Two Features Your Next GPS Must HavePosted: September 2, 2015
The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-based navigation system developed and maintained by the United States Department of Defense. While it initially enabled our service members to more accurately blow up unpleasant folks around the world, it is now better known for helping direct you to that hidden gem of a restaurant.
I spend a lot of time on the road. Using GPS ensures that at the end of that time, I’m where I hoped I’d be when I got started. Sure, I could still plot my course using a paper map, assuming I could find one; I could also make the effort to learn my routes. But I got hooked on using a GPS receiver to plan my travels and now that I can harness the power of those satellites to get me where I’m going using an app on my phone, well why wouldn’t I?
And there are so many options available now to help our GPS receivers guide us in ways that suit us. Don’t want to pay tolls or ride on ferries? Your receiver has settings for that. Prefer staying off the highway? There’s a setting for that too.
But the system is not without its flaws. I can think of at least two options that would make Global Positioning work safer and better for us all.
Sometimes, GPS Says Too Much
There are times when we find ourselves diverting from the route the voice on our GPS so desperately wants us to follow.
For instance, you might need to fuel your car, or your body, in the midst of a trip. As soon as you head off the route to tend to that need, your GPS desperately badgers you to return to that course. After six or eight pleas for you to “turn right on Front Street in five-hundred feet” or “take the interstate on-ramp” the urge to drop your little navigating friend out the window is nearly overwhelming.
And those of us who use a navigation app on our phones sometimes get an extra surprise. If you’ve not yet run desperately into an interstate bathroom and finally begun getting some relief only to hear your phone announce loudly “make a legal u-turn” you have a real treat coming.
What GPS lacks is a setting to handle this sort of situation. Call it a “gas station” button, call it a “pee-break” button or, if you want to go simple with it, a “pause” button. Whatever you’d call it, it’d just be something to briefly quiet our little electronic friends while we divert from their plans for us, and allow us to return to those plans without re-entering information.
Sometimes GPS Says Too Little
The algorithms in our GPS units instruct them to get us from where we are to where we are going as quickly as possible. Do you know what an algorithm is? Neither do I, but I think we can all be glad that there are people who do and can correct them when they are flawed.
Reaching a destination fast is nice, but what level of risk are we willing to accept to be timely? If the navigation app on my phone accesses real-time traffic information and diverts me around traffic jams, couldn’t it use other information to help it plan a route?
It seems to me that if a GPS can access and interpret a data source that is changing from moment to moment, as traffic conditions do, it should be able to get the statistics local law enforcement gathers on street robberies and detour you around bad parts of town when you wish. Obviously, using a “don’t get me shot” button would imply that you’re willing to sacrifice some time for your safety. Isn’t a little time worth avoiding that “oh my God, where are you taking me?” feeling?
When the “pee-break” and the “don’t get me killed” buttons become a common feature of Global Positioning System navigation in our cars we will finally maximize the potential of this guidance system. The need for these features are almost enough to make me want to learn what an algorithm is.
Yup, almost enough.