Bringing GPS to new audiences at the Science Museum

Two QEPrize staff members talking to the public at a Science Museum Lates event.

16 September 2019


On Wednesday 28 August, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering exhibited a new, interactive activity at the Science Museum Lates in London. Visitors had the chance to take part in a GPS-inspired scavenger hunt around the museum, using engineering skills to navigate to hidden checkpoints and win prizes.

The key to finding the checkpoints was trilateration – the process used by GPS satellites to pinpoint locations. When finding a location on a sat nav or Google Maps, satellites send out signals to the receiving device, e.g. a phone, on Earth. If you know what time a signal left a satellite and reached the phone, the distance from the satellite to the phone can be calculated. Data from four satellites is combined to find the location of the phone. Imagine a spherical radius around each satellite – the receiver location is where the four spheres intersect.

The technology involved in GPS was invented by the 2019 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering winners, Dr Bradford Parkinson, Professor James Spilker, Hugo FrueHauf, and Richard Schwartz. Their incredible innovation was based upon fascinating but simple principles, which visitors to our event at the Science Museum had a chance to experience for themselves.

The scavenger hunt involved using a pair of compasses to draw intersecting lines at specified distances from imaginary satellites across the Science Museum map. Wherever the lines intersected, there could be a hidden checkpoint to find!

During the scavenger hunt, participants collected a series of letters along the way. They unscrambled the letters at the end to find a mystery GPS-related word.

The QEPrize GPS Scavenger Hunt activity will be part of a new educational resource for schools, suitable for Key Stages 2 and 3. The team will also be returning to the Science Museum during October as part of their top secret half-term programming. The activity is suitable for children aged 8+, so head down with your families to find out more about the engineering behind GPS!

Related Articles