New this week on Google Maps with cell phone: “My Location” on the map.
My mom’s side of the family used to be HAM radio fanatics. My cousins and I all got our amateur radio Tech (no code) licenses during our summer visits with the grandparents. Somehow upgrading to General class, and the long distance communication that would have opened up between me in Northern California and them in Southern California fizzled with the advent of the internet and cell phones. But I digress.
One of the fun radio games we used to play is Foxhunt. Someone goes out as a “fox” that is either stationary or moving. Everyone else goes out with special radio antennas that can tell the “hunters” what direction or bearing the “fox” is in (by signal strength in each direction the antenna is pointed). If you triangulate between those bearings, either by moving around if the fox is stationary or communicating with other hunters at the same time if the fox is moving, “X” marks the spot where the bearings intersect. What Google is now doing with the My Location feature of Maps (in beta, released this week) is quite similar.
When you use a cell phone you communicate with a tower equipped with antenna that patches your call into the big telecom network. There are usually a number of towers in any one area that are all picking up your signal, even if just one is transmitting it onto the larger network. Using all those towers, your location can be pinpointed with quite a bit of accuracy by analyzing the bearing of your signal from each tower. The more towers, the more precise your location.
Now you can leverage that feature of cellular communication to determine your location on the map, without a GPS enabled phone. And the best part? It works especially well in downtown areas where GPS signals scatter and become less precise but there are usually more cell phone towers making up that precision.