Is Your GPS Driving You Mad?
The paradoxical quality of the GPS (Global Positioning System), or ‘sat nav’(Satellite Navigator) as it is commonly known, lies in its pure irony. Rather than its original design as an intuitive tool to assist motorists in navigating their way to a preset destination, it seems intent on helping us lose our bearings, and probably our minds.
Researchers claim that at least six out of 10 of us motorists today experience ‘sat nav rage’ where we’ve lashed out at these electronic voice-over navigators. Some of its most common shortfalls reportedly sending us not just off course but off the edge include misdirection, unclear instructions due to outdated versions, struggling to install it securely to windscreens and the high cost of upgrades.
Along with selfies, lane hoggers, teen pop idol Justin Bieber and pets dressed like Paris Hilton, the humble GPS has now earned well-deserved merit and chart-topping votes by consumers in the gallery of modern day pet peeves.
So how can this supposedly useful electronic navigation device incur the ire of the majority of us drivers? Most probably by repeatedly barking at us to ‘turn around wherever possible’ when we’re expecting it to know better than to coax us into a head-on multi-vehicle collision. That’s the thing we forget. The reason it’s making us snap is that it really doesn’t know any better. A gadget attempting to offer directional guidance without a tinge of human logic incorporated into its tiny compact self easily fools us with its robotic nuances—in the form of a human voice operator. We tend to forget ‘human voice operated’ isn’t quite in the same league as ‘human operated’. No wonder these soothing albeit infuriating sat nav voices could have us fooled into thinking they are one of those live police radios being manned by real personnel communicating via control stations.
If you’re determined to have a sense of humour or are perhaps in need of the constant nudge back to reality that these voices in the head of your GPS aren’t real, fear not. Clever marketers in some overseas markets like the UK have roped in celebrity-recorded sat nav voices to chase your driving blues away. Fans of The Simpsons cartoon can drive to less staid voice commands by replacing them with Homer Simpson’s trademark grunt of “D’oh!”, made signature by the cartoon’s famous voice, Dan Castellaneta. Instead of arriving in utter rage, one could perhaps even manage a small grin on reaching their destination with Homer’s congratulatory “Woo hoo! You’ve reached your destination!” Fans of Top Gear aren’t left out. Once they can decide between which is more annoying—driving to the tirades and ranting of Jeremy Clarkson or the famously silent mute ‘Stig’ mode.
Laugh but the failures of our sat navs aren’t always funny, especially when they cost us time and money. Mine once made me make 3 consecutive turns only to find myself back in extremely familiar scenery. It’s no fun getting ourselves hopelessly lost, and perhaps the worst—avoidable road accidents as a result of GPS stress, confusion, distraction or rage. It’s hard to contemplate the problems that will turn up with the emergence of self driving cars on our roads just around the corner.
A man who was arrested by police for driving in the opposite direction of the Hume Freeway in Victoria blamed his folly on his GPS. The suspect claimed the reason he failed to stop though encountering oncoming traffic was that he was under the impression he was driving along a dual carriageway.
In October 2006 an elderly German man ignored a series of warning signs and dutifully followed the commands of his GPS, only to crash his Mercedes Benz into a a mammoth sand pile at a construction site.
Three young women managed to escape from a sinking SUV after driving their rental car down a boat launch and into a lake in Seattle in 2011, blaming their ‘bad GPS’ directions for the near-fatal misadventure.
Doesn’t it leave you wondering why people wouldn’t question driving into a growing puddle that doesn’t seem to end? These are reported tribulations of real life drivers that have us asking if these are truly ‘spectacular GPS fails’ or simply a case of ‘operator error’. One reckons it could be political correctitude to affirm the existence of ‘operator foolishness’.
There are enough crazy GPS horror stories to drive us laughing ourselves off a cliff, but when you hear the one where a 67-year-old woman drove 1450km instead of a 145km destination over two days due to her inattention and GPS error, it might be time to make more sense of this device. Useful or useless? What is the future of our sat navs?
It is almost no longer a prophecy but a real likelihood that the end of the era of the standalone GPS unit is near. Its demise is evident as car manufacturers keep rolling out more in-built GPS systems and smartphone-compatible vehicles to rapidly embrace a ubiquitous technology. Drivers today are also known to swear by the easily downloaded app Google Maps with its handy ‘turn-by-turn’ navigation feature. My little experiment tells me they could be right to ditch the Tom Toms.
I have a built-in GPS in my current car combined with blue tooth connectivity on my iPhone 6 Plus to seamlessly pipe my favourite music from my Spotify account to my car’s audio system. I have a pretty great mix of environments to gauge the formidable claims of Google Maps. It’s unbelievable how easy it was to input my destination into Google Maps compared to entering the same with my car’s in-built sat nav.
I especially love being able to switch from map view to street or satellite view on Google Maps, which helps directionally-challenged me to feel very comforted in taking advantage of this dissonance-reducing feature. I think my warning to the Garmins and Tom Toms out there would be: “Be afraid, be very afraid.” I highly suspect makers of standalone GPS units such as these would have to address some real threats to their business and extinction by rolling out killer features that will outdo something as convenient as Google Maps. Well, tough luck for them. As soon as more smart phone users hop on the ‘phablet models’ like the iPhone 6 Plus and Samsung Galaxy S5, there’s little that shall stand between them and clever apps like Google Maps. The large screens on phablets alone will rival the standalone units in addition to their other functions.
As for in-built GPS systems in the future of car technology, they could stand a much better chance of competing than these proprietory navigation units. They could enhance the intuition and intelligence of a car’s learned communication with its driver.
Mercedes-Benz for example, is leading in developing a system that over time promises to learn its driver’s schedules, tastes and moods. I just dream of the day my car is not only able to know that at a certain time everyday I take the kids to school, and based on GPS and satellite data, quickly learn my preferred routes, tracking real-time traffic problems and suggesting detours to help save me sitting and snarling in traffic. Meanwhile, I’m trying to palm off my old Garmin Nuvi on ebay without much interesting bids. Why did I spend $229 on a now-defunct gadget in my life? Alas, am afraid no one articulates my disenchantment better than Homer Simpson does.
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