WASHINGTON - It's hard to imagine driving to a new destination without the help of a GPS, or walking through a city unaware of the location of the nearest Starbucks.
Wednesday, Nov. 14 is GIS Day, an annual commemoration of the technology that helps navigate everyone from military leaders to smartphone consumers.
The first GIS Day was held in 1998. This year, celebrants are describing their events using #GISday on Twitter.
GIS, which stands for geographic information systems, includes GPS technology found in everyday gadgets, such as smartphone applications.
Michael Lippmann, principal owner of Arlington-based Blue Raster, a web and mapping solutions company, says GIS and GPS satellite technology became a powerful tool for developers when the information became available.
"There's a constellation of satellites, initially funded by the Department of Defense," Lippmann says.
"In the Clinton years it was opened up to consumers. Now there's a GPS device in pretty much every smartphone out there."
Lippmann says initially the information provided by the GPS satellites was encoded, but unscrambling the information opened doors for software and application makers.
"Look at reserving a cab, nowadays. There are many apps where you can just click, and the next thing you know a taxi shows up right where you are," Lippmann says.
The widely-available information is harnessed by developers, who find new ways to map where things are and what's nearby, as well as densities and changes.
"The GPS signal is free," says Lippmann. "You could say everyone has paid for it, by paying your taxes."
(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)