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GUI Transportation Technology

Are Sat-Nav Systems Becoming Information Overload? 186

curtS writes "The Economist's tech editor reviews the ever-more-detailed assistance of mobile GPS devices, and wonders if the attention-sucking visual complexity isn't more trouble than it's worth. He contrasts the simplicity of London's Underground map (not directionally accurate but visually easy to understand) and his own habit of dimming the display and using the audio commands for guidance."
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Are Sat-Nav Systems Becoming Information Overload?

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  • by Karganeth ( 1017580 ) on Sunday December 13, 2009 @01:31PM (#30423530)
    If the guy is a technology editor, why is he struggling with something as simple as a GPS? I'd understand if he was reporting that others had this problem... but come on.
  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Sunday December 13, 2009 @01:36PM (#30423562) Homepage Journal

    Then you probably shouldn't be driving. Take the bus.

  • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Sunday December 13, 2009 @01:56PM (#30423704)

    If the guy is a technology editor, why is he struggling with something as simple as a GPS? I'd understand if he was reporting that others had this problem... but come on.

    Ah, I believe the point being brought here is not a matter of being technologically challenged by such a device, but more of the matter of being a device that has gone from being a simple GPS to the new "all-in-wonder" device in the car that will talk to you, answer your phone, play music, give directions, and (soon), start throwing advertisements for local businesses in the area, all at the VERY HIGH cost of distracting the person who is in charge of controlling 2 metric tons of steel down a road at 60MPH or faster.

    As the death tolls rise every day with cellular use while driving(including texting), I can definitely see the issue with similar devices. When insurance companies start refusing to pay for accidents caused by these devices, THEN we may start seeing some REAL reform with all of this. Until then, watch your ass on the roads, because these next-generation twit(ters) can't seem to get enough distractions behind the wheel. I'll be lucky if my kids live to see 30.

  • by digitig ( 1056110 ) on Sunday December 13, 2009 @02:05PM (#30423770)
    Yes, but it's only looking at one side of the issue. "Overall, the Carnegie Mellon team concluded that the time drivers spent fixated on their satnav displays decreased sixfold and the number of glances needed to confirm results decreased threefold when the navigation system simply used words and numbers to convey instructions rather than fancy graphics." Fine -- but what did it do to the number of missed turns, or the number of times the driver gets into the wrong lane becuase they don't really understand what the words and numbers are actually telling them to do? They're things that can make drivers "especially vulnerable to doing stupid(which in a car means dangerous) things" too. Most of the time sure, I just listen to my satnav. But at complex junctions, actually seeing the layout and where I'm supposed to end up is invaluable. A picture really can be worth a thousand words.
  • by zippthorne ( 748122 ) on Sunday December 13, 2009 @02:20PM (#30423882) Journal

    Or you could do what I do: just take the next exit and let the sat-nav figure out how to get you back on track. If it takes less than a second to do so, missing a couple streets isn't that big a deal, and there's almost certainly a lower attention-demanding route to wherever. Generally, the most complicated places are highways in traffic with left-exits and short spans.

    But if you take any nearby exit, there's almost always a "street with many stoplights" that you can pretty much take your time on. Sat-nav also helps with tricky left turns on that street. Just turn right anywhere near your destination and let it recalculate a route for you.

    The thing about sat nav is that it creates a new navigation paradigm. If you use it right it can really free you from worrying about where you are so you can concentrate on not hitting things. You don't have to drive straight to your destination without deviating from the route to avoid stopping and getting your bearings. Everywhere is like the areas you're familiar with, where if you miss a turn it's no big deal, you just go one of the other permutations you know all about.

    Even if the machine's maps don't quite match up to reality, it's still no worse than when you're in your familiar area and you're trying out a permutation you're fuzzy on: Just turn off when it doesn't match up and get on a route that you know about. As long as you pay attention to the road, the worst thing that can happen is that it'll take longer to get where you're trying to go (unless where you're trying to go is in the middle of a block of roads that the sat-nav is not accurate on. But that's pretty rare.)

  • by supernova87a ( 532540 ) <.kepler1. .at.> on Sunday December 13, 2009 @02:29PM (#30423930)
    By the way, just a tip for everyone -- I've found that ironically the bus is actually where a GPS makes the biggest improvement in knowing how to get around.

    If you're in an unfamiliar city, buses (in contrast to trains) often have a frustratingly indescribable and unpredictable route/stop pattern, and when the driver/announcement system is of no help, a GPS system in your hand will help you figure out exactly how close you are to your destination, and when to get off the bus.

    I no longer dread dealing with buses because of this capability, although the lurching stop/start of buses in general still drives me crazy. Try it sometime -- the small Nuvi-style units are just about as inconspicuous as an ipod, and are great for helping you get around.
  • by supernova87a ( 532540 ) <.kepler1. .at.> on Sunday December 13, 2009 @02:41PM (#30423988)
    the editor completely misunderstands the point (or misuses his/her GPS). The potential clutter of the user interface/map/traffic aside, GPS is the most dramatic simplification in driving to emerge in years -- provided you just listen to the voice prompts.

    When used correctly, this one amazing device outsources your mental burden of navigation, and presents it to you with a clear voice that lets you devote your effort to (hopefully) driving better, although obviously this has turned many people's attention elsewhere.

    If you've ever found yourself in an unfamiliar city in fast moving, dense traffic, trying to find an address, you will be grateful that you can offload your navigational workload to the GPS, which tells you clearly and plainly when to get ready to turn, in how far a distance, potentially even making it safer as you no longer swerve across 3 lanes of traffic at the last minute while looking at a paper map.

    Of course, people who use it to navigate down isolated country roads they're familiar with will never see the point, but for someone who's task-overloaded in a busy situation, listening to the GPS voice is an amazing improvement in life.
  • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Sunday December 13, 2009 @02:59PM (#30424120)

    But at complex junctions, actually seeing the layout and where I'm supposed to end up is invaluable. A picture really can be worth a thousand words.

    Yes, but the columnist's point was that you don't need fancy graphics with photos to tell you that. All you need is a clear diagram.

    The factory system in my Volvo is relatively primitive (dates back to 2001 or so), but has an excellent user interface. You get a simple rocker-pad and two buttons, on the BACK of the wheel, that control everything; your hands never leave the ideal steering wheel position. You also get an infrared control with the same buttons, for passengers. The screen rises out of the dashboard, dead center. It does not obscure the road, but it's also close to said road, so your eyes don't wander far.

    The display is relatively simple- map, road name you're on at the bottom, next turn name/distance/road name up top. I think there's a total-time-and-distance-left display, too. The time of day isn't there. Nothing is on the screen except what is directly relevant.

    When a turn approaches, you get a full-screen diagram of the upcoming intersection with you entering from the bottom, and a marked path...and despite the very complex intersections where I live (rotaries with all sorts of shit happening off them, 5+6 way intersections, etc) it always displays them perfectly.

    Did I mention it's fully capable of dead reckoning, with vehicle speed and compass sensors? Your dashboard GPS may have photorealistic intersections, but my GPS works a mile into a tunnel when the tunnel has a 3-way split. About the only thing I wish for is that it were faster at route calculations, displayed more street names and route numbers (it's very bad at this) and was a little better at picking up satellites; once in a blue moon it gets confused as to which street it is on (this is rare since it has dead-reckoning capabilities.)

  • (Score:3, Insightful)

    by not-my-real-name ( 193518 ) on Sunday December 13, 2009 @05:31PM (#30425274) Homepage

    I'll see your European anecdote and raise you one. In 2005 I spent 4 weeks driving around Europe with my wife and parents. We had no GPS, but plenty of maps. We were able to find our way into and out of all sorts of out of the way places. The only trouble was trying to meet one cousin where we were waiting on one side of the freeway and he was waiting on the other side.

    Now, I've always been good with maps, have a good sense of direction, and a good spacial sense. Not everyone is good with maps or navigating.

    On the other hand, often people get their trips too structured. Having a little less structure, a willingness to improvise, and a sense of adventure can result in a really memorable trip.

    In your case, the GPS gave you the confidence to get off the beaten path. However if you were just blindly following its directions, you might still be sitting on the autobahn.

  • (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PitaBred ( 632671 ) <> on Sunday December 13, 2009 @10:27PM (#30427318) Homepage
    "However if you were just blindly following its directions, you might still be sitting on the autobahn."

    And if you're that kind of person, it doesn't matter what kind of map you're following. GPS is nice because it knows where you are. Maps, you have to figure that out. Admittedly, it's not hard and should be a skill you have, but why do all your division longhand if you have a calculator?
  • (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) * on Sunday December 13, 2009 @11:01PM (#30427498) Homepage Journal

    As not_my_name says - you seem to fit into a special group. Far to many people RELY on that GPS to tell them everything. Maybe if I were a bit younger - or, maybe if I were navigating Europe instead of North America - I might make similar use of GPS as you did. Or not. I might have the GPS in the car, but an atlas would still be spread across the passenger seat. Among other things, I want to "feel" how far away it is to the Italian border, or the Russian border, or the English Channel. That big map of Europe, showing all the countries, rivers, lakes, and mountain ranges would be visible all the time, just as it was for North America in my early years of navigating. That "big picture" is necessary for me to fill in all the finer details, mentally. And, most people who rely on that GPS never get that "big picture", IMHO.

  • (Score:3, Insightful)

    by adolf ( 21054 ) <> on Monday December 14, 2009 @01:00AM (#30428118) Journal

    I like maps, too. I like to look at them, I like to connect the dots. I like the little bits of random knowledge that I pick up in doing so. My Dad taught me how to read a map before I even learned how to read English.

    But I hate using maps when driving. In the car, I find them cumbersome, verbose, generally annoying, and difficult to remember.

    To top it all off, I get lost very easily, for whatever reason. Back in the day, I used to even get lost at school. (Hey, we've all got problems.)

    So, I use GPS. When it's important to be timely (I often travel for work), it gets me there with reasonable efficiency, and I don't get lost. The constant hand-holding is actually useful and welcome, for me, sometimes. (Before GPS was commonly available, I once missed a turn, and ended up taking a 100-mile detour. My co-worker was calling on the 2-way radio asking me where I was, and I didn't know I was fucked until I noticed his voice was all distant and static-y. Those radios had range of 30 or 40 miles on this terrain.)

    But, on my own time, I like traveling for fun. I don't always take the Interstate even when it's faster, and I really enjoy finding new things in my travels. I'm not afraid of wandering around on dirt roads all afternoon. But, I still use GPS.

    I think there's a couple of things about GPS navigation that you don't understand:

    1. It can be told to shut up. Then, you can drive wherever you want, however you want. See something over there, a little bit off your path? Go there. Want to stop off at a small town that the highway avoids? Goferit. And when you get tired of doing that, or it starts getting dark out (boring, usually) it'll get you back on track.

    2. It will go wherever you want it to. You don't like the directions? Ignore them. Mute them. Drive where you feel like. You don't like this exit? Skip it. It'll adjust quickly, and when (and if) you want help, just give the screen a look and it'll give you a reasonable next step.

    3. When driving for fun, you can just -go-. Forget the maps, forget about destinations, forget GPS. Spend a day or so just seeing what there is to see. It's cheaper than a movie, and for me, one of my favorite ways to kill a Sunday. Eventually, though, it becomes time to head home: The dog needs fed, the wife wants chocolate, or some such thing. Push a couple of buttons, though, and all of the random adventure is gone -- it gets you over to a major road in a hurry, and you're headed back. Of course, you're still free to tell it to shut the hell up (see 1, above) or correct it (2), if its directions aren't jiving right with your mojo at that instant.

    GPS units don't compute a static path from A to B. They compute a dynamic path from wherever you're currently at, to whatever your destination is. Most of them can come in very handy as a local directory, as well: Sometimes, you NEED some coolant for the engine. You might NEED a tire. Or NEED a hospital. Or, at your advanced age, you might NEED a bathroom. It'll get you to those places even if you have no clue at all where you're at except "Somewhere on C, between A and B."

  • (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Techman83 ( 949264 ) on Monday December 14, 2009 @01:01AM (#30428122)
    GPS for me came in handy in a recent 4x4 adventure, we had been using paper maps and just following our noses along the track until my Fiancé required urgent medical attention, now I didn't have one, but one of the other guys that was with us did, so whilst I was calling for an Ambulance, he was calling through our current location and best meeting point for the Ambulance over the 2 way. It was rather comforting that we didn't need to stop and work out where exactly we were or where we needed to be (we were familiar with the area, but the bush looks quite the same for quite some distance, so it's quite hard to narrow things down to more than +/- 10k's)
  • Driving alone? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Scyber ( 539694 ) on Monday December 14, 2009 @09:49AM (#30430298)

    I might have the GPS in the car, but an atlas would still be spread across the passenger seat.

    In your situation I might agree. However for me the choice is either use GPS or have my wife reading the map. Needless to say, GPS wins. ;)

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