Steer clear of Miami vice

Tom Loosemore looks at an in-car navigational aid to help tourists
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Indy Lifestyle Online
There are many nice things about Miami, but its reputation is not one of them. Thanks to a number of highly publicised attacks on visitors driving rented cars, the city is considered something of a black spot by many tourists taking holidays in t he United States. The result has been predictable - a drop of 10 per cent in the number of tourists visiting Florida between 1993 and '94 - despite a drop of two-thirds in the number of tourist-related robberies during the same period. Now technology may help to turn the tide.

The tourist's greatest fear is of getting lost, and ending up being mugged or even murdered. That was nearly the fate that befell Rose and John Hayward, a retired couple from Great Boughton in Oxfordshire who were shot and seriously injured after taking a wrong turning en route to Disney World, Orlando. Given human fallibility, neither directions nor simple maps are sufficient to solve the problem.

That is why both Avis and Hertz are installing Guidestar Navigation System in some of their more luxurious models. Guidestar features a small video screen mounted on the dashboard, providing the driver with turn-by-turn advice supplemented by simple voice instructions. The screen displays either simple icons (left and right turn arrows), or a map of the area with a small triangle showing motorists their precise position at any given time.

Picking up signals emitted by Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites orbiting the earth, the computer receiver housed in the boot of the car employs sophisticated algorithms to identify the geographical position of the car to an accuracy of well under 100 metres, and compares it against a road layout of, say, Greater Miami mapped out on a data cartridge. As well as road layouts, the data cartridge also contains pre-programmed co-ordinates of hundreds of useful destinations - including bu sinesses, restaurants, hotels, banks, tourist attractions and hospitals. The driver selects a particular destination at the touch of a button, without any need to input potentially confusing co-ordinates.

Developed in collaboration with Zexal USA and Rockwell International, Guidestar-equipped Oldsmobile 88s are offered to Avis customers in three US cities, including Miami.

Avis is also working with AirTouch Teletrac of California to introduce an Emergency Police Alert system, a two-way electronic signalling device that summons immediate police assistance to distressed drivers. Once the driver pushes the panic button, the vehicle's exact location is transmitted to an AirTouch Teletrac command centre, which relays it to the police. The video screen then flashes up a message reassuring the worried motorist that help is on the way.

More than 90 per cent of motorists participating in the pilot programme found the new in-car systems greatly increased their sense of safety when driving around an unfamiliar city. Avis plans to extend use of cars fitted with Guidestar to other US citiesas and when data cartridges become available. Navigation Technologies, the Californian company producing the data cartridges, says that by the end of 1995, most metropolitan areas in the US will be mapped on to computer disk.

Navigation Technologies expects that, as costs fall, in-car satellite navigational systems will gradually become a standard feature of US cars, as they are fast becoming in Japanese cars. Indeed, Oldsmobile is offering Guidestar as a retail option on its1995 line-up of Oldsmobile 88 models.