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Absolute Location

Siji Roy
Last Updated February 15, 2022 9:52 am

What is Absolute Location?

Absolute location refers to an exact location of a place based on the geographic grid system or coordinates- latitudes and longitudes. It describes a precise location when compared to a relative location, which describes a place based on its relation to other geographical contexts.

Latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates are used to identify the absolute location in reference to the earth’s equator and the prime meridian. Latitudes are the horizontal lines measuring the distance from the equator (0 degrees latitude) to the North and South Poles. Longitude is designated by the vertical lines that measure the distance from the Prime Meridian (0 degrees longitude) which is located in Greenwich, England.

The following examples help better understand the absolute and relative location:

Absolute Location

The US Capitol is located at 380 53’35” N, 770 00’ 32” W, or 38. 88910 N, 77. 00910W in decimal degrees.

Relative Location

The US capitol is about 227 miles away from the Empire State Building.

How to find an absolute location?

Today, finding the absolute location can be done with various devices and software that incorporate a GPS receiver. In earlier times, quadrants, a tool that allows users to find how far a place is located from the equator to the north or south, and astrolabes, a multi-purpose astronomical instrument, were used to determine latitude. The advent of the Harrison sea watch, built by John Harrison in 1759, was the first instrument used to measure longitude. Longitude is measured by considering Greenwich as the prime meridian line.

With the development of technology, various geolocation software, such as Google Maps, Google Earth, Easytrack, and others have emerged and made it simple to locate a place or an object. Geolocation software uses the Global Positioning System (GPS), a satellite navigation strategic system developed by the US Dept. of Defense to provide precise location data to the users. GPS determines the distance by calculating the time that the satellite signals take to reach the receivers.

Most GPS receivers are capable of receiving signals from 12 satellites and are accurate to within 10 meters of one’s true location. There are three types of GPS hardware: Wireless, Integrated, and handheld GPS receivers. 

Wireless or Bluetooth GPS receivers transmit the GPS information of a position from the receiver to other devices like computers, laptops, or mobile phones.

Integrated GPS receivers are built into a specific device and draw their power from that device’s battery or mains power. Therefore, integrated GPS receivers do not require additional charging capabilities.

Handheld GPS receivers are used in hiking, biking, running, boating, driving, flying and other activities where a high degree of accuracy is required.

How do businesses and enterprises use absolute location?

Transportation companies rely on absolute location to determine delivery times and routing that allows maximum fuel efficiency. Energy companies locate their operations based on geological studies that use absolute location to pinpoint where to drill. 

Computers, apps, and web browsers all utilize absolute location to deliver search results and content based on the user’s whereabouts.

At a consumer level, one of the most familiar uses of absolute location is by Uber and other rideshare companies. Combining accurate mapping with algorithms that show the most direct routes. Uber can track their drivers’ vehicles and optimize their routes in real time.

Absolute location Relative location
  • Absolute location is an exact position on the surface of the earth.
  • Does not change.
  • Is accurate to within a few feet of true location.
  • Is denoted in decimal degrees or degrees.

  • Relative location may not be accurate.
  • Explains a place in relation to a landmark or another place.
  • May vary with respect to the related place or object.
  • May not be accurate.
  • No structured format to denote relative location.