Cars That Know Where They're Going: New Navigation Systems Will Help Drivers Reach Their Destination Faster, Avoid Traffic Jams, and Even Find a Parking Space

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CARS THAT KNOW WHERE THEY'RE GOING

We are already becoming accustomed to "smart" cars. On-board computer systems control the engine, prevent the wheels from locking when braked, and adjust the suspension when the car is carrying a heavy load or when the road is bad. Many smart cars even guide technicians making repairs. One of the next major steps in making cars even smarter will be the addition of navigation computers that will act as intelligent assistants to the driver.

Future navigation and information systems will automatically keep the driver informed of current location, deduce the best routes to destinations by taking into account current traffic and road conditions, and speak and/or display turn-by-turn instructions according to where the car is along the route. The systems will also be able to tell the driver the nearest service station that is open, as well as the nearest hospital or retailer of a particular product. Once the vehicle has reached its destination, the navigation systems will direct the driver to the closest available parking space.

Later generations of smart cars will integrate these systems with collision-avoidance systems and automatic headway control, which is similar to cruise control but which adjusts speed according to the distance and speed of the vehicle being followed. Eventually, automatic chauffeuring systems will be added that will do the driving while the driver reads, works, naps, or simply sits back and enjoys the ride.

Proximity Beacons

One approach to vehicle navigation and route guidance is the use of proximity beacons -- transmitters along the road that tell the car where it is and give route and traffic information. In two-way systems, the car gives its destination and other information to the beacons, thus updating traffic information for cars that pass the beacons later.

The proximity-beacon approach was tried out in the Electronic Route Guidance System (ERGS) researched by the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads (now the Federal Highway Administration) during the late 1960s as a means of integrating in-vehicle route guidance with centralized traffic management.

The system used short-range transmitters with antennas buried beneath the roadway at strategically located intersections. A console mounted on the car's dash-board permitted the driver to enter a selected destination code. A unit in the car transmitted the code when triggered by a roadside unit as it approached key intersections. The roadside unit immediately analyzed the route to the destination, taking into account current traffic conditions, and transmitted instructions for display on the vehicle's console.

Although technically sound, ERGS required expensive roadside infrastructure, and Congress terminated the development effort in 1970, after limited testing. However, similar proximity-beacon approaches were carried through further stages of development and testing in Europe and Japan during the 1970s and are still under active consideration outside the United States.

Radio Navigation

Also vying for a role in automobile-navigation systems of the future are satellite approaches, which originated in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1983, the Ford "Concept 100" car used radio signals from the U.S. Navy's Transit satellite navigation system. The vehicle's position was tracked on a map displayed on a color monitor with touch-screen controls.

General Motors, Chrysler, and others have experimented with the Department of Defense's more-advanced Navstar Global Positioning System (GPS) as a basis for automobile navigation. CLASS (Chrysler Laser Atlas and Satellite System), a concept displayed at the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans, included a set of American Automobile Association maps stored on a videodisc and a color monitor that showed vehicle position based on GPS.

When the Navstar GPS system is completed in the early 1990s, 24 GPS satellites will be distributed in 12-hour orbits such that a receiver anywhere on earth can determine its location within 300 feet by simultaneously analyzing the arrival time of signals from four satellites. …