Next time, the car’s navigation system takes you straight to the front door of a perfect little backyard grill mount, thank you to the US military.
The Global Positioning System – a network of satellites that enable localization of location – exists with the permission of the Ministry of Defense. The space force and the coastguard are now responsible for the operation.
But motorists did not have to wait for the military to develop GPS to help them get where they were going. As far back as the 1930s, Iter Avto, an aftermarket unit, offered navigation guidance. With rolling paper maps and a speedometer cable connection, the dash-mounted unit could track an approximate route, as long as the driver remained on the straight and narrow. Going off the route for even a moment would throw a wrench.
There are disadvantages to using a phone for navigation, especially if it does not tap into the car’s infotainment system. It can be difficult to place a phone, and because smartphones rely on a mobile signal for map data, coverage may be lost in areas such as mountains where reception is poor.
But smartphones are practical, and almost everyone has one. Apple and Google maps are both automatically updated as needed. Most newer cars allow Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to appear on a large dashboard screen.
New aftermarket navigation systems, mounted on the dashboard or installed in the dashboard, are a step up from a smartphone – and that Iter Avto. For example, the Garmin DriveSmart 61 LMT-S navigation system can be ordered with a 6.95-inch screen for good visibility. Garmin provides spoken turn-by-turn instructions using street names and landmarks. Sights and hospitality facilities are called out, traffic jam alerts, speed limits are displayed and driver alerts. Other top models, from the likes of TomTom and Magellan, also offer full-featured kits.
All aftermarket navigation systems are loaded with localized maps, and wireless updates are usually offered. Many “best of” lists are available online.
But better than smartphones and dashboard devices are the navigation systems that car manufacturers connect to their cars. These factory-installed systems provide better accuracy, more features and better integration. The screen is usually stiffer, and a built-in system does not attract thieves like a suction cup device to the dashboard. The integrated systems usually have more powerful chips than aftermarket models, and their antennas can be larger and better placed.
The navigation system in the Cadillac Escalade in 2021 is a good example of how far the technology has come. If you select audio directions in the system menu, the voice emphasizes the required action. As you approach a right turn, the voice comes from the right side of the vehicle. As you approach the intersection, the volume increases.
If you’d rather listen to the car’s surround sound system with 36 speakers, you can mute and instead depend on the large, high-resolution screen on the car’s 16.9-inch infotainment screen. A front view of route guidance complements it in the windscreen. Of course, you get a well-defined map, but the system also provides images of road signs at key intersections, which, for example, indicate which way to go by a fork in the road. Turn on augmented reality, and the vehicle’s cameras provide a picture of the road ahead with a map overlaid.
When you select a destination and on arrival, the system provides images so you know what to look for. It can also show you the surrounding area.
These images are courtesy of Google Street View, which includes millions of panoramic images taken from Google’s own work and contributions from ordinary people with cameras. Most car navigation systems use Google mapping and photography. Tesla’s navigation system can even provide aerial views from Google Earth on its 17-inch screen.
Luxury brands such as Tesla, Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac all offer feature-rich navigation systems, but you do not need to use six figures to get GPS guidance. Chrysler Uconnect navigation systems are well regarded by car owners, according to Consumer Reports,
In a Jeep Cherokee, Uconnect can be easily started by talking an address. The system uses sensors to assist GPS in places such as tunnels or parking garages where it may lose contact with the satellites.
The 2021 Ford Bronco, a vehicle designed to explore beyond the end of the road, offers SYNC 4 navigation on a 12-inch screen in models priced at around $ 40,000 and up. This GPS-guided navigation system can help drivers find their way around the wilderness and provides camera views to help those who want to scale a rock or two.
While automaker-installed navigation systems have become more complex in recent years, the first to appear in cars were more modest. In 1981, Honda, Stanley Electric and Alpine Electro developed the Gyro-Cator, which used a gyroscope to determine inertia and transparent maps on an illuminated screen to illustrate a route. The system was only sold in Japan and added the price of a car equivalent to $ 2,750 and worked marginally well. It demonstrated that given the starting point, speed and course, a location could be calculated. This is what engineers call a dead arithmetic system.
Other dead billing systems would follow, including some using digital maps stored on cassettes or other media. But the death penalty can never be completely accurate, and the chances of retiring are high.
Then came GPS, and navigation grew. The first GPS navigation device offered by a carmaker arrived in the Mazda Eunos Cosmo in 1990, offered only in Japan. General Motors followed in 1992 with a system installed in rental cars. In 1995, it was offered as an alternative to Oldsmobile 88. Using maps stored on cassettes, the system was first marketed with only mapping in California and Las Vegas, but other cassettes followed.
While automakers gradually added GPS navigation systems to luxury models, the aftermarket took the concept. Alpine offered a system that used CD cards in 1997, and Garmin followed in 1998.
The roots of GPS technology date back to 1842, when the Austrian physicist Christian Andreas Doppler described how motion affects the frequency of sound waves. This Doppler effect is illustrated by the whistle of an approaching train. As it approaches, when more sound waves your ear and pitch increase. As the train moves away, the pitch decreases.
In the late 1950s – the exciting days of Sputnik – scientists demonstrated that a satellite in orbit could be tracked by bouncing a microwave signal off it and observing how the motion changed the frequency of the returning signal.
In the mid-1960s, the Navy needed to track down submarines carrying nuclear weapons. Using six satellites in orbit, Navy scientists found that they could observe changes in Doppler when radio waves from subs were bounced off the satellites, thus calculating subs’ locations.
The Ministry of Defense expanded the concept and began in the early 1970s to develop a precise satellite navigation system. The first navigation system with Timing and Ranging satellite was launched in 1978. A full range of 24 Navstar satellites became operational in 1993.
GPS technology once tracked submarines, and today a far more powerful system can help you hunt for a ham-and-Swiss sub.