The switch from paper maps to satellite navigation devices as the driver’s direction aid of choice hardly happened overnight, but nor were those the only two technologies involved.
An Australian TV programmed called Beyond 2000 (which was like an Antipodean Tomorrow’s World) covered one interim electronic navigation technology back in 1993 and a YouTube clip of the report makes for interesting viewing.
Developed by the American Automobile Association, the ‘Travtek’ system introduced many now-standard features for in-car navigation, including an in-car display for maps and spoken driving directions, but it still seems remarkably crude by today’s standards.
Apart from the comparatively limited computing power that was available in 1993, the main problem was that the GPS network that modern satnav devices rely upon wasn’t fully operational at that time, and wasn’t even available for civilian use for some years later still.
Instead, Travtek used a combination of compasses and wheel monitors to determine a vehicle’s speed and direction, and then used this data to plot its position on its built-in maps.
The lack of GPS means the system wasn’t able to determine a vehicle’s initial position without manual input though, so it wasn’t much use when the driver was completely lost.
The Travtek fed data back to a central control centre via radio, and in return the centre could supply updated route information to compensate for traffic congestion — much like modern satnav devices do.
As can be seen in the clip, an American Automobile Association representative reckoned that this kind of technology would be commonplace within a decade, but the prediction of staffed control centres monitoring thousands of vehicles turned out to be a little off.
The GPS network and increasingly powerful computers means that much of the technology used by the Travtek control centre could be crammed into a pocket-sized device, but the system certainly paved the way for the technology used today.
Skip ahead to the 6m15s mark to see the clip: