by Joel Arellano of Automotive.com
a car lover and techno geek and love when the two mesh together. Yet I
don’t always see the advantages immediately. When we bought our 2005 Honda Accord hybrid
I balked at purchasing the top-of-the line model with navigation
system. “Why,” I asked my significant other, “do you want one? We’ve
got Mapquest and, in a pinch, the Thomas Guide.” But several uses
quickly convinced me the advantages outweighed the limitations of GPS.
GPS, or Global Positioning System, was originally developed by the U.S.
military and released to civilian use in 1996. 27 satellites orbit the
earth and form their own constellation so that four satellites are
always present or “visible”.
visibility’s important. Your GPS unit, or “receiver”, works by emitting
a high-frequency, low-power radio signal to those satellites. By using
triangulation of where—and when--the satellites are to each other and
to the receiver, your location can then be determined. The location
information is then combined with the almanac, or map, in your receiver
to give you a visual representation to where you are. Location,
atmospheric conditions, and incorrect almanac information can severely
affect the GPS’ accuracy.
Onstar, which is General Motor’s subscription tracking and monitoring
system, uses this service to provide the most unique and simplest
navigation system that I’ve ever encountered. Called “Turn By Turn”,
the system directs you to your location by simple verbal directions. Herb Shuldiner of Newsday
tested the system. He contacted the staff and, after giving his
destination, they transmitted the information to his car’s Onstar unit.
The unit told him what street to take, when to turn, and how many miles
(or feet) for the next action. This is a lot easier than using my
Accord’s navigation system: I not only spent a weekend studying the
manual and learning the system, but I have to look away from the road
to make sure I’m following directions. Onstar avoids both issues by
being easy to operate (just press a button) and simple to follow.
Michael Austin of Automobile Magazine
wrote how Onstar helped him find E85 stations to fuel his flex-fuel
Chevrolet Impala. He found the staff very helpful where, at one point,
they made sure one such station provided twenty-four hour service.
comparing the two is like the proverbial apples and orange comparison.
Onstar provides other services from unlocking your car door, monthly
diagnostics reports, to sending out emergency services if your airbags
are deployed. Onscreen navigation systems show gas stations and
restaurants en route as well as allow you to “see” the area ahead of
you. If you buy a GM vehicle with Onstar and have the option to include
a screen navigation system (like a Cadillac), give some thought to what
your priorities are with navigation systems: easy of use or detail.
Finally, remember the technology’s not infallible: if your receiver
loses its satellite connection or the almanac information has been
entered incorrectly, it will shut down. When this happens, apply the
usual common sense and, after telling your boastful male companion to
pull off the road, either pull out that map or ask that nice stranger
where the nearest hotel is located.