The long, winding, technological road to GPS in every car

But the road to today’s navigation touchscreens is a winding one marked by a trio of evolving technologies that developed over decades. It took a while before these innovations came together to ultimately doom the humble—not to mention difficult to read and refold—road map.

The next time you don’t know how to get somewhere and have to rely on maps embedded on your car’s display, you can thank the atomic clock, the satellite constellations powering actual global positioning systems, and the humble touchscreen.

Of the three technologies that led to today’s GPS inescapability, the atomic clock might be the most unexpected. But it is crucial to GPS technology. Each GPS satellite contains multiple atomic clocks that calculate the time for each GPS signal within 100 billionths of a second.