Six Innovative Uses for GPS During Your Business Day

I was playing golf at the Lincoln Park Golf Club near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco with my friend Erik. It was a cool mid-May morning with only a slight breeze coming off the ocean

"You're never going to make that shot."

"Care to make a bet on that?" I countered.

I was playing golf at the Lincoln Park Golf Club near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco with my friend Erik. It was a cool mid-May morning with only a slight breeze coming off the ocean.

I was out to prove that technology can give you an edge over simple intuition, especially when your golf game is slightly less than spectacular (like mine).

Eventually, I decided on a three iron and lined up the shot. Thwack. With a low but powerful arc, my thunderous drive split the fairway and landed softly just a few yards from the green.

As any trainer can tell you, golf requires good fundamentals and sound judgment. If you know how far you can hit each driver or iron, you can easily shave a few strokes off each round. And yet, my trick is not that mysterious ... and it's legal for even a touring pro — per a PGA ruling from early last year.

I use a Magellan eXplorist XL to check the exact distance to the pin. The GPS device is accurate within a metre or so, the screen is big enough to see course maps, and it's ruggedized with side grips and a thick plastic shell. I've dropped it many times — on the golf course, during hiking trips with my kids and even over the side of a fishing boat — but it keeps right on working.

For corporate events, business trips, or just a daily commute through rush-hour traffic, a GPS device is an indispensable ally. The GPS uses 24 satellites that follow precise orbiting patterns about 19,300km up in the sky. The handheld device typically locks onto three or four satellites at one time to find your exact position.

Once you have found an easy route through traffic — thanks to clear and accurate voice prompts — or hiked from one campsite to another without getting lost, there's no going back to maps or handwritten directions.

Here are six innovative uses for a GPS device during your business day. Well, maybe somewhat related to your business day; most of them would work well for corporate events and team-building activities, or just to blow off steam after a long day at the office.

1. Track your distance to the tee

I rarely golf without a GPS because it allows me to choose clubs more accurately. You can first "map" the fairway manually by walking the course and setting waypoints. On most GPS devices, you just click a button that looks like a flag near each tee box and hole. Then, when you play the course, the GPS shows you your current location and the distance to the next hole.

An easier approach is to use the GolfLogix handheld device, which not only shows you pin distances, but bunker locations and other hazards to avoid — such as lakes and even the best lay-up positions — all automatically for many popular courses.

You just pick the hole you are about to play and the GPS feeds you all of the relevant information. It takes all of the guesswork out of finding the flag. You can download the software for free and load it on many Garmin models (such as the eTrex Legend). The receiver comes with one free course; other courses cost just a few dollars each, and you can buy an unlimited course package for $US30.

2. Catch more fish than the next guy

Fishing is another sport where persistence and fundamentals pay off, but a GPS provides several fishing perks beyond the basics. Garmin makes a fishing-friendly GPS, the 76CSx, that includes fishing and hunting schedules for the best days and times to fish and which species are in season. There's also a barometric altimeter — which determines your altitude based on atmospheric pressure — which can help you determine the best times for fishing.

For planning a corporate event, you can use a GPS to set a waypoint marker for all attendees, not only for the lake itself but for the best fishing spots on the lake. There's also sunrise and sunset information, moon phases for judging how much light you will have for nighttime outings and tide tables for those who fish on the ocean. One last perk for fishing with a GPS: Most recent models use a highly sensitive electronic compass that works even when you are motionless — unlike the analog compasses used in earlier devices.

3. Hunt for buried treasure with your co-workers

One idea for a corporate event or after-work activity is to go geocaching. Sites such as Geocaching.com provide a list of downloadable waypoint markers for hidden treasures scattered all across the US, often in public parks. Once you load the geocache on your GPS, you can then head to that location using the features on the GPS (such as the compass or street maps).

Once you are there, you'll typically find a coffee can or a shoe box that contains trinkets and coins, or possibly something a bit more valuable — such as a watch or bracelet. The idea is that, if you find a geocache and take something, it's a good idea to leave some other trinket behind. The Magellan eXplorist XL works well for geocaching: It has a large colour screen, and has one screen that lists all the geocaches you have loaded on the device so they are easy to find.

Geocaching has become a corporate "urban game" activity on a large scale. Microsoft recently hosted an event through GeoTeaming where each employee used a GPS device.

"We did a GPS-based scavenger hunt for 300 people in Disney World's Epcot Center," says Hal Howard, US general manager of ERP product development. "It was a fantastic event that required teamwork and planning to get done. GeoTeaming tailored the hunt to be about our business objectives and the strategies in the game reflected potential real-world strategies. It was motivational and educational for all."

4. Find coffee shops, Wi-Fi hot spots, libraries or just about any public place

If you aren't interested in hunting for buried treasure, you might like hunting for dark roast coffee instead. Waymarking.com let's you search for just about any public place and then load the waypoint in your GPS. Loading a waypoint is just a matter of connecting your GPS with a USB cable, and then using the software included with the GPS to transfer waypoint markers.

There's a marker for just about any taste: All of the historical markers in the US state of Texas, coffee shops with high-speed wireless access, the birthplace location of famous people, the best restaurants in small towns, pizza places located close to shopping malls and church listing by denomination, for examples.

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John Brandon

Computerworld (US)
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