How wireless technology is poised to change the way we navigate our world.
Long before smartphones, MapQuest and Google Maps, taking a road trip involved a trunk full of knick knacks, books, cameras, a ratty, old paper map that took up the entire dashboard, or even worse, stopping at a dingy gas station to ask for directions. Today, road tripping is a whole new ball game. With the advent of GPS and mobile technology, we can navigate our world – hands-free – with the help of our smartphone and even keep the family entertained during the ride to their heart’s content with digital books, movies and games right at their fingertips.
Like most Torontonians, I spend an exorbitant amount of time in transit. I have an unlimited TTC pass, a bike, a car and more pairs of shoes than I’d like to admit. Proper wayfinding is my nemesis with construction, transit delays and other random city incidents that get in the way of getting anywhere on time. And I’m not alone.
The rise in mobile navigation technology has transformed the way we get around cities. And while I’d like to think I know the city well enough to get around by memory, the truth is, I trust my phone to get me where I need to go more than I trust myself. Today’s data-driven navigation apps display road traffic, construction and train delays, and the other accidents of travel – stuff I would never know off the top of my head while on the go.
However, GPS remains an awkward accessory for some pedestrians, frustrating on a bicycle, and impossible on a motorcycle. Wearable accessories like Google Glass promise to remedy this challenge. Glass currently runs dozens of apps (a.k.a. Glassware) and recently, Google announced that it had added Foursquare, TripIt and OpenTable to the roster, expanding the device’s usefulness for travelers. With Glass, you can make a restaurant reservation, see if your flight is delayed or translate words from foreign languages into English—all without lifting a finger.
There are indications that car commuters are also fed up with the commands of the dashboard GPS and doing what they can to avoid distractions while driving. Auto manufacturers like BMW are tapping into this space by introducing Head-Up displays which project relevant driving information directly into the driver’s line of sight on the windshield, allowing the driver to focus their attention on the road. Apps like HUDWAY work much like a professional co-driver on your phone, both online and offline, and is especially helpful in rural areas where network reception is limited.
Getting around indoors will change too. Have you ever been lost in an underground city like Toronto’s PATH, Montreal’s La Ville Souterraine or Calgary’s Plus 15 Skyway? Indoor spaces often block cell signals and make it nearly impossible to locate devices via GPS, but a new technology called beacons can help. Beacons are a small, low-cost piece of hardware that use battery-friendly, low-energy Bluetooth connections to transmit messages or prompts directly to a smartphone or tablet. They are primed to transform how retailers, transit systems, companies and even schools communicate with people indoors.
Wearables, beacons and the car dashboard are key areas where mobile travel and navigation will grow. Expect to see more hands-free travel and navigation apps and features for wearables in the coming years that will transform the way we travel. So next time you take off on a road trip with the family, save yourselves the hassle and forget the old fold-up map – all you need is your smartphone and a killer network.