In 1675, Isaac Newton rephrased a centuries old quote in a letter to a fellow scientist. “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Newton was referring to the fact that his ideas were not from him alone but relied on ideas of those that came before him.

In the world as it existed in 1675, I believe that many discoveries did occur in a layered form similar to a column being built. Many innovators worked in a silo with new ideas taking a significant amount of time to disseminate through the wider community.

That is almost the opposite of what occurs now. The world is connected like never before. Ideas no longer need to build on top of each other but they can spread – more like the building of a brick wall rather than a single column. Ideas can spread in a concurrent fashion.

When I travel around the country or, indeed, overseas, I enjoy sending my family and friends a map of a run around some famous landmark. A run to the Eiffel tower or along the Great Wall of China or around the Great Pyramid of Giza makes for an interesting image to send to friends.

Humans, being creative, have taken this entire concept a step further with a concept known as GPS Art. This is where the Global Positioning System mapping capabilities of fitness apps are used to create virtual digital drawings using a cycling or running route across the landscape.

Instead of running or riding in a convenient out and back path or a loop, enthusiasts plan their routes in the shapes of animals or birthday cakes or even paintings by famous artists such as Johannes Vermeer.

The general idea is not brand new. Way back in 2003, Jeremy Wood and Hugh Pryor used Garmin GPS devices as large as walkie-talkies to trace routes resembling butterflies while they were on walks in the English countryside.

The big difference from then to now is the accuracy of the recorded data. Modern fitness tracking devices have a more accurate view of your current position and your position is sampled more often which leads to more accurate data. Consider that many amateur cyclists will ride at speeds over 30km/h which equates to more than 8 metres every second. Older tracking devices may have only sampled your position at 10 second intervals which means you may have travelled over 80 metres between recording your position. As a corollary of more accurate distance and speed, a map drawn of your route is now much more accurate. This allows GPS Art to step up to the next level in accuracy.

Pilots didn’t want to miss out on the fun. Flight tracking services allow aviation enthusiasts to track the location and path of most commercial flights. These services have made it too tempting for pilots to make their mark in the sky with the creation of interesting routes.

Qantas farewelled its final Boeing 747 with a special ceremony in Sydney before flying to the Mojave Desert in California. Anyone tracking that flight would have been initially confused to see the flight leave from Sydney in the direction of the US before making a turn back towards Newcastle. As enthusiasts kept watching, they witnessed the Qantas flying kangaroo image appear on their tracking app.

Not to be outdone, Air New Zealand responded by taking a Boeing 787-9 on a path that traced out the shape of the kiwi, the national bird of the country.

Tell me what shape you want to draw with GPS Art at

Mathew Dickerson

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