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In 1992, at my first job with the Motorola IVHS (Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems) SBU, we were tasked with coming up with an Automotive Navigation System as an aftermarket product. In those days, GPS devices were the size of a ice-hockey puck. A shoebox sized computer sat screwed in the trunk. A CD carried Digital Map data of the US. The hardware and software engineers built one of the earliest full fledged Automotive Navigations Systems – with Turn by Turn Route Guidance; Voice Guidance;  POI [points of interest] integration;  Touchscreen;  multiple location inputs through GPS, wheel sensors, transmission sensors, all helping out accuracy of the car’s position by means of dead reckoning software! Unfortunately, the product got shelved in 1995 due to a myriad list of issues – aftermarket pricing, liability issues in the event of an accident etc..

The lessons learnt at that time – the user finds these devices most useful when he/she does not know where they are going. That is why automobile navigation devices go hand in glove with the rental car industry in the US. Daily commuters with the same route did not see the usefulness to dish out $5k in order to put one in their car in the mid 90’s. The industry has evolved since then with most auto manufacturers offering in-dash navigation systems today in most of their cars. Automobile manufacturers use the navigation display as a multi-display function for controlling a lot of the car’s audio features and displaying it’s engine health parameters.

2009: It is now common to see Google Maps available on Smartphones – iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Android devices with various degrees of integration to the Map for navigation purposes.  The availability of maps in these devices allowed a slew of location based applications to crop up for these phones. For example, Movie applications will not just provide reviews for new movies, but will play trailers from YouTube, display the list of cinemas it is running in and if you the user deems,  will tell the user how to get to the movie theater closest to them from wherever they are. The ability to combine Yellow Pages information with location and navigation serves as a powerful tool for users globally.

droid-car-home-dock
Motorola Droid docked in a car

Android 2.0 devices ups the ante with true turn by turn navigation for FREE with Voice based dialing, displaying live traffic info en-route to one’s destination, Street and Satellite views and the ability to dock in a car! While this functionality has been available on the iPhone as a fairly expensive paid application, Android clearly is driving a signal to other mobile OSs by integrating it. Thanks to miniaturization (as with all electronics) –  GPS chipsets can now be integrated on the slimmest of cellphones! True Convergence of hardware (pinpointing location) with software (digital maps) and packaged in sleek devices to allow end users to never worry about getting lost. I cannot wait to see how this is going to further evolve in the coming years..


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