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5 Traditions for Exploring Technology


5
Crosspollination
Crosspollination refers to how ideas and applications spread from one area into other areas that are seemingly unrelated, resulting in new applications and benefits.
Crosspollination refers to how ideas and applications spread from one area into other areas that are seemingly unrelated, resulting in new applications and benefits.
Charles Bowman/Getty Images

Crosspollination isn't just something for bees and flowers. In exploring technology, crosspollination refers to how ideas and applications spread from one area into other areas that are seemingly unrelated, resulting in new applications and benefits.

Take a system that could be sitting on your car's dashboard or on your smartphone right now: GPS navigation. The GPS in GPS refers to global positioning system. GPS systems use satellites to give a specific location – regardless of weather. Prior to GPS, if you wanted to navigate without landmarks, you needed to be able to see the stars. With GPS your receiver simply needs a clear line to at least four GPS satellites. There are currently 31 GPS satellites in orbit, all maintained by the U.S. government (other governments either have or are working on their own systems). Each GPS satellite constantly transmits the time and its current orbit position. Using that info, the GPS receiver can work backward and figure out where it is – allowing you to navigate through an unfamiliar city or inhospitable terrain.

That working backward is key to GPS, but it wasn't the first step in developing the system. In 1957, the USSR launched Sputnik, stunning America into the space race. Sputnik constantly transmitted information and two scientists, at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics laboratory decided to listen in on the transmissions on their own. Based on the transmissions, they could chart Sputnik's orbit – something the USSR wasn't able to do. From Sputnik's orbit, they also determined how they could work backward, figuring out the position of their own receiver. That desire to listen in to what the USSR was doing in space lead to the first step in creating a navigation system that was first reserved for military use, but now powers much of civilian live. GPS helps us navigate on vacation, helps delivery companies manage fleets and fuel use, allows for tours without tour guides, online applications like foursquare and the ability to tag your photos with the exact location they were taken. That's not exactly what the Soviets had in mind when they launched Sputnik, but exploring technology means taking opportunities from one realm and applying them in as many other areas as possible.


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