2008 marks my tenth anniversary for actually purchasing my own GPS receiver. The reason I waited so long was simply that I didn’t think the receivers available until around 1998 represented anything like value for money since there was no mapping. All you got was various co-ordinate readings of your location, plus basic speed and distance information, together with fairly limited breadcrumb or tracklog options. That would cost you around £100 at best, and a lot more more if you went for anything more than the most basic offering.
1998 saw the first practical models offered with base maps. Base mapping meant that you got major and minor road, together with towns and villages, water features, railways, and similar significant subjects. What you didn’t get was street level mapping, or calculation of routes (since there was no street data), although like all GPS receivers, you got GoTo programming, which basically plotted the path from where you were to where you wanted to be ‘As the Crow Flies’, and it didn’t recalculate once you were on the move. The price for what was then a premium model was easily in the £300 to £400 range. Thanks to the internet, I didn’t pay anything near those, fortunately. As for colour (these are all mono), throw another £100 on to the price.
Shortly after this, digital mapping started to take off, and models that would accept maps supplied on CD followed quickly. The only problem was the cost of the maps them, easily £100 over the price of the GPS receiver, which had now (as the top of the range then) jumped in price to £440. Again, waiting a while and using the internet meant I added one of these (with maps on CD) for less than half the price of the receiver. At the same tim, I was also lucky enough to pick up Route 66’s mapping on CD for use on the PC, which allowed me to feed live position data from the GPSr to the PC – that was a gem as a 14″ screen beats a 4″ screen anyday. I mention this because the Route 66 mapping cost a whole £10, while a similar mapping from Ordnance Survey, if purchased with the option to allow real time plotting of your position, was then almost £90.
The above came to mind as I spotted one of the shopping channels offering a Magellan SatNav for £90. In the box is a colour display, with street level mapping, postcode searches, Points of Interest, petrol station etc etc, locations of speed cameras and alerts, routing, warning and fancy split displays as junctions are approached, and this one even has a light sensor which adjusts the screen colours to suit the ambient lighting. I don’t know if this one has the option, but another one on offer a few days ago even featured predictive navigation. This means that if the GPS signal is lost, say in a tunnel or in the shadow of buildings, then the software predicts where you are likely to be while the signal is lost, based on your recent past movements. Normally, they just stop navigating until the signal returns.
SatNav is coming in for some stick in the media, or by those who are possibly looking for somewhere (presumably the SatNav manufacturers and map makers who are worth a few bob) to make liability claims, as SatNav is being blamed for drivers/cars/lorries taking inappropriate routes, and causing damage to building and roads, and this week, to British Rail bridges.
Quite why or how SatNav is to blame for the stupidity of drivers who do not take the time to plan their route, or confirm that the roads suggested by the SatNav is suitable for the purpose they intend to use them for, I don’t know. Unless, as I noted, the idea is to pave the way for liablity, since the individuals concerned will be worth pennies and not worth suing, in comparison to the SatNav makers, who are now worth a fortune.
Reading some of the tales about lorries going down tracks and getting stuck, drivers who end up in fields, or on closed or non-existent roads (moved or altered since the mapping was digitised), and those who have claimed to have been taken to places miles away from their desired destination, you have to wonder of some of them even bother to look out the window to see where they are, and are driving along with their eyes riveted to the pretty little colourful SatNav display.
Maybe the should be getting done for ‘Driving without due care and attention’ or similar.