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GPS, DoD, Cadillac, Oldsmobile, BMW, and You

The End of The Fugawi Tribe

Francis Vale

If Kurt Russell had been driving a big Caddy instead of that star crossed Jeep Cherokee in his recent flick, "Breakdown," everything would have been cool. When his Jeep collapsed out in the middle of the searing desert due to some malicious tampering, one phone call to Cadillac's OnStar service would have got him a tow truck, reservations at the nearest Holiday Inn, and seats at the best Tex-Mex restaurant in that god-forsaken area. But no, his wife ends up kidnapped and almost killed, he gets all beat up, and both he and his frantic spouse nearly end up crushed to death and pushed off a 300 hundred foot high bridge by a psychotic semi driver. Next time, Kurt, don't leave home without OnStar.

What makes Cadillac's OnStar service possible, as well as other vehicle location systems like Oldsmobile's Guidestar and BMW's On-Board Navigation System, is NAVSTAR GPS, the satellite-based Global Positioning System. Put aloft by the U.S. Dept. of Defense, this GPS network became fully operational in 1996, when the last of the system's 24 satellites went into earth orbit. This configuration guarantees that at least 4 satellites are visible (i.e. above the horizon) anywhere, and at all times.

Each NAVSTAR satellite orbits the earth once every twelve hours and broadcasts a continuous signal declaring its exact position and time of day using the data generated by its four on-board atomic clocks, which are accurate to one-billionth of a second. The one-way radio signals transmitted by the satellites are picked up by many types of mobile GPS receivers on the ground. The signals are decoded by the receiver which computes--within a few seconds-- by triangulation, its latitude, longitude, and altitude whether on the ground, on water, or in the air. The GPS receiver operator can then log this location into the receiver's memory for future reference, or download the data points to a computer for map-making. You are lost no more.

The DoD had envisioned GPS and its NAVSTAR satellites (which were designed and built by Rockwell) as a way to supplement the guidance of cruise missiles on their way to downtown Baghdad; help fighter pilots make precision approaches in all kinds of weather; let tank drivers know precisely where they are; as well as let foot soldiers out in the middle of nowhere figure out how to find the nearest PX. So successful has it been, that GPS is now seen by the military as integral to smart weapons guidance. In the next generation of intelligent munitions, the tried and true gyro-based inertial navigation systems used on board these brainy bombs will increasingly be relegated to a secondary role. High accuracy, real time GPS data will soon take over as the primary sensor for smart weapon guidance.

The Russians, when they had money to spend and rockets to burn, also put up their own competing 24 satellite GPS system, called GLONASS (Global Navigation Satellite System). Unlike the American NAVSTAR system, which has its 24 birds spinning around in six orbital planes 20,000 km up, the GLONASS birds fly in three orbital planes, 19,100 km overhead. But really unlike the US system, the Russians didn't bother to put "selective availability" (SA) into GLONASS. The SA function deliberately cripples the accuracy of NAVSTAR GPS.

The intent of SA is to provide greater resolution for U. S. military receivers than for receivers of adversaries. Employment of SA by the DoD varies from day to day and can reduce the accuracy of non-DoD GPS receivers to 25 to 100 meters. This paranoid SA signal is also meant for civilian use, even though the cheapest consumer GPS receivers are accurate to a distance of from 1 to 49 meters. (No doubt, the DoD also put in a feature that will encrypt the NAVSTAR signals so that in time of war, no NAVSTAR position data can be received by any unauthorized users; civilian, hostile, or otherwise.)

But at the rate the GPS market is taking off, it looks like the DoD is rapidly losing control over its precocious brain child. It's highly unlikely that the original Pentagon planners ever envisioned that one day their GPS baby would be helping sport fisherman several six packs to the wind find their way back to port. You can now buy low cost NAVSTAR receivers that are handheld, work with your lap top computer, or go inside your boat, car, or private plane. The inexpensive, pocket sized, hand held models are generally priced below $450. Some units can even be purchased for $200. Following this initial modest investment, the system can be used anytime without additional charge. Commercial aviation is also jumping on the GPS bandwagon in a big way. (With so many users and lives dependent on NAVSTAR, how likely is that the DoD will flip the NAVSTAR crypto switch when Desert Storm II finally arrives?)

The GPS genie is well out of the DoD bottle, and it's fast becoming one hot new consumer market. The GPS Industry Council forecasts that the consumer GPS business would grow from $442 million in 1995 to over $2 billion in the year 2000. Naturally, this wholesale consumer embrace of their GPS star child has made some Pentagon people very unhappy; especially when President Clinton announced in spring of 1996, that the NAVSTAR SA feature would likely be shut off within a year. Position accuracy more than thirty times greater than that offered by the kludged SA was suddenly at hand.

This increased GPS accuracy is plenty good enough for an el cheapo 3rd world cruise missile. It's sufficient to guide a Saturday Night Saddam Special right to New York's World Trade Center Towers. Even more alarmingly to the brass hats, Clinton stated that sole administrative responsibility for the NAVSTAR GPS was being taken away from the Pentagon. Instead, a new permanent interagency GPS Executive Board, jointly chaired by the Departments of Defense and Transportation will manage GPS. Moreover, other departments and government agencies will participate as appropriate.

Upon hearing this unsettling news from the White House, the generals reached for the Maalox and called in the bureaucratic bloodhounds. Not suprisingly, they sniffed out an aircraft carrier-sized loophole in the President's GPS position statement. If the DoD gets its heavy handed way, SA may be with us for another decade. The jury is still out, though, as this sensitive SA issue is still being slugged out on Capital Hill.

Meanwhile, all kinds of creative minds are hard at work scheming up ways to circumvent the SA kludge. As the Russian GLONASS system has no such brain dead SA scheme, clever entrepreneurs, like 3S Navigation, are putting together systems that can combine the signals from both NAVSTAR and GLONASS satellites. In January, 1996, S3 completed field tests of its GNSS-200 American/Russian GPS system. This hybrid system turned in terrific test results. When you've got forty eight chatty birds to tune into, acquiring a minimal three satellite bearing for a position fix gets a whole lot easier.

Another company combining NAVSTAR and GLONASS systems is Ashtech, which has developed a single board receiver that uses both countries' satellite systems. In addition, Ashtech is one of the pioneers in "Differential GPS," a clever scheme designed to completely circumvent the SA function. A well designed Differential GPS system can yield positional accuracy as good as, or better than, a GPS system which has its SA feature switched off. For example, NASA's JPL, the folks who brought you the recent Mars mission spectacular, has developed a Differential GPS system that could improve real time position accuracy to a few decimeters for single frequency users. And for dual frequency users, it can bring that positional accuracy down to less than 10 centimeters (for you non-metric literate folks, that just 3.94 inches,). JPL's dual frequency system can guide a fly-cast lure into a big mouth bass's hungry jaws. The JPL system went into operation in January, 1997, and yielded range errors of less than 20 centimeters with a North American coverage network.

So, how well does GPS work in real life?

To answer that question, Francis and his intrepid wife, Gordana, arranged to get three different in-car GPS systems for review this past August. Each of these systems showed the various strengths and weakness of consumer-based GPS products. Our experiences showed that the secret for marketing success in GPS systems is not in simply displaying positional data. Rather, it's in designing GPS systems that are easy to use and understand by the average consumer -- especially the kind whose clock is still blinking "12:00" on their VCR.

Cadillac OnStar

In that naive user context, Cadillac's OnStar system makes a lot of market sense. The OnStar system uses those orbiting NAVSTAR satellites as the basis for creating a comprehensive customer care service: Locked out of your Caddy with the keys inside? Call OnStar and they will remotely unlock the doors for you by sending a radio signal. That brand new Seville STS gone missing? Call OnStar and they will track it down, as well as call the police and tell them where to find it. Weren't paying attention and hit that big oak tree? When the air bags inflated, OnStar central was automatically notified and given your location by the car's system. An OnStar representative has now called emergency services and dispatched help to the scene. All this, plus you get answers to "Where the hell am I?" Pretty damn good.

To use OnStar's features (which costs an extra $895, plus dealer installation of about $150 - $200), you use the Caddy's built-in cell phone. The OnStar service costs $22.50 a month, plus, of course, your cell phone air time. By putting the car phone in voice activation mode, which uses a tiny microphone built into the visor, you can talk hands free to the OnStar representative (although drivers-by may be curious about your strange talking to yourself behavior). You can also ask this person to make a phone call to a restaurant to inquire about dinner reservations, and so forth. The OnStar rep will call you back when they have the confirmation information. (One has to wonder how many bored/lonely motorists out there call up these OnStar reps just to talk to someone. There must be some great stories to tell in those OnStar archives.)

Unfortunately, the OnStar system is only so-so when used primarily as a GPS. There is no dash mounted screen display for either entering your destination or for showing way points as you travel towards it. To get directions you must make a cell phone call to OnStar central and tell the representative where you want to go. With the sound of maps being accessed in the background, this invariably pleasant person will then give you directions. But what's acutely missing is some kind of real time display to let you know how you are progressing. You either have to stop and take down the travel notes from the OnStar rep, or record the directions for later playback on the car's cell phone. You then have to fiddle with the cell phone's small, hard to locate buttons to play back the route instructions. Not cool. And with no real time positional cues, it's just too easy to overlook a critical street intersection, ramp turnoff, etc. If all you want is GPS in that Caddy, then you are better off looking for something else in the burgeoning GPS after-market. However, if you buy OnStar for the reason Cadillac intended, namely to get a full suite of road-going services, then you probably wont be disappointed.

On the system's darker side, OnStar can even be used to track down family relatives. Suspicious about where your spouse is spending all his/her time at those off-site business meetings? A quick call to OnStar may show that your big red Caddy is parked in front of a cheap motel just off the strip. Uh-Oh. Maybe OnStar also keeps a directory of good divorce lawyers on hand, with directions how to get there.

The review OnStar system came wrapped in an enormous four door Concours DeVille whose interior space was almost bigger than our living room. . Ordinarily, this road going colossus would be the last kind of vehicle that Francis and Gordana would choose to drive. The svelte, Euro-inspired Seville STS is more to their taste. But the $45,700 Concours comes with the same 32 valve, 300HP V8 as found in the much more aggressive Seville Turing Sedan. Stick your foot in it, and the big Concours lunges ahead to a nice accompanying engine moan. This Caddy is damnable quick. In fact, a recent Motor Trend road test clocked this two ton mother at 0 to 60 in 6.9 seconds. Not so long ago, that was fire breathing Camaro territory.

The Concours also comes equipped with the intelligent chassis control system originally introduced in the. STS. This clever chassis offers automatic yaw rate detection for more secure handling during cornering and emergency maneuvers. This unobtrusive system can help prevent inept drivers from making stupid mistakes, like when confronted with an Oh-my-god-what's-a-moose-doing-in-the-middle-of-the-road! panic situation. And -- this is something that Francis never thought he would be saying about a four door DeVille -- it even makes the Concours "tossable" when hurtling down the twisty bits. You can actually have some fun with this grossewagon. This smart chassis stuff works.

The intelligent chassis system also features road texture detection that senses whether the road is slippery or dry. Via this feature, the braking system is automatically instructed to work in the most efficient manner possible under current road conditions (some car's ABS systems actually increase the braking distance under some conditions, like on loose gravel). Just get stand on those brakes, Martha, and hope that moose gets out of the way.

Add all this good stuff up, and the dark green Concours with its highly comfy seats plus really good Bose sound system was a nice surprise. Sure, it ain't a BMW (more on that anon), but if you are of the size does count school, then check out a DeVille Concours before you plunk down that forty or fifty large on something else.

Oldsmobile Guidestar

Simple relative positioning systems that utilize only NAVSTAR data, like when using a GPS system with your laptop computer in the car, typically have no idea about specific street information, such as dead ends, one way streets, etc. In effect, such GPS-only systems are nothing more than an elaborate, highly accurate compass. As these relative position-only systems are totally GPS data-reliant, you also have to wait for a triangulation fix to inform you and the on-board lap top as to where you all are at system start-up. But who wants to sit in the car and wait for up to fifteen minutes to get a fix? More critically, the GPS signal can easily be blocked by tall downtown buildings. And, of course, the GPS signal is always absent when going through a tunnel or when you are in an underground garage. Finally, such GPS data-only systems do not give you audible turn by turn commands. You always have to take your eyes off the road to look at the computer display.

Turn by turn guidance deals with all these thorny GPS issues. It works without any satellite data. Instead, it utilizes "dead reckoning" data collected from vehicle motion sensors located in the car, and compares that vehicle data with on-board digital maps. This dead reckoning data includes speed, turning radius, and distance traveled When you have all three components; GPS, dead-reckoning, and digital maps; you've got the whole where-the-hell-are-we enchilada. An excellent example of one such complete GPS system is Oldsmobile's Guidestar system, available in their Bravada sport-ute, and Eighty-Eight and LSS sedans. It was the Bravada-installed Guidestar system that we reviewed.

The Oldsmobile Guidestar system is made by Rockwell, the same folks who designed and built the GPS/NAVSTAR satellite system on behalf of the DoD. Needless to say, this company has an inside track on GPS. As explained by Rockwell, which also markets the system under the Pathmaster name, the dead reckoning system instantly computes relative changes in the vehicle's position. The Guidestar maps show where you are by using GPS data and comparing them with dead reckoning data collected via speed pulses from the Bravada's tail lights, as well as from a directional sensor that senses turns. Via map matching, Guidestar continually determines the shape of the Bravada's route by comparing its dead-reckoning "track" to actual road layout. It does this by using algorithms to compute changes in direction and distance traveled. As new data is received from the dead-reckoning function, output coordinates are linked to known points on a digital road map, and the algorithm "snaps" the Bravada onto the road network.

For example, says Rockwell, if our Bravada was tracking on a north-to-south road for 3.6 miles, and we made a 90 degree turn onto an east-to-west road, the map matching function of Guidestar would select the street with the highest potential at the new coordinates. It would compare this calculated position with a GPS location and determine a correction factor between the two. The system would then automatically update and adjust the Bravada's position on the map display. In addition to correcting for degradation or loss of satellite signals, this method also improves GPS accuracy from 100 to 10 meters.

Regardless of how a destination is selected, Guidestar calculates the quickest route, and can even provide alternatives in the event that we wanted to avoid freeways. Once we selected a destination, the Guidestar system begins its search outward from the known location to our requested destination, reviewing all possible routes simultaneously. It then begins to eliminate possibilities based on speed limits, road class (highway, surfaced, unsurfaced), and the number of maneuvers (for example, right turns are more desirable than left turns), until one route remains to where we wanted to go.

In the Bravada, you are informed about all these course changes by either looking at the display or via an audio prompt. The audio prompt is a whole lot safer way to travel than continually looking down at a driver distracting display. Using Guidestar is easy. The Guidestar system consists of a small stalk mounted display, with several simple to operate buttons that offer quick menu navigation. You get comprehensive detailed city coverage, plus points of interest and landmark info for airports, hotels, gas stations, ATMs, etc., Lastly, it has inter-town coverage including all roads to places having a population exceeding 500.

When the system starts up, it indicates that you are cruising only on dead reckoning. When the GPS data is finally locked in, a status bar in the Guidestar display changes color to let you know that both guidance systems are on line. The turn by turn feature really works well. We discovered that rotaries -- traffic circles -- presented a particularly good test for a GPS system. Guidestar always sailed through these circular challenges with no problem.

In the Bravada, the turn by turn map data were contained in PCMCIA drive cartridges located in a compartment at the vehicle's rear. The map data is supplied to Rockwell by Etak. Dead reckoning systems are only as good as the car's on-board map data base. So, if there is new road construction with detours, then the turn by turn map data in those cartridges is probably out of date. Accordingly, the data on the PCMCIA drives must be periodically updated by Oldsmobile.

We experienced this out of date data problem when going through Boston. The central expressway running through the heart of the city is being all torn up. Guidestar had no knowledge of these road changes and detours. However, the GPS system could still get a fix on us, and using the digital map display, would offer guidance on how best to get to our destination. As in all high tech systems, even when you wear both belt and suspenders, your pants can still fall down.

Rockwell also sells the system to Hertz. The Hertz system goes under the name of "NeverLost," and is offered as an optional rental car feature in a number of airport rental locations (we highly recommend it when leaving Miami's Dade County airport). The system rental fee is a paltry $5.00 per day. The Rockwell system is also sold in the aftermarket by Directional Technologies of Troy, MI, with another company, Entronix, doing the nationwide installation of the systems.

When purchased from Oldsmobile, the Guidestar system will set you back $2,495. It brought the Bravada sticker up to $30,285. Each additional cartridge containing information for a specific region of the country costs $400. To revise a cartridge, say you move from Boston to New York, costs $150.

As far as the Bravada itself is concerned, this is the first time that Francis and Gordana had ever driven a sport-ute, so we can make no valid comparisons. But for a utility vehicle, it's far from utilitarian. The inside was nice and plush, and the seats reasonably comfortable. And although not our favorite way to spend time on the highway, this sport-ute still drove nicely, and was decently quiet inside. Handling and acceleration was as good as one could reasonably expect from this type of vehicle.

We were initially underwhelmed by its audio system; until we went to a drive-in movie. Gordana had never been to a drive-in (they don't have them in Eastern Europe, where she comes from), so Francis thought it might be fun for her to have a true American experience. Thus, one hot August evening, we drove off to see Air Force One. Despite Francis 's assurances about what a great time a drive-in would be, Gordana was not at all thrilled at the prospect. It had also been some time since Francis was at a drive-in, and he didn't know that along with the crappy window speaker, these theaters now broadcast the movie's sound track over the radio (at the end of the FM dial). It was quickly discovered that the closed acoustic space within a car offers a tremendous surround sound environment. Once the theater's FM station was tuned in, the Bravada was shakin' and rockin' during all the movie's boom-boom, bang-bang sequences (of which there many). What a boss way to experience a movie! If your car has a kick butt car audio system, and you haven't been to a drive-in lately, then haul your ashes on down ASAP for a great listening experience. Gordana is now a confirmed drive-in movie fanatic.

It was also on our way to the drive-in that we learned how invaluable having a GPS on-board is. About two miles before the movie entrance, there was a huge accident on the road. Traffic was backed up forever. We simply dialed in a request for an off-highway alternative route, the Guidestar went chugga-chugga, and a few seconds later, we were off the main drag, cruising down a nearly empty secondary road. We made the drive-in entrance just as the movie was about to begin. Without the Guidestar, the evening would likely have been a no-show.

BMW's On-Board Navigation System

If you firmly believe that you are not a Cadillac candidate, nor ever will be, and a Bimmer you must have, then you can do no worse than the 740iL that we reviewed with its GPS rig. This system was developed by Philips, and has already been on sale for several years in Europe. Like Guidestar, the BMW/Philips unit combines GPS data, dead reckoning, and map matching to give you a highly accurate fix. It is a thorough road going GPS solution. In the case of the BMW, the vehicle travel/direction data is gathered from sensors in the anti-lock brake system (ABS).

Philips also sells the system standalone for the after-market, under the moniker "Carin Navigation System." This GPS unit is available for both 5 and 7 series BMWs, and 7 series models going as far back as 1995 can be outfitted with the system. A retailer installed version, using a stalk-mounted display head, is now available for the current 3 series generation, the Z3 roadster, and previous 5 and 7 series generations. For 1998, it's a $2,500 option in the 7 series and 540i, and a $2,690 option in the 528i.

The Philips GPS display is mounted directly in the 740iL's center console, and is an integral part of the vehicle's information management system. The same display console controls the navigation system, cellular phone, audio system, on-board computer, security systems and automatic ventilation system. The GPS display mode can be programmed to give you an arrow displaying the right direction plus distance to go, or you can call up detailed maps. In addition, a pleasant male synth voice can be activated to give you blow by blow directions, "Right turn ahead," etc. The car stores its digital map information on CDs located in the trunk. The player unit is separate from the car's audio CD changer. Nine such CDs, updated quarterly, cover the entire contiguous U.S. Finally, like the Guidestar system, the BMW's on-board database contains inter-city routing, landmark information, and where gas stations are located.

Overall, the BMW and Guidestar systems are quite comparable in their respective feature set. But the system implementation at the user interface is radically different. Like Guidestar, setting up the BMW GPS system is simple. But unlike Guidestar's computer kiosk- like console, the BMW system is rather fastidious to use (perfectly in keeping with its German character).

In the BMW, you have one small knob that you either press or rotate. To enter a destination, you use the knob to select menus and submenus. The GPS system is programmed for a destination via letters/numbers appearing in an alphanumeric sequence on the bottom of the screen. You rotate the knob to select a letter/number in this sequence, and then push to enter it. The system tries, mostly successfully, to be smart enough to guess where you want to go after entering in just several letters of a city/street. Type "Bos," and "ton" comes up. Still, it's a rather fiddly way of doing business.

Obviously, it's not a good idea for the driver to be hunting and pecking at these small letters while cruising down the road, which, in a BMW, can easily be a significant rate of knots. Do all your set-up before you hit the road (ditto for the Guidestar).

Like Guidestar, the BMW system also keeps continual track of where you are. If you miss a turn, it will go blank for a bit and then give you a newly recalculated route. There is also alternative route planning which either makes most or least use of highways, so if you're stuck in traffic, it will quickly calculate a new route for you.

In addition to navigation, there is an emergency "beacon" button available from the console menu. When selected by a driver or passenger, the system will send an emergency signal to BMW roadside assistance and give your vehicle's exact location. Alternatively, if you need the police and the car has a built-in cell phone, the system will dial 911 and give your position, either by street name and/or map coordinates.

Finally, the BMW display can also call up a navigation address book, personal phone directory and maps. The address book is one good way around that fiddly dial. You can store a number of navigation presets, like your home address, and avoid the whole data reentry business. ET, come home.

Using the BMW system was a pleasure, but it would sometimes offer us guidance that that was way out of whack. This invariably happened when we set the unit for freeways, as opposed to surface streets. We all have our favorite short cuts off the highway, but if the freeway option is set, the system will keep on telling you to turn around and get back on the highway. Once we reset the system to our road type reference, everything was OK again.

One thing that was definitely not OK was when the entire car information display unit conked out for a brief period. This occurred while we were in Algonquit, Maine, and heading up to a famous chi-chi restaurant in the woods called The Arrows. We were bounced out of the dining room because Francis was wearing shorts (it was August, and Algonquit is a famous beach resort -- go figure.). The system mysteriously reset itself when we got back in the car after leaving The Arrows in dress code humiliation, and always worked fine thereafter. Maybe the system somehow sensed we were about to have a bad time, and shutting down was its way of trying to warn us not to go there. This system may have some hidden capabilities...

The only other performance glitch we encountered was at traffic circles. Unlike the Guidestar, the BMW seemed a few seconds late in figuring out was what going on; usually not sorting things out until we were past the rotary.

In terms of overall GPS performance and ease of use issues, we would rank the BMW/Philips system a couple of ticks lower than the Guidestar/Rockwell unit. Regardless, the BMW product is a very good system and you wont go astray with it. But both of these systems, indeed, all car-based GPS units, desperately need voice activation commands. No matter what the user manual may warn, drivers will still be taking their eyes off the road as they enter changed course directions, or inquire about fuel remaining, or want to know time to destination.

The 740iL, with its base price of $66,070 in 1998, is a real piece of automotive work. It has the same creamy leather interior, and same roomy internal dimensions as the awe inspiring 750iL that Francis and Gordana reviewed a couple of issues ago. It's a real class act, inside and out. Although the 740iL is the same overall length as the 750iL, it weighs a few hundred pounds less than the 750iL. The extra 750iL poundage is apparently due to its Mama mia! 322 horsepower V12 engine. The 740iL has to make due with just a 282 horsepower V8.

The 740iL is actually heavier than the Caddy Concours, and offers up more rear leg room. Yet its huge bulk is much less visually apparent. It's a classic case of restrained Euro sedan design versus American big car largesse. The 740iL is also one hell of a road machine for such a big sedan. All the BMW trademarks -- great brakes, responsive steering, well controlled ride -- were on display. It also has a great premium sound system.

Interestingly, the 740iL felt less light on its feet than the equally large Concours. In the BMW, you were more keenly aware of its large mass when hurtling down the country roads. Regardless, it was still quite easy to build up a high rate of knots in the 740iL, and comfortably keep them there, as you always had excellent tactile feedback through its marvelous steering. Overall, this is a classic case of American car designers isolating the driver and its occupants from what's going on with the vehicle, and the road. The Caddy, thanks to the silent workings of its intelligent chassis system, automatically did a lot of the road work for you -- perhaps too much so. The 740iL is a driver's car. (We are now curious to see how the all new for 1998 Seville STS, whose performance characteristics are aimed squarely at such German sedans, will stack up against the likes of a 740iL)

Should you decide to buy a 7 series Bimmer, don't be a piker. Spring for the $92,100 750iL and its big V12. That V8 was nice, but the amazing V12 transforms the car from really nice to extraordinary. It's the only way to fly.

To GPS Sum Up

GPS will radically change our ways of personal travel, as well as impact our culture. It is a huge sea change, but most of the public still doesn't quite realize just how big a deal this is -- yet. In terms of personal productivity and safety, GPS is an enormous leap forward. In many ways, it is one of the most significant inventions of the 20th century, ranking right up there with the PC.

But like the PC, GPS can also have a huge social downside when it comes to invasion of personal privacy. Miniaturized GPS receivers will be here soon enough. When that happens, real time people tracking will be a reality. Some fearful parents will probably want to put these tiny GPS units in the clothes or on the bodies of their kids in the awful event of their being lost or abducted. But at that point, it's only a short step away from a government being able to keep real time track of everyone, everywhere. A very scary thought.

In the meanwhile, go get lost -- just make sure you've got a GPS unit with you.

Copyright 1997, Francis Vale, All Rights Reserved

 

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