Transportation Nation

Bad Directions: A Cautionary Tale of GPS Misbehavior

Monday, November 01, 2010

Car navigator in action

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation) – When the New York Times reported last month that Google was developing a car that could drive itself through traffic, Jon Kelly at the BBC wondered whether we could ever learn to love driverless cars. Kelly quoted “motoring journalist” Quentin Willson, who doubted the level of trust people would have in robot drivers. “The human brain can react quickly to the blizzard of information we're confronted with on the roads,” Willson told the BBC. “By contrast, we know what sat nav is like—it takes you on all sorts of circuitous routes.”

Indeed. The pair of articles brought to mind a harrowing tale I’d heard about a rogue GPS that had led a friend’s car astray. The vehicle in question was not piloting itself, but was being driven by Liesl Schillinger, a writer and literary critic who happens to write frequently for the Times.

A few years ago, Schillinger was on her way to an interview in rural New Hampshire. It was a humid August day in the White Mountains, and she was driving her rented Hyundai with its windows down, enjoying the “gorgeous and enveloping” smell of pine and trusting fully in her GPS device to guide her.

“At first it was idyllic,” she remembered in an email to me. “I passed a quaint red barn and farmyard, where picturesque Holsteins grazed, then entered a kind of woods.  At first I marveled at how lovely and rugged it was to be driving in such refreshingly unblemished wilderness, but as the road through the trees got steeper, to the point of being nearly vertical (like skiing uphill), I grew doubtful.”

But the fuchsia line on the screen was unmistakably clear, she told me. “The voice kept blandly ordering me onward. It was just a mile and a half to the house, "she" (the voice) said, so I decided to persevere.”

Schillinger came to a clearing in the trees, and found herself and car “atop a rocky plateau, like in the Jeep Cherokee ads—you know,  where the jeep perches on some  jagged butte where it has been airlifted like a stunned hippopotamus.” She stopped and opened her door to examine the terrain, doubtful that her mid-size could handle the steep, rocky grade. She wanted to call the woman she was visiting, but she had no cell reception. So she pressed on, trusting her robotic navigator.

“I managed to drive the car down the rocks, say, five hundred feet, at which point the scree turned into a damp muddy narrow roadlet through a forest,” Schillinger recalls.

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Transportation Nation

Where the H_ is My Bus? NYC Tries to Answer

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

(Matthew Schuerman, WNYC) In Boston, your Android phone can tell you, in San Francisco, you can check your wrist watch. Now New York, which has not been nearly as advanced in installing GPS-tracking devices on its buses, is dipping its toe in the waters.

New York's MTA is putting in the devices as part of a pilot program to test smart cards -- computer-chip embedded fare cards à la London's Oyster card. Because those cards need a modem, the buses' whereabouts are tracked -- and that information can be disseminated to riders.

The smart card pilot launched in June on eight Manhattan and Bronx bus lines. Riders tap their fare cards instead of swiping them. Later this year, the MTA will begin taking the data from one of those routes and send it back to riders that request it, via text messages or the web browser on their cell phones.

“If we are successful in implementing this program we will drastically reduce the cost and time needed to track our 6000-bus fleet,” MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said.

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The Takeaway

Modernizing the Airplane: GPS to Replace Radar

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Senate passed a $34.5 billion bill on Monday that will bring in GPS technology to replace radar. This is an attempt to help modernize our country’s dated air traffic control system. Science and aviation reporter Miles O’Brien explains the new system and why it's only happening now.



Keys, Sunglasses, 18th Century Violin...Whoops!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Korean violinist Hanh-Bin is in good company. Like Philippe Quint and Gidon Kremer who forgot their violins, or Yo-Yo Ma and Lynn Harrell who forgot their cellos in New York taxis, Hahn-Bin left his 18th century, $600,000 violin in a taxi yesterday.

On a ride from Lincoln Center to Chinatown, ...