At least the computer knows where I am

Forget the short-sighted passenger with a road atlas and some scribbled instructions; new technology will now guide you to your destination, says Phil Llewellin

Visions of being automatically guided every inch of the way from Barnstaple to Banff via Barton-in-the-Beans and Babbinswood, and dodging all the traffic jams on the way, should help ease the pain as you struggle with a road atlas during this May Bank Holiday weekend.

Affordable in-car navigation systems are heading this way, as I discovered while driving a specially equipped Ford Mondeo in rural Essex. All I had to do was tell the computer where I wanted to go. The car knew exactly where it was, thanks to information received trom GPS - global positioning satellites - and gave me crisp, clear instructions from start to finish. Technology's answer to the map was a compact disc.

Ford is very concerned about safety, of course, which is why the system uses concise spoken information and simple graphics. This is technology's virtually infallible and unflappable answer to a cool, confident passenger who knows the area well and is telling you where to go. At the other end of the scale is the driver with a map on the steering wheel or a list of scribbled instructions.

The drive in the Mondeo was a tantalising glimpse of the near future. Renault, Volvo, Volkswagen and other manufacturers have similar systems in the pipeline. BMW's version, up and running in Germany since last September, is due to make its British dbut next year. It will be added to the 750iL's list of standard equipment. Mercedes-Benz predicts a figure in the £1,000-£1,500 bracket when its Auto Pilot becomes available in the UK in 1996. Prices are likely to fall as demand increases. Ford talks in terms of the sort of money people now pay for good in-car audio equipment.

Richard Benbough has driven more than 10,000 computer-navigated miles in Britain, France and Germany since he started working on Ford's system in 1991. I soon realised my jokes about a degree in astrophysics being an essential qualification for tomorrow's drivers were a long way off the mark.

A screen about twice the size of a credit card formed part of the Mondeo's modified dashboard, to the left of the steering wheel. A simple, five- button control enabled me to key-in our destination. The route was first indicated on a map, then by spoken words that made the screen nothing more than a back-up. There was a distance countdown to the next instruction. When I missed a turn, in an attempt to fool the computer, it automatically figured out the best way to get me heading in the right direction again.

Signals from satellites orbiting 12,000 miles away were being picked up by a receiver the size of a cigarette packet. But "urban canyons" can interfere with reception, so the system also uses an electronic compass and precise sensors linked to the wheels.

The car's location was related to a digitised version of ye olde road atlas, which has been available in one form or another since John Ogilvie's pioneering Book of Roads was published in 1675. A landmark was reached last week, when the Ordnance Survey completed its computerised mapping of Britain. Details of one-way streets and other factors are being added by the likes of Bosch, Motorola and Philips, whose customers include Ford, BMW and Renault.

"In theory, you can get the whole of Britain, right down to street level, on one compact disc - and then it's only about half-full," said Rod Morement, Philips's marketing manager. "The spare capacity can be utilised to store information about the location of hotels, restaurants, garages, car parks, railway stations, airports and other places of interest to travellers.

"Most manufacturers are taking in-car navigation very seriously indeed. Prices will depend on what people want, from something relatively simple to a sophisticated system that will take you right to the door of 33 Acacia Avenue."

Between £400 and £500 is the target price for Volvo's Dynaguide Info System. This does not tell you where to go. Instead, it combines traffic information from police and other sources with a GPS receiver and a display that pin-points the car's position. Problems are indicated by coloured arrows. Dynaguide is tuned to the international RDS-TMC (Radio Data System Traffic Message Channel) network, which gives motorists messages in their own language, no matter where in Europe they are driving.

The best traffic information system available anywhere in the world is Trafficmaster YQ, which recently expanded its coverage to the whole of Britain's motorway network and 460 miles of trunk roads. Sensors mounted on bridges calculate average traffic speeds, then broadcast constantly updated warnings when the flow slows and jams start developing. The compact, detachable, dashboard-mounted unit reconciles clear graphics with a screen about 20 per cent bigger than a credit card.

At the start of a journey you can check the opening screen, which depicts the whole of the British Isles, or immediately scale the map right up to focus on the appropriate section of motorway. If there is a problem, it will be indicated by pulsing arrows marked from 25mph to zero. Trafficmaster YQ costs £149.95 plus £60 or £110 - six months or a year - for the "smart card" that is the unit's receiver.

Trafficmaster does not tell you how to get round a jam by leaving the M1 and taking the A43, or whatever. But the information supplied by its expanding network of more than 2,500 sensors is expected to dovetail with what the in-car navigation systems can provide. Together, they will alert the computer to a problem and tell it to work out a detour. Teething problems are not expected, because about 500,000 computerised navigators are already doing their stuff in Japan.

"That's a spin-off from the Japanese having television sets in cars," said Mr Morement. "The systems that have become so popular there are electronic maps with GPS receivers. They don't plan a route and guide you to your destination. The display has a cursor that tells you where you are and what direction you're heading in."

The cost of designing, building and launching a constellation of global positioning satellites just for the benefit of motorists would have made these systems impossibly expensive. Uncle Sam put them into orbit for military reasons, so we can thank the end of the Cold War for their availability. Words from Storm Command, General Sir Peter de la Billire's book about the Gulf war, came to mind while driving the Mondeo:

"Very soon it became apparent that two particular pieces of Allied equipment were potential war winners. One was the global positioning system (GPS) driven by satellites ... which gave tank commanders their position to a 10-figure grid reference, or to within about 15 metres on the face of the Earth."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Nursery Assistant

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Nursery Assistants RequiredNursery Assis...

    Supply Teachers needed in Bolton!

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you a ...

    English Teacher

    £120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: ENGLISH TEACHER REQUIREDWe are ...

    Trainee / Experienced Recruitment Consultants

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments