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Relationship between Drones and GPS

Let’s consider a scenario where you got an interview in a new city which you’ve never visited before. Things will be easy if you’ve got a smartphone installed with Google Maps because you will be aware of yourself where you’re.

Locating a Place Image Credits: Location illustrations by Storyset

What will be the case, if you’re travelling without a smartphone?

The complete reliance will be on the cab driver or the people over. It may be the reason to miss the interview, or the chances of going late are high.

From the above scenario, we can able to understand the importance of GPS in our day-to-day life, when it comes to navigation.

Global Positioning System

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-based radio navigation system. At the time of its introduction, it was considered as one of the superior navigation, as compared to other radio navigation systems.

In 2020, As of now, Over 1 billion people using Google Maps every month, which is primarily working based on GPS.

Segments of Global Positioning System Image Credits: Dhulkarnayn, Elucidate Drones

The Global Positioning System constitutes of three major segments,

  1. Space Segment
  2. Control Segment
  3. User Segment


Before knowing the role of GPS in the navigation of drones, we need to understand the global positioning system clearly. So, I’ve tried to explain about the three segments of GPS briefly below.

Space Segment

The space segment comprises 24 to 32 satellites located in six orbital planes at 55° inclination to the equator in the geosynchronous orbits. These Satellites are above 20,000 km altitude from the Earth.

Space Segment of GPS Image Credits: Paulsava / CC BY-SA

Only twenty-one satellites are enough for covering the entire world, and the other satellites are acting as spares.

Also, the four satellite visibility to the receiver alone is sufficient for locating the position of the receiver in the world, by identifying its geo-coordinates (Latitude, Longitude, Altitude, Time).

Control Segment

The control segment contains a Master Control Station (with an alternative Master Control Station) and six dedicated Monitoring Stations.

Space Segment of GPS Image Credits: Bubba73 at English Wikipedia / CC BY-SA

As mentioned in Introduction to Avionics Systems, by R.P.G. Collinson,

The control segment tracks the satellites and predicts their future orbital position data and the required satellite clock correction parameters, and updates each satellite on the uplink as it goes overhead.

Collinson, R. P. G. “6.5 GPS – Global Positioning System.” In Introduction to Avionics Systems, 3rd ed., 357–58. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer, 2011. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-0708-5.1

The accuracy of the entire GPS is proportional to the proper functioning of the Master Control Station.

User Segment

In our day-to-day life, almost everything is equipped with a GPS receiver. For example,

  • Smartphones
  • ATM
  • Aircraft
  • Cars
  • Military Vehicles, etc.,

Finding Directions via Mobile Image Credits: App illustrations by Storyset

And, these GPS receivers falls under the User Segment. As already mentioned, around 1 Billion people are using Google Maps, which means there are that many GPS receivers available and still more receivers used in other applications.

Role of GPS in Drone Navigation

Let’s contemplate a scenario, for understanding the role of GPS when it comes to drone navigation. Consider that you’ve ordered a product online, and which is going to be delivered by a drone.

Drone Delivery Image Credits: Technology illustrations by Storyset

After knowing that the product is going to be delivered by a drone, there will be more questions on your mind, like,

How will the drone navigate to my location and How will it select the path, etc.,?


For these questions, the single answer is the Global Positioning System (GPS). Primarily navigation of the drone is based on GPS receivers present in the drone, and the path planning algorithms (dependent on GPS) are responsible for the selection of route in which the drone needs to be travelled.

Is the Global Positioning System alone enough for drone navigation?

Though GPS having more advantages when it comes to worldwide coverage, there are also a few flaws like multi-path propagation, clock data error, natural & artificial interference, etc.,

Artificial Intelligence Image Credits: Technology illustrations by Storyset

The inaccuracies caused by these issues can be avoided by integrating the GPS with other navigation systems. For example,

  • Integrating the Inertial Navigation System (INS) with GPS
  • Integrating the Vision-based Navigation System (Camera) with GPS

The integration of two or more navigation systems with proper filtering schemas provides better accuracy as compared to the single system.


I’ve tried to explain the relationship between drones and GPS with the acquired information from various sources. I’m expectantly waiting for your valuable feedback and suggestions regarding this topic.

At last, Sharing is Caring, feel free to share with your friends if you’ve liked this article. Thank you!



This post is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 by the author.




Dhulkarnayn - Elucidate Drones


I am 25 years old drone developer, holds a postgraduate degree in Avionics. I've worked on a few complex projects like drone swarms, drone light shows, autonomous landing of drones using computer-vision algorithms, etc. Since childhood, I'm much passionate about electronics, aerospace & engineering.

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