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Guided By GPS

Like a lot of you--to judge from the state of I-95 Saturday and Monday afternoons--I was out of town this weekend, which meant that my wife and I had yet another opportunity to let our Toyota Prius's Global Positioning System unit handle the navigation.

It's amazing how fast we've gotten used to the concept of a vehicle that cannot get lost... at least in areas with roads that the GPS unit knows about. In 1999, GPS was an expensive add-on only offered in a handful of luxury cars--and, naturally, it conked out at the moment when I needed it most.

Now it's a routine part of long-distance road trips as well as quick runs across town. We get in, we punch in the destination, the car tells us where to go and we watch the miles-to-go and time-remaining counters steadily decrease. If we miss a turn or make an unplanned stop, the car almost instantly recalculates the most direct route.

As wondrous as this technology is, however, it could stand some improvements: Toyota's software constantly gets confused by some routes. For example, as we headed home on Interstate 395's HOV lanes yesterday evening, it kept instructing us to make a series of hairpin turns to exit up the next-available on-ramp, all of which would have egregiously violated the laws of Virginia and physics.

I'd like to see a navigation system that would learn from our actions and stop issuing directions that we consistently ignore--and, of course, one that would (like some high-end units) incorporate live traffic data into its display.

(Curious about what's behind that LCD in the Prius dashboard? This article details the innards of Toyota's system.)

It's also amazing how technologically backward my past road trips seem. In 1992, a friend and I drove from Sacramento to D.C. without any GPS assistance, devoid of any cell phones... and in a 1977 Toyota Corolla with well over 150,000 miles on the clock. Yet somehow we rolled into the District on the same day that we'd planned.

Are you a GPS convert? If so, what are your "favorite" GPS-routing goofs? What features are on your GPS wish list?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  May 29, 2007; 11:32 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets  
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