TORONTO, Ont. - Today's GPS users owe a debt of gratitude to former president Ronald Reagan. After Korean Airlines flight 007 was shot down by the Soviets in 1983, he directed that the Global Navigati...
BRING IT W ITH YOU: Portable units such as the Magellan RoadMate are ideal for truck cabs.
TORONTO, Ont. –Today’s GPS users owe a debt of gratitude to former president Ronald Reagan. After Korean Airlines flight 007 was shot down by the Soviets in 1983, he directed that the Global Navigation Satellite System be made available for civilian use as soon as it was completed.
Although a highly valued military tool, the technology has resisted the Pentagon’s attempts to make it selectively available. During the Gulf War, members of the US forces were purchasing civilian GPS units because of a shortage of military-issue ones. It didn’t make sense to restrict public access if their own soldiers were using the civilian models.
The system was originally developed by the US Department of Defense and is still managed by a wing of the US Air Force. It consists of a network of at least 24 satellites sending microwave signals to the four corners of the earth (there are presently 31 satellites in the constellation spinning overhead).
Quite simply, there is no other navigational system like it in the world, although the Europeans are feverishly working on their own Gallileo version, as are the Russians and Chinese. Since Reagan’s edict, GPS has revolutionized navigation and has been an invaluable aid to map makers, surveyors, scientists and transportation providers worldwide.
Personal GPS units can also potentially save truckers hundreds of miles per year of bad directions.
This past Christmas the product passed the tipping point when an electronic device becomes widely popular and affordable, similar to the way cell phones made a breakthrough a few years ago.
During Boxing Week, I noticed ravaged showcases in electronics stores, and customers frantically buying the demos to get a hold of anything GPS.
The technology has come a long way in a few years. A typical receiver uses about four satellites to fix on its position and vector, but some highend units are capable of receiving up to 20 visible satellites. If your machine comes with a SiRFstarIII chip, that’s a good thing.
Nowadays, even cheap GPS sets are WAAS-enabled and incredibly accurate (WAAS is the technology that allows air traffic controllers to provide precision approaches, displaying the altitude of an incoming airplane as well as its location and velocity).
GPS is a lot of fun. Just about every model comes with good, upto-date mapping software. Last week I tried out a friend’s Nextar W3G and was impressed. It’s the size of a deck of cards and is entirely portable.
The display was nice and crisp and easy to read. It came with routing instructions, points of interest, nearest hospital, etc.
For me, this is all I would need. After pulling off the highway to get a coffee at the Tim’s in Napanee (I hate those crowded rest stops on the 401 and avoid them if possible), the machine insisted verbally that I pull U-turns every 50 meters.
Maybe you don’t need the biggest and best. In that case you can probably pick up a basic one for about $200 plus. Garmin Nuvis are considered a good buy in this price range. Have a look at the C340 and C350 models.
Receivers priced from $400-600 come with lots of bells and whistles. The Tom Tom One XL has a nice big 4.3-inch screen but isn’t Bluetooth-enabled.
The Magellan Maestro series falls into this category and supplies a voice command and control option for about $500. Most of the others in this range are Bluetoothfriendly and this is a must if you’re using a headset and want the convenience of routing your cell phone through the receiver.
But if you want the ultimate, you can get those too.
The Garmin 7200 comes in at just under $900 and has everything you’ll ever need and more, including a video player and hook-up for a rear-view camera. Traffic incident reports are an option for some models but checking around it appears this is only available for the Toronto area when in Canada, and requires a subscription fee payment in most cases.
More truck drivers have laptops than GPS, and software can be purchased to make most Windows and Mac operating laptops GPS-active for around $100. Microsoft’s Streets and Trips converts to a personal GPS with the addition of a small antenna. The problem is getting a good mount for the laptop which can run into additional expense. And still it’s not as good as having a small screen directly on or below the dash which you can consult with a flick of the eye.
The primary target for these GPS devices is the automobile owner with some disposable income. No major manufacturer offers a heavy truck-specific GPS unit, except ALK Technologies which makes the CoPilot Truck GPS navigation system using its PC Miler truck routing.
It provides truck routings in Canada and the US for 53-foot, 80,000 lb trailers including dangerous goods routes, but so far is only available for laptops.
You can pick it up for $300 with the receiver antenna and $200 without. Commercial drivers, from taxi to heavy-haulers, love their GPS. With so many types available, from matchbox to television-size there’s lots to choose from. One possibility is getting a cross use GPS that works on-road as well as in the bush. Other GPS systems can function directly off your cell phone. Maybe this is the time to consider going GPS. You will never be lost again.
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