Sales of Global Positioning Systems, navigational devices that use radio signals from satellites to determine locations, are on the rise in the United States. GPS navigation equipment owes its newfound popularity to both conventional and unconventional users.
Auto manufacturers are putting them in upscale car models and predict the navigation tools will soon be as common in automobiles as radios are today. Pilots and boaters are using them, and so are a growing number of treasure hunters.
That's because the navigation devices have given rise to a new sport called "Geocaching", where people hide treasures or "caches" and then post the treasure's GPS coordinates at a the web site "Geocaching.com."
"You go to the web site and it will tell you the caches that are in the [your] area," said Jeremy Irish, who set up the web site. "And then you just click on each cache page and there's a longitudinal and latitude listing that gives you the location of the cache. And you just enter that in your GPS unit and get in your car or go on foot or by bike and get to the cache."
Amazingly, more than 30,000 people in 59 countries around the world are doing just that.
The treasures, things like toys or CDs or trinkets, are provided by those who plant the caches. Ardent geocacher Jon Stanley has both planted treasures and searched for some.
"Working in a tech field, I was attracted by the electronics, and I've always been fascinated by the outdoors and maps," he said. "It's that primal urge to go out into the unknown and try to find a point that's showing up on your GPS."
Jon Stanley gives into that "primal" urge as many weekends as he can.
"For me the the peak of excitement is actually, physically seeing it," he said. "I don't care too much what is in the cache. For me, it's the hunt."
Like Jon Stanley and other geocaching enthusiasts, web site creator Jeremy Irish earns his living in a field unrelated to geocashing.
"Some of the people who sell Global Positioning Systems from the web site help to pay for some of the equipment I use to run the web site, but otherwise, it's just a hobby for me right now," he said. "I don't want to jeopardize the sport itself by over-commercializing it."
Created by a U.S. military program, the Global Positioning System seems to have given rise unexpectedly to a new sport.