written by: KennethSleight•edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom•updated: 4/5/2011
Who invented the Global Positioning System (GPS)? Well, the simple answer is the U.S. Department of Defense, but this isn’t the simple answer. There were three major figures involved in making GPS what it is today; Dr. Ivan Getting, Professor Bradford Parkinson and Roger L. Easton.
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When answering the question of who invented the global positioning system, it is important to note that the United States Department of Defense invested more than twelve billion dollars into its development. Dr. Ivan Getting led several teams that put into use a set of static orbital satellites (which stay fixed above a specific position on the Earth) that could cover the entire surface of the planet. At any point in time at least three of these satellites can target the same position on Earth thus making true triangulation possible.
Dr. Ivan Getting
Dr. Ivan Getting was an Edison scholar at M.I.T (The Massachusetts Institute of Technology) where he received a bachelor in Science. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and graduated with a Doctorate Degree in Astrophysics. His initial entrance into the global positioning arena was at the request of the United States Air Force. They were looking for a way to track ICBMs (InterContinental Ballistic Missiles) and contacted the Raytheon Corporation where Getting was Vice President. After Getting left Raytheon his company was employed by the U.S. Department of Defense to continue his work on the global positioning system.
Professor Bradford Parkinson
Professor Bradford Parkinson was a colleague of Ivan Getting at the Raytheon corporation and is credited as the co-inventor of the global positioning system. He is also credited with the implementation of the NAVSTAR system that is still in use today. Parkinson and his team were the first to assemble a working model of a GPS system in 1973 that was based on the ideas of Dr. Ivan Getting.
Roger L. Easton
Roger L. Easton is a rather controversial name in the global positioning system world. His work has been focused on using GPS systems as timing devices, the practical applications of which are extending well beyond the initial military uses into the mapping of traffic in major cities to help develop better congestion control systems. Although he lays claim to the invention of the GPS system and his patents are the ones that were used by the Department of Defense and he is not recognized by them as the inventor. There is no distinction between any of the members of the creating team including Dr. Getting or Dr. Parkinson.
GPS Invention Controversy
Who invented the global positioning system is not an open and shut case, though. Roger Easton’s son Richard Easton has claimed that his father is the rightful inventor of the global positioning system because most of the initial schematic and theoretical intellectual property belonged to his father and the members of his Navy team. The satellite positioning was also based on the Navy team suggestion. So, even though credit has been given to Dr. Getting and Mr. Parkinson by several institutions there is evidence that may point to the actual inventor being Mr. Easton.
In any case, the global positioning system was a collaborative effort and should be seen as such. The Air Force, Navy and Department of Defense all played large rolls in its development and the tax payers footed the bill. That being the case, perhaps the American Tax Payers should get credit for their part of the inventive process as well.
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MIT.edu “MIT News" http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2003/getting.html (accessed Feb 2011)
Bnet.com “Who Invented GPS" http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0BPW/is_1_18/ai_n17166226/ (accessed Feb 2011)
The Space Review ‘Who Invented the Global Positioning System" http://www.thespacereview.com/article/626/1 (accessed Feb 2011)
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/US Government http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:GPS-IIRM.jpg