A prototype project in Europe uses GPS signals to guide visually impaired individuals to their destinations. Tested in Madrid, this European Space Agency (ESA) project — developed in partnership with the Spanish firm GMV Sistemas and the Spanish National Organization of the Blind — uses a handheld device with headphones to give auditory directions to a visually impaired user.
In September 2007, a search-and-rescue mission for missing aviator Steve Fossett was aided by volunteers who never left their homes. Instead of combing forests and mountains, these searchers scanned digital satellite images provided by the commercial remote sensing firms GeoEye and DigitalGlobe for signs of Fossett’s downed plane.
In response to the tragic events at Virginia Tech in the spring of 2007, several colleges have begun distributing GPS phones with tracking devices to students.
Vehicle tracking technologies are developing in sophistication to support consumer safety applications. A number of automakers now provide in-vehicle GPS devices that can monitor location, speed, use of safety belts, and the presence of passengers.
Police use GPS technology in a number of novel applications. Embedded GPS chips are replacing exploding dye packs as a more efficient way to foil bank robbers in some U.S. cities. The practice allows officials to track stolen money with unprecedented precision.
Satellite technology can be critical to managing resources and protecting endangered species in natural areas with little existing infrastructure. The use of satellite images allows researchers to study patterns of deforestation caused by logging and land-clearing in remote areas of Africa and South America.
Space assets are also responding to environmental challenges. In 2007, satellite monitoring of the polar ice caps by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, showed that the cap of floating sea ice on the Arctic Ocean shrank more than one million square miles below the average minimum of previous years.
Among the examples of the role of space in wildlife and resource management, New York State is sponsoring a study on the behavior of coyotes, which have become an increasingly visible part of life in many suburbs. The study involves the use of GPS collars to track the patterns of coyote movement.
Bigelow Aerospace, an entrepreneurial company based in Nevada, has taken steps toward providing potential in-space accommodations with the successful launch and operation of two expandable modules: Genesis I and Genesis II.
While communications satellites have long been used to help travelers arrange accommodations on Earth, commercial companies are developing an ability to provide accommodations in space. On April 7, 2007, software developer Charles Simonyi, the fifth orbital “private space explorer,” launched into space for a nearly two week stay aboard the International Space Station.