Thought Leadership

Get lost!

By Colin Walls

For many years I rejected the idea of getting a GPS [sat nav] for my car. I did not feel that I needed one. I have a set of maps in the car and very rarely traveled anywhere “strange” by myself. If we were going somewhere as a family, my late wife was an excellent navigator. Basically, I admired the fact that such technology, worthy of science fiction of just a few years before, could be so cheap and capable, but just did not see the need of it for myself.

In due course my circumstances changed. My wife died and my lifestyle increasingly involved traveling alone, so I purchased a GPS …

The unit that I bought was a basic TomTom, which cost a bit over £100 [$150]. It did the job very well, being easy to use and accurate/sensible most of the time. I quickly tired of the voice and only used it when I was driving in a city center, where the maneuvers would come along very quickly and I could not take my eyes off of the road. I have kept maps in the car, but seldom refer to them, except for a “sanity check”.

I have found that I use the GPS most of the time, even when I know my way. I like the way that it shows the car speed accurately, even if the speed limit display is intermittent and often plain wrong. I also like to have an estimated arrival time and a view of the road ahead on the display, beyond what I can see otherwise [I think this rates as “augmented reality”], particularly at night. On a freeway, it can be very helpful when planning overtaking etc. to know just how far it is to the exit.

All in all, “Mr. TomTom” has become a very welcome companion in my car, even though I am pleased to report that my current wife is a very competent map reader. So, imagine my dismay when it all went wrong …

Last week, I was traveling to a destination that I knew, but I wanted the GPS anyway. But it would not start – sitting on the splash screen for ever. After some fiddling and a reset, it woke up and did its job. At the weekend, I was making another trip with my daughter, again to a known destination. Again, my electronic friend was being difficult. Eventually, she managed to reset it and it appeared to start up OK. But it was unable to acquire any satellites. As we continued on the journey we speculated whether it was the device or the satellites that had failed. Had North Korea let off some of their fireworks with disastrous results? Had the predicted solar flare [that was due to hit Earth on Saturday] taken out numerous satellites. On arrival, I checked my phone, which knew exactly where it was, so I reluctantly concluded that Mr. TomTom was sick/dead.

So, what should I do? The obvious answer was to buy another GPS. I took a quick look at the current TomTom range and found that I could get the latest version of my old unit for much less money, including mapping for all of Europe. Just a few pounds more and I can have a beautiful wide screen model. But something held me back. I have a friend who routinely uses her smart phone as a car GPS and cannot understand why anyone would spend more money on another device. As I have Google maps, which does turn-by-turn navigation, I should be all set. I have got a cheap bracket to mount the phone in the right position, so I will give it a try.

If you have any advice or wish to share any experiences on this topic, please comment or email.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at