Navigating securely

In Features On
- Updated

Satellite navigation systems have rapidly become part of our daily lives. The latest generation of satnav products boast features such as digital cameras, mp3 players and Bluetooth enabling technology. Despite this wave of innovation over the past five years, consumer groups and driver organisations say the main challenges facing the industry are satnav theft and the provision of guidance on effective usage to consumers.
Security is a satnav issue

Let’s tackle security first. According to the Metropolitan Police, 15% of all thefts from cars in the London area in 2006 included satnavs. In half of these, only the satnav was stolen. It is becoming like the car stereo crime wave of the 1980s. Satnav crime was a major focus at a recent event which the Location and Timing Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) hosted with the Royal Institute of Navigation. Delegates were told by Which? that the satnav security problem was now the biggest barrier to consumer confidence. The consumer group’s senior motoring researcher, David Evans, said manufacturers’ approach to security in these systems has not kept up with other nomadic devices such as mobile phones leaving them as soft targets for criminals. Which? has offered positive exposure to the first satnav systems which fix this problem.

However, some manufacturers have started meeting the challenge head on. For instance, Garmin’s anti-theft feature stops the satnav device from performing until either a specific PIN is entered or the unit is taken to a predetermined location. The PIN is needed every time the device is turned on, and if it is forgotten users need to return to their security location. This is a predetermined place which is stored in the satnav’s memory, eg the user’s place of work. Once the GPS recognises the device has returned to its security location, the satnav will then be unblocked.

TomTom, the global market leader in satnav systems, has introduced an icon on its new GO 720 device that reminds users to remove it once it is turned off. Navman prides itself on devices that are slim and lightweight enough to fit in a pocket. Cleverly, it also supplies a cloth to wipe tell-tale suction pad marks from inside the windscreen.

Manufacturers and retailers of satnav devices should offer the following basic security advice to customers:

  • Don’t leave the device’s mount visible – thieves will assume it is in the vehicle
  • Make a note of the model and serial number
  • Take your device with you
  • Wipe tell-tale suction pad marks off the windscreen – thieves will look for these
  • Don’t leave your device in the glove box – thieves will check there first

The best ways to use satnav

Everyone has read about incidents where drivers get helplessly lost miles from their intended destination. Satnav often gets the blame, though it is commonly due to user error. Motorists need to understand that satnav should be used as a co-driver and not an autopilot and that road signs should still be taken into consideration, particularly those relating to size and weight restrictions that must be adhered to. It’s very important for HGV drivers to use a specialist satnav device that takes into account these factors.

Drivers still need to use common sense and good judgement. The satnav can’t tell Newport in Wales from Newport in Essex unless the inputted instructions are clear. This is something well expressed by the head of campaigns at the Royal Automotive Club, Sheila Rainger, who says satnav is ‘a navigation aid not a replacement brain’.

Customers should also be advised on the safe installation of their satnav. Drivers are accustomed to setting up their mobile phones with a hands-free attachment to prevent distraction whilst driving. Users should take the same care with their satnav. They should make sure it neither obscures their vision nor install it in a place that forces them to turn their head away from the road.

Too much information?

Too much information hinders rather than helps motorists, and the developers of satnav devices need to take this into account. What drivers require is the right information, at the right time, clearly expressed. They don’t require information they already have or anything which requires them to fiddle with the satnav settings while driving.

What’s next?

Future features in satnav could link the system to a personal calendar or a congestion report. It should also become possible to automatically download map updates so new roads and housing estates will always be represented.

What’s really exciting for both retailers and customers is the prospect of more landmark-related information coming on-stream. Psychologists have discovered that drivers’ judgement of distance is not always as good as their perception of things around them. Recent findings from the Ergonomics and Safety Research Institute (ESRI) at Loughborough University suggest that ‘in 200m turn right’ may not be as clear to many drivers as an instruction to ‘turn right at the Dog and Duck’.

The future of satnav is full of possibilities. If manufacturers can meet the challenges of security and consumer education at the same time as providing a more comprehensive service, both retailers and customers have a lot to look forward to.

Sally Purdie is Director of the Location and Timing Knowledge Transfer Network, a managed network of more than 450 organisations which research, develop, operate and apply location and timing technologies.

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