Pacific Celebes and you get a fact sheet on the ship.

Googling may also take you to another excellent ship tracking site called Marine This site has a comprehensive section which provides the details and photographs of the ships which are tracked on the oceans. Ports around the globe are also described and plotted on the site – with a satellite image of each port.

People tracking
Until recently, tracking people with Global Positioning System technology
required purchasing expensive hardware and software. Now, complete solutions are available for keeping up with the whereabouts of family, friends and employees.
Recently two security researchers discovered that Apple’s iPhone keeps track of a user’s location and saves that information to a file that is stored both on the device and on a user’s computer when they sync or back it up in iTunes.

Tracking flights
Spatial technology also provides the capacity to view the flight paths of the major airlines worldwide in a 24-hour period. Watching it, you really get a sense of global travel patterns as streams of planes jump back and forth between continents, especially between Europe and North America, and Asia and North America.

Virtual tracking on the Internet
The Internet was built for convenience; not for security. Internet users can be tracked by spyware, scripts, and maybe even through a camera! With this kind of information, a person from anywhere on the planet can figure out who you are, where you live and much more personal information.

People tracking
Spatial gadgets can help individuals keep track of pets, children with Autism, adults with Alzheimer’s/Dementia, partially sighted, children and possessions etc

Such tracking capacity can be, for example through microchips, in your sneakers, under your skin or in your mobile.

Tracking offenders
Prolific offenders and paedophiles are to be monitored by new satellite technology under three pilot schemes beginning on Thursday. For some time now, law enforcement departments have been using GPS tracking to monitor the movements of certain paroled criminals, such as sex offenders, to ensure that they are not violating the terms of their parole. In fact mapping and tracking is even being used to predict crime.

Animal tracking
A wildlife-tracking satellite looking down on a wide area of the globe from its high vantage point is a useful tool for biologists, naturalists and conservationists working with animals, birds and fish in their natural environments.
GPS pet tracking is for cats and dogs that do get lost too. Thanks to the miniaturization of GPS receivers and mobile phone modems even they can carry devices that allow them to be tracked by the owner.

Parcel tracking
It is now an expectation that a parcel can be tracked. All delivery companies now offer tracking service.

Whilst tracking offers much to our way of life and speed of response and even safety, there are some privacy concerns which need to be always kept in mind. In fact many of us do not want others to know where we are 24/7. It seems that location in real time is one of the expectations of the 21st Century which we all are victims to – whether willingly by having a mobile on us at all times or unwittingly by the capacity of spatial technology to track and locate. As many of the crime shows on TV show, the ability to track grows everyday and the possibilities are limitless. Is this all for the better?

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