I keep telling myself that my recent portable navigation episode must be an isolated case. Surely, automotive navigation systems work better than the one I used on a rented Avis car in Hartford, CT. Surely, they must.
Before we discuss the overall effectiveness of GPS-based navigation, however, let’s consider my recent experience. It started when I rented an Avis car with a portable Garmin Where2 navigation system at Hartford’s Bradley Airport. The Garmin system is easy to use: You simply attach it to the windshield with suction cups and plug it into the car’s cigarette lighter.
I won’t bore you with the details of my frustrating, muttering-under-my-breath driving escapade. Suffice to say that the trip was divided into three legs:
1. The navigation system directed me from the Hartford Airport to within 300 feet of my hotel, when it suddenly changed its mind and declared it was “recalculating.” It then proceeded to direct me on a confusing ride around Glastonbury, CT, which culminated when it finally told me to get back on a nearby Interstate and “continue for 27 miles.”
2. The following morning, it was unable to take me from my hotel to my ultimate destination because it said the desired address was “not in the database.”
3. Finally, it tried to take me back from my destination to the Avis facility at Hartford Airport, but missed the facility by 0.4 miles. Instead of going to Avis, it directed me to a locked gate at the back of the airport. When I pulled away from the locked gate, it begged me to go back, chanting, “Make a U-turn. Make a U-turn. Make a U-turn.”
I can only hope there wasn’t any kind of recording device in the car at that point because I fear that the threats I made to the disembodied Garmin voice may have been vaguely illegal.
I knew, though, that there must be some logical explanation for this craziness, so after I returned home, I called Garmin. A pleasant public relations woman there suggested that “perhaps they didn’t get the device re-set or the software hadn’t been updated recently. As in any consumer electronics device, there are times where there are bugs, and those bugs need to be fixed.”
Moreover, I assume that Garmin’s massive sales of these devices (they sold 1.55 million nav devices in the first quarter of 2007) suggests that portable navigation is getting a lot of good word of mouth.
On the other hand, I suspect that I’m not alone in my experiences with automotive navigation. All of these systems depend on data that may sometimes be outdated or just plain inaccurate. And I’m concerned that those moments of inaccurate data reporting are subverting the goal of automotive navigation. Instead of helping the driver, they’re occasionally causing a distraction. Instead of looking at the road, I found myself creeping along, waiting for directions, gazing at a small display on the windshield.
That can’t be good. In an era when we’re already concerned about the effect of iPods, cell phones, fancy audio systems and satellite radios in the vehicle, we don’t need another distraction.
That’s why I won’t spend the extra $10.95 for a navigation device on my next Avis rental car. I’m capable of getting lost without electronic help, thank you.