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Thoughts On GPS
19.5.2011

So we are travelling from one point to another, blindly following the directions on our GPS, wondering where on earth it is taking us, and you are suddenly at a dead end, or the road turns into little more than a track, or the road you are being instructed to turn onto doesn't exist - What the .... you exclaim, B....y GPS ..........

Have you stopped to think how this has happened, why did the GPS bring us this way, why did I waste my money on this worthless heap of garbage? Have you stopped to ask yourself what did you do to find directions in the past?

In all probability, you used to use a map. And where is that map NOW, when you need it most, and if you can find it, where on earth are you, if you haven't been following the map whilst faithfully trusting your GPS?

The truth of the matter is that a GPS is a bit like a calculator. The calculater can solve the problem if you tap in the right numbers, but how do you know if the answer is correct, unless you have a rough idea of the ball park answer you are looking for. The same with our GPS. If you study your map before hand, and have an idea of where you are supposed to be going, and a picture in your head of how to get there, you are well armed to question the GPS when it gives you a direction that does't sound right.

I recently travelled from Albany to Margaret River in WA, and when I got to Manjimup, I was directed to go to the Brockman Hwy near Bridgetown, and then travel along that thru Nannup. It didn't matter whether I asked for Quickest, Shortest, Least use of Freeways or Most use of Freeways, it wanted me to go to the Brockman Hwy. Now I have a female voice in my GPS, and she is called "WANDA", because I wonder where is she going to take me this time. And so I ignored her advice, consulted with the map, and travelled across Graphite Road to Nannup, which saved me quite a few kilometres. It took Wanda a while to cotton on that I was taking no notice of her, and to re-route onto he road I was travelling on. It is VITAL, that you know where you are going. (Incidentally, I DO know my way, but I use the GPS to tell me how many kms I am from my destination)

Conversely, I often allow Wanda to have complete control, especially when I am not in a hurry. I have heard people complain that they have been taken out of their way by this woman - or man, depending on who is voicing your unit. I have found myself travelling through country that I would never have seen, and discovered all sorts of treasures by following Wandas directions. We got led down a dead end last year in Queensland, and found two amazing letterboxes that would only ever be seen by the owners, the mailman, and the neighbours up the road. I love my GPS - even WITH all its quirks.

So, how do they work. The maps on GPS that are powered by Navteq, are I believe obtained from Goverment Mapping. Therefore, every road that has ever been gazetted seems to be included. That is fine, except, that a lot of roads, although gazetted, have never been constructed. And that is why they aren't there. Now the people who program these things, don't know that, unless advised by the travelling public - and who ever does that? And so, they use a number of formula, that creates a heirachy of how directions are formulated. And as with ANY sort of computer programming, a typo can stuff up the whole system. I was travelling back to Popanyinning from Corrigin (WA) one day, and was looking for the shortest route. Wanda responded according to the heirachy (Freeways, major roads, minor roads, major unsealed roads etc), and was insisting that I took a particular course. By checking the map, and heading West along farm and dirt roads, Wanda eventually picked up and fell into line, and we saved over 70 kms.

Your GPS cursor will always tell you exactly where you are. Your GPS map will only show you where that is, if it is up to date. It is important to keep your software current.

Now so far, we are taliking about Navigational GPSs. In the main, if you are on major and minor roads, they are useful. Get off road, and they can become next to useless. To be fair, some of the major tracks (Holland Track, Gunbarrel Hwy etc) are being included - just as long as you stay on track. But in the bush, tracks go everywhere, and it is easy to find yourself somewhere you didn't want to be. If you are going to travel off road, it is important that you obtain a GPS that doubles as a hand held unit, that is loaded with topographical type maps. This type of GPS doesn't tell you how to get there. You can plot your own trail, and input your own waypoints (or "bush" addresses) You can also obtain maps of our desert and outback areas. These types of GPS maps are also preloaded with all the information you want about any area. Hills, mountains, rivers, Bores, dams, rockholes, caves, towers, heaps more, and in some cases, camping spots.

I have been using a Magellan Crossover GPS for the past few years, and along with the free computer mapping software, I have plotted all of my trips, and also have a satellite finder plugged into my computer with the software running, so that we get a larger overview of where we are, and "can work out what thet hill is over there (if named)". This GPS complete with all mapping is not cheap, but it does everything, including Voice Navigation. Hema produce a similar product, and there are others on the market. Look around, and be prepared to spend a few dollars to get the best unit you can find.

But all of this is of little use, if the unit breaks down, or you get lost, and don't know where you are, because of the limitations of the screen size sitting in front of you. Keep your maps by your side, and refer to them frequently. You will learn so much about the country you are travelling through as well. It's history, it's makeup, nearby attractions that can't be seen on the little screen in front of you.

OK, that's enough for one day. i'm going to see where Wanda takes me today. Now where is that map book?

FOOTNOTE:
Magellan have been taken over by Navman, who have chosen not to support their old products, and so I decided to purchase a new GPS, and chose the Hema HN6. The navigational side of this unit is good, and the 4wd side pf the unit features Hema's collection of maps. It is certainly a different unit to what I had before, and a lot of the search parameters are not there (eg Road names, Caves, and other things that I am interested in - Camps Australia is available on the Navigation side, but NOT the 4WD side). But it is certainly useful to have the actual map in front of you when touring. I find that the Topo 250 map is the one I use most for tracks, altho it appears to be an older edition map, and could well do with updating.
21/12/13

 

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Updated 19.5.2011

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