The first touch screen navigation system tested at Oldsmobile, Florida

The first touch screen navigation system tested at Oldsmobile, Florida

The first touch screen navigation system tested at Oldsmobile, Florida

1992 Oldsmobile Tornado in white

picture: General motors

When did you get your first GPS or your car with built-in navigation? I vaguely remember my dad getting a Garmin standalone unit for Christmas circa 2007. A few years later, smartphones would make this feature ubiquitous.

But the history of car navigation actually stretches back decades before that, and the first attempts didn’t even rely on computers or LCD screens for service. After about 10 years Honda Electric Gyroscope Japanese drivers introduced this feature, and General Motors tested a system we’d recognize as a more conventional mobility system in partnership with Avis, in modified Oldsmobile Toronados offered for rent in the Orlando area. It was called TravTek, and it’s very impressive and kind of fun.

The TravTek came on the scene in 1992, built in 100 Toronados — 75 of which are for the Avis fleet and the rest on loan to “local long-distance drivers,” according to the Explore IEEE. The Federal Highway Administration and the Florida Department of Transportation were involved in this as well, so you’d think they wanted all the data they could get.

An on-board computer installed in the trunk-enabled navigation system was directed to a 6-inch touch screen with synthesized speech to recall turns and directions. It’s very Microsoft Sam, very War gamesHowever, she is actually quite clever It tells you everything you need to know, as long as you can understand its capricious and muddled way of delivery. This short news clip from 1992 episode of Auto TV Displays the destination selection process:

It is not terribly different from modern systems, except that TravTek did not allow you to type addresses. Instead, you had to choose from a list of pre-selected streets, all within an area of ​​1,200 square miles in Central Florida. However, within this part of the Sunshine State, TravTek was imbued with a wealth of knowledge beyond maps alone. as such OutrightOlds Explain:

Data from traffic lights, highway monitoring cameras along the roads, emergency vehicles, construction reports and other TravTek vehicles was continuously computerized from the AAA Traffic Management Center in Orlando. Traffic information and rerouting did not become widely available in modern vehicles until the development of XM Nav Traffic, an RDS-based land-based system, in 2004.

The vehicle’s location was determined using a built-in magnetic compass, sensors in the vehicle’s wheels that measured distance traveled and a satellite that fed its signal to a large antenna on the rear deck lid.

Interestingly, TravTek couldn’t rely on GPS alone to pinpoint the vehicle’s location, so the additional wheel sensors and compass must have been necessary to fill in any gaps in data. By the way, “large” is an understated way of describing that decklid antenna. Here’s a good view of it jutting out prominently above the passenger-side taillight:

Decklid GPS antenna on the back of a 1992 Oldsmobile Toronado

What it enabled, though, must have seemed pretty unbelievable 30 years ago. Points of interest, like hotels, were preloaded in the system. You had access not only to a hotel’s name and address, but also its rating, per AAA, and useful information like whether it allowed smoking or pets, or had a pool. You could even dial the front desk right from the screen — though hands-free, in-cabin speakerphones were still a ways out. You had to pick up a good, old-fashioned car phone receiver for all your queries.

When it came time to hit the road, you could choose your preference for the fastest route, or one that avoided toll roads or interstates, just like you still can in Google Maps. For a more in-depth idea of how TravTek worked in practice, check out this is a report that aired in Australia Post 2000 Documentary series:

So far we haven’t discussed the limitations of TravTek much, and being 30 years old, you can imagine it has quite a few. One becomes clear at the 3:27 mark in the video above. The driver makes a mistake – turn right instead of turning right – and finds themselves lost in the intended TravTek lane.

Modern GPS systems will automatically re-orient you in seconds, but with TravTek you had to start this process by pressing a button on the steering wheel marked “New Route”. Anticipating users to panic in these moments, TravTek recommended pressing the button on the screen labeled “Help” when you get lost. This will connect you over the phone with the support staff at AAA, who have visibility into your vehicle’s data and can guide you through the re-routing process.

No, none of this was perfect. But for 1992 it was a very promising start, and GM was hoping to commercialize the service in the next few years. When it hit the market in time for the 1995 model, the system was called the Guidestar, and could be picked up in Eighty Eight, LSS, and Bravada for $2,000.

Guidestar’s GPS covered up to 17 states, but wasn’t quite as complete as the TravTek app. It lacked a touch screen and live traffic updates, for example, and took the form of a self-contained unit that was mounted outside the dashboard. In this way, it was more like an introduction to the Garmin or TomTom unit than the built-in navigation systems that would start popular in the mid-2000s – although they still needed a computer in the trunk for all the processing. How far have we already come?

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