Imagine a world without TomTom, Garmin, or Magellan, and no map app built into your smartphone. Drivers would have to once again bug gas station attendants for directions and wrestle with paper maps that never seem to fully unfold.
Luckily, we have GPS, and GPS is awesome. Unfortunately, thanks to its ease of use and accessibility, GPS may be turning us into quarter-fed automatons that have shed common sense in favor of technology reliance.
Here are some examples of how GPS has failed its users-and how we're collectively failing the "capable of independent thought" exam.
Rule #1: Look to Your Right
A retired British couple driving in Germany dutifully listened when their GPS told them to turn right. Unfortunately, that right turn led them straight into a 19th-century church. The couple survived with minimal injuries; the church sustained $37,000 worth of damage. To hell with history!
A passerby reported that the elderly man kept repeating, "It's the machine!" which sounds to me like the work of Skynet. Just sayin'.
Rule #2: If it doesn't look like a sidewalk, it probably isn't
Last year, Lauren Rosenberg, a California native, took a stroll in Utah using Google's beta walking directions on her BlackBerry. This quaint constitutional brought her onto a highway, where she was struck by a car. Instead of 'fessing to the whoopsie, Rosenberg blamed Google and sued for $100,000 worth of medical expenses, plus punitive damages.
It's my understanding that, similar to California, Utah highways do not have pedestrian walkways, because they are highways. For cars. So this case reeks of scam rather than accident.
Rule #3: Stay away from cliffs
Hands-free driving is great for keeping your eyes on the road and not on your phone, and many companies are developing apps that read text messages and e-mails to the driver. But the key here is keeping your eyes on the road.
Robert Jones from Doncaster, South Yorkshire, UK, followed GPS directions from the main road onto a narrow, winding, uphill footpath and almost plummeted off a 100ft. cliff. He was saved by a thin wire fence (and relentlessly mocked by locals).
Rule #4: Know how tall your bus is
Last year ABI Research released a study that said the global number of GPS users will balloon from 57 million in 2010 to an excess of 370 million in 2015. That means vehicles of all kinds will rely on GPS navigation, including buses.
That's fine, as long as said buses (carrying, for example, a girls high school softball team) aren't two inches taller than the bridge they try to drive under. No serious injuries were sustained, but the girls missed their game and a day of school.
Image: Seattle Pi
Rule #6: Careful on those U-turns
Japan also plans to launch its own GPS satellites to improve accuracy and cease reliance on American GPS. We can only hope that this means GPS directions will improve, so people won't wander unwittingly into the bad part of a foreign city, or yank a U-turn on a highway and slam into oncoming traffic. That's right--yet another elderly gentleman (in France, this time) listened to the disembodied voice floating out of his GPS and followed the directions to the letter.
Image: Flickr user billaday
Rule #5: Stupid people shouldn't drive expensive cars
As more directionally-challenged people adopt GPS as their go-to source, GPS satellites improve. According to reports, by next June the U.S. GPS constellation will attain the most optimal geometry in its 42-year history. Over time, this means a more robust signal, more accuracy, and more reliability in GPS-challenged environments.
Unfortunately, what seems to be most challenging for people is reading, as in the case of a London woman who ignored a sign that said 'UNSUITABLE FOR MOTOR VEHICLES,' as she drove down a track used by farmers in 4x4s. Her $150,000 Mercedes plunked in a swollen river like a diamond ice cube, and was carried downstream. She was saved-but not from the cost of a new car.
Image: London Evening Standard
Rule #7: Read the signs
Have we reached the point where we're throwing common sense out the driver's side window for the sake of thoughtless convenience, playing sheep to the advice of gadgetry? In the case of Robert Ziegler, apparently the answer is "yes."
Following GPS directions, Ziegler found himself climbing a "glorified goat track" up a mountain. Unable to turn around or do much of anything except bay, Ziegler called emergency services and had to be airlifted to safety.
Similar to the lady who lost her Mercedes, Ziegler didn't heed the 'FOOTPATH ONLY' signs as he ascended the mountain.
Images: Central European News
Rule #8: Don't crack under pressure
The prevalence of GPS units has inspired companies to force unreasonable expectations on their employees, especially when it comes to delivery services. Since we can no longer use as excuses old-school paper maps or the crap directions of a local yokel, delivery drivers like 21-year-old Graham William Foster operate under the bullhorn blare of now now now.
Foster was delivering a late package to an angry customer with the added bonus of an irate employer. Under pressure, Foster relied on his GPS, found himself on a country track, and his vehicle was nearly sliced in half by an oncoming train (he escaped with five stitches to a cut arm and treatment to head injuries; the train passengers were unhurt).
Image: Chronicle Live
Rule #9: Double check your coordinates
Georgia homeowner Al Byrd is all too familiar with people having unnatural faith in technology. Byrd's home was demolished by construction crews who had put more faith in GPS coordinates than critical thinking. The house intended to be torn down was located across the street, but it was too late: Byrd's home-the one his father built brick-by-brick, the one containing decades of family heirlooms-was destroyed.
Rule #10: GPS is *gasp* not perfect
GPS, as awesome as it is, shouldn't be considered the ultimate navigational tool. Like any technology, it has its weaknesses, especially when it comes to "electrical activity in the upper atmospheric zone called the ionosphere," which can tamper with signals from GPS satellites.
Organizations such as the American Meteorological Society have held meetings explaining to companies reliant on GPS that it's not foolproof, and that "space weather," sci-fi as it sounds, exists.
Lockheed Martin built the GPSIIIA and has received milestone approval and permission to build and deploy. The GPSIIIA promises to cut through pesky space weather.
There's a correlation here: by placing more of our faith-and our lives-in the hands of GPS, the more bandwidth we're stealing from common sense. And common sense, after all, is a unique characteristic of human beings-so why would we let that go?