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What is an Automotive Navigation System?

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  • Written By: Alan Rankin
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 23 August 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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An automotive navigation system is a computer-mapping device designed to help drivers find a destination. Some of these devices are built into the vehicle, while others can be purchased separately and added. Either kind of automotive navigation system is designed to be mounted in or on the dashboard for easy reference. Most coordinate a computerized road map with a satellite link to the Global Positioning System (GPS) to display the vehicle’s location in real time.

A dashboard display for vehicle navigation was a fictional idea for decades, appearing in movies featuring characters such as Batman and James Bond. By the end of the 20th century, automakers were finally ready to make the automotive navigation system a reality. Onboard computers had achieved sufficient processing power and compact display size by the 1990s. The GPS system, originally designed for the U.S. military, was made fully available to the general public in 2000. That same year, one manufacturer emphasized the high-tech nature of automotive navigation systems with TV commercials featuring Batman.

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An automotive navigation system usually includes a built-in database of road maps; some systems allow these maps to be updated by connecting the car’s computer with the manufacturer’s website. The device also has a means of receiving signals from GPS satellites, as well as a back-up system in case these signals are cut off by surrounding terrain. The automotive navigation system coordinates these devices to provide information on the vehicle’s location, destination, and travel routes and times. Some systems can also point out local landmarks or track the vehicle in case of theft.

More advanced navigation systems provide drivers with a wealth of information about their surroundings. For example, some systems locate nearby gas stations and report their current gas prices. Others provide information on current traffic, potential parking places, and even the locations of speed cameras and speed traps. In 2007, an Australian driver actually avoided a speeding citation by offering police the speed data from his automotive navigation system. It should not be assumed, however, that this will work every time; it is generally inadvisable to argue with a police officer.

Taxicabs, city buses and even golf carts may use specialized automotive navigation systems. Some systems also incorporate entertainment or communications devices, such as DVD players, cell phones, or Internet Wi-Fi receivers. Advanced handheld devices such as smartphones also offer GPS positioning and other navigational functions, and can sometimes be installed on a dashboard as a makeshift automotive navigation system.

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