It’s All Relative: On Einstein & The GPS

Albert Einstein once said “Life is like a bicycle. To keep your balance, you have to keep moving.” Those of us in the transportation industry know that maxim well.

Today, April 18th, marks the anniversary of Einstein’s death (in 1955), so I thought it fitting to honor his work, which plays a big part in how we keep freight moving each and every day. You see, Albert Einstein’s most famous work, the theory of relativity, is what makes GPS possible.

It is impossible to overstate the effects GPS tracking and navigating have had on our industry. From providing safe routes for drivers to predicting precise mileage and ETA’s for clients, GPS technology puts what was once the domain of ledgers and maps literally in the palm of our hands.

GPSHere’s how it works: Einstein’s Theory of Relativity uses math to correct for the effects of gravity on objects in space and time.

Simply put – while you can predict where your morning donut will fall when you drop it, it has actually moved in space and time, due to the movement of the earth in space. Phew. A little mind-boggling.

So how does donut-dropping relate to GPS technology? If there was no equation to correct for the relativity between the Earth and the satellites in space, the data collected from these satellites would be meaningless. (And we’d all end up lost a whole lot more!)

Albert Einstein is renowned for his genius, but he also had a sense of humor and a lot of humility. He was world-famous in his lifetime, but he never let his lofty ideals take him too far away from his humble roots. Here’s one Einstein story that could very well be true:

After having propounded his famous theory, Einstein toured universities in the United States, delivering lectures. He was always accompanied by his faithful driver, Harry, who would attend these lectures, seated in the back row.

One day, after Einstein had finished a lecture and was coming into his vehicle, Harry said, “Professor Einstein, I’ve heard your lecture on relativity so many times that if I were ever given the opportunity, I would be able to deliver it to perfection myself!”

“Very well,” replied Einstein, “I’m going to Dartmouth next week. They don’t know me there. You can deliver the lecture as Einstein, and I’ll take your place as Harry!” And so Harry delivered a beautiful rendition of Einstein’s speech while the great physicist sat in the back row.

Following the speech, a supremely pompous professor asked an extremely esoteric question about anti-matter formation, digressing here and there to let everyone in the audience know that he was nobody’s fool.

Without missing a beat, the chauffeur fixed the professor with a steely stare and said, “Sir, the answer to that question is so simple that I will let my chauffeur, who is sitting in the back, answer it for me.”

Fuel for Thought,