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Know everything about Satellite Navigation in cars

Know everything about Satellite Navigation in cars

Snapshot: Satellite navigation helps the driver find the destination while travelling.

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Technology is evolving at a very rapid pace and that is a boon to us humans, since, by virtue, we are all lazy. Give us something that will ease our life, and we will happily accept it. And so is the case with automobiles. Manufacturer are coming up with technology that is making automotive world more safe, technologically advanced and a self-assessed system.

One such technology is the Satellite navigation system. Gone are the days when one used to carry maps or ask people around for directions. The new technology enables people to go anywhere around the world, without even knowing the ways. So we are discussing what is this system, what are its types, its history and much more.

What is Satellite Navigation?
Ever since human has started travelling, they have needed some sort of aid to know the direction they are going. And that is where the term navigation was coined in. Navigation means directional help, you need when you are travelling. The earliest example of navigation is Sun. Yes, our Sun used to help people know the direction (we all know east and west of the Sun).

Then came the sea/ocean travelers who discovered magnetic compass, which is still used in maritime navigation. The compass aligned with the north and south poles, as our poles have magnetic fields. But that was a long time ago and our automobiles are hardly a century old. And to an extent technologies are new to us.

Earliest usage of navigation in cars required asking directions from some person or going through a paper map. But then came the Satellite navigation. As the name implies, a navigation which uses satellites for directional purposes is called Satellite Navigation (We will use SatNav for ease of use). SatNav use a GPS signal (Global positioning system) which is transmitted through the various satellites roaming above the Earth, to tell the accurate position of the car and further directions.

History of Satellite Navigation
SatNav has not been the same in cars, but has gone some major technological advancements. It all started in the 1970s, when the groundbreaking discovery of microprocessor took place. What microprocessors did was reduce the size of all the electronic parts. And hence an idea of fitting portable SatNav emerged. But the technology was too expensive and it was still not commercially viable.

While throughout the 1980s, major enhancement took place, including the development of color displays for digital maps and of CD-ROMs for digital map storage, still commercially design was not available. Though nobody knows who developed the first mass SatNav, Etak systems is credited with giving the first digital system that used map-matching to improve on dead reckoning instrumentation. Here's a list of important developments in SatNav:

1980: Electronic Auto Compass with new mechanism on the Toyota Crown

1981: world's first automotive navigation computer on the Toyota Celica XX

1981: Alpine claims to have created the first automotive navigation system in 1981. However, according to the company's own historical timeline, the company claims to have co-developed an analog automotive navigation product called the Electro Gyrocator, working with Honda.

1984: Steven Lobbezoo developed the first commercially available satellite navigation system for cars. Publicly presented first at the Hannover fair in 1985 in Germany, the system used a modified IBM PC, a large disc for map data and a flat screen, built into the glove compartment. It was called Homer (after the device from a James Bond movie).

1987: Toyota introduced the World's first CD-ROM-based navigation system on the Toyota Crown

1991: Toyota introduced GPS car navigation on the Toyota Soarer UZZ31 & UZZ32 models being fitted with an optional 'EMV' touchscreen display featuring GPS (along with a TV, audio and air con controls). While only ever configured for road use in Japan the CD-ROM based GPS system was a well proven system that took at least another decade for other manufactures to match. An identical system was fitted on the Toyota Crown.

1992: World First voice assisted GPS navigation system on the Toyota Celsior

1995: Magellan, a GPS navigation system manufacturer, claims to have created the first GPS-based vehicle navigation system in the U.S. in 1995.

1995: Device called "Mobile Assistant" or short, MASS, produced by Munich-based company ComRoad AG, won the title "Best Product in Mobile Computing" on CeBit by magazine Byte. It offered turn-by-turn navigation via wireless internet connection, with both GPS and speed sensor in the car.

1997: Navigation system using Differential GPS developed as a factory-installed option on the Toyota Prius

2007: Toyota introduced Map on Demand, a technology for distributing map updates to car navigation systems, developed as the first of its kind in the world

2008: World's first navigation system-linked brake assist function and Navigation system linked to Adaptive Variable Suspension System (NAVI/AI-AVS) on Toyota Crown.

Technology of a SatNav

Below is the list of some of the technologies SatNav use:

1. A SatNav typically shows a map on a screen.

2. The screen shows the top view of the map rotating with the automobile.

3. A colored circle or a mark shows the current position, while another legend shows the destination.

4. A path is connected between the current and destination location and an arrow guides through the way.

5. A voice prompt can be activated to let the SatNav guide the driver.

6. The Exact distance from destination, distance to the next turn, direction of the next turn and much more are also simultaneously shown.

Apart from the above mentioned technology, the major content, infact the most important thing in any SatNav is the Maps. A SatNav stores maps in the memory of the device and utilizes when one searches a location. GPS on the other tells the real-time position of the car. Maps also consists facilities like tolls, petrol pumps, restaurants and other important areas.

Also, along with the pre-feeded data, maps now-a-days come with a feature of Real-time data, which not only updates the current position of the vehicle, but also tells the traffic conditions, parking facility and much more. 

Types of SatNav
As discussed before, modern day SatNav devices are more of a handheld portable device, rather than large computer like devices two decades ago. There are three ways in which you can get your equipped with a SatNav:

Original factory equipment
While most of the high-end cars gets SatNav as standard equipment globally, India still gets SatNav as an option in high-ends cars too, leave aside the budget or normal range cars. The standard fitment from the manufacturers enables a car to get many advanced features like the dead reckoning (helps the car navigate even when the GPS signals are lost).

A typical SatNav is operated via a small screen, generally 7-10 inch on the dashboard of the car. The screen also helps as a multi-media infotainment screen which works as a music player as well as radio screen. This way the manufacturer optimally utilizes the space on the central console.

A SatNav doesn't come cheap, and especially when it comes retro-fitted by the car manufacturer. But, one can get an aftermarket Navigation system, integrated to the vehicle permanently. There are a number of manufacturers who provide these kind of aftermarket devices, which takes place in the DIN slot for the radio/tape/CD. While most of the cars come with ample space to fit a SatNav device, sometimes, the dashboard is remolded to fit one.

This approach not only enhances the looks of the dashboard, it also secures the device and costs low as compared to the OEM fitted device.

Portable GPS
Last but not the least, is the most sought after and the cheapest option of all, the handheld portable GPS system. This type of SatNav is not integrated to the vehicle permanently and is fixed using a simple mobile holder or a bracket that can be attached to the front glass or the dashboard. It is powered via a Car cigarette lighter and doesn't require any change to the car components, making it cheapest of all.

Though there are many advantages of this system, one of the major disadvantages is that this device can be easily stolen. Also, the device can't get input from the vehicle's inbuilt systems like the compass, accelerometer and other speed sensors, limiting its usage only to the directional purposes when GPS signals are available.

Controversy related to Satellite Navigation
They say as much as technology is a boon, so is it a problem. Every technology attached with its share of problems and attracts criticism, which is good if taken positively. Here are some of the problems/criticism SatNav faces:

Many safety organizations have called SatNav a great distraction while driving. While some tests have proven that the voice features distracts the driver, some others have problems with the visual only feature, as they say lots of emphasis is gone about understanding the direction and that causes distraction.

Unfortunately, SatNav faces lots of issues with the job it was made to do in the first place.

1. Permanent one way, or occasional one way, both can be neglected sometimes in SatNav, creating a chaos for the drivers. A number of road accidents in the UK have been attributed to misdirection by satellite navigation systems. A country like India, where roads are damaged more often than constructed, it calls for a serious trouble. Here are some of the reasons for SatNav failure:

2. Misdirection can also occur when a road is altered either permanently or temporarily, such as during road re-construction.

3. Sometimes the roads are too narrow to adjust the large vehicles like SUVs, which SatNav fails to update.

Additional benefits of SatNav
Now that we have seen all about a SatNav, here are some of the additional benefits a SatNav system can offer:

1. The display of SatNav can be used as an entertainment source or media interface.

2. Hands-free system can be linked via a SatNav for safety.

3. A SatNav can be used a personal manager to store updates for meetings and all.

You can also check our article on important safety equipment in car!

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