Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Coolest Thing Ever, Pretty Much

My new/old job (don't ask) includes a bit of travel. Most of it's pretty routine stuff, covering a few well-worn paths along the turnpike, Route 81, and some other major highways.

But there's enough of it, and enough out-of-the-way excursions, to provide a reasonable excuse to buy a GPS navigation unit. So I did.

Before I bought it, I knew basically how it worked, but I didn't know just how totally teh awesome!!11! it really is.

It's so simple. You just type in the address of where you want to go, and within a few moments, the unit maps out a route. It's a neat little display.

When you start out on your trip, that's when the fun really begins.

The basic function of these babies is text-to-speech directions, which lets you concentrate on the road while the little genie in the box tells you which way to go. It's pretty ingenious.

The one I bought has a mechanized but pleasant female Stephen Hawking voice which sounds something like
in TwoMiles. Turn. Left. onto MARtin Luther Kingjunior. drive
There's also a couple of million "points of interest" which pop up, depending on the individual unit and the chosen settings, to show gas stations, restaurants, hotels, ex-girlfriend's houses, etc. Very cool.

Today I tested it out on a day trip to Scranton. (Yeah, "The Office" is set there. Whatevs.) The little GPS voice guided me out of my driveway, down some local roads and out on to the highway. By the time I got to the 81/78 split, I realized that this is going to be one of the most fulfilling relationships I've ever had with a female.

As much as I like the voice on the unit, I think there is a lot of potential for customization here. Obviously, you could have the classic back seat driver, shouting, "Left here. Left! Left, dammit, I SAID LEFT! WHY DIDN'T YOU TURN LEFT?!? WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?! Great, we're lost now. Next time listen to me when I'm talking!"

There might not be much of a market for that, though. What'll probably happen, is there will be some clever tie-ins with movies and video games and stuff. I bet they'll have a Grand Theft Auto version within a year. I'd like to see a Lord of the Rings version, with a Gollum voice being all like:
There's some stairs, and a tunnel... Come along, hobbits. Very close, veryclose, to MOR-dor.
Actually I'd probably go for the Speed Racer version, with Trixie and Sparky randomly exclaiming, "OhH!" every couple of miles. The characters in that show already have the weird, clipped vocal delivery we're all going to have to get used to as we give more of our lives over to machines. "Speed, TurnLeftHERE. then follow the ROAD: until you come to a bridge, then crossit to. the other SIDE." There was one episode where Speed was temporarily blinded, and Racer X (who, unknown to Speed, is actually his older brother Rex, who left home years ago!) guided him to the finish line by telling him which way to turn and when to speed up and when to slow down. That's basically how GPS works, except Racer X is even cooler.

Anyway, these things are definitely the wave of the future, and it's no coincidence that Knight Rider is making a comeback. And they're only going to get better. Ten years from now, it will be unthinkable to drive anywhere, except the most routine of trips, without using GPS. We will take them for granted as we do cell phones now. (Well, most of us. Here's something I've noticed: every* woman under the age of, say, 30, has a cell phone permanently attached to her ear while driving -- and yet, every* married guy I know complains that his own wife, where said wife is age 30+, never* has her cell phone turned on, or never* has it charged up, or never* answers it, or never* remembers to take it with her when she leaves the house, etc. Why is this? It's a conundrum. Something about getting married apparently causes women to lose the cell phone function.) People driving without GPS will be met with the same incredulity as Luke Skywalker was when he switched off his computer while attacking the Death Star. When they're completely and routinely integrated with real-time traffic (some are already), weather, tire pressure, blood alcohol content, etc., well, why have a driver at all? Just set the cruise control and hop in the back.

[*A generalization; your results may vary.]

Twenty years from now, the GPS will just display an overlay map right on the windshield of your car as you drive. (Gas will be $82 a gallon, but that's a problem for another day.) Kind of like that one episode of Speed Racer where the plans for the Mach 5 were actually printed on the windshield of the car. In fact, why not just make the interior of the car a sort of virtual reality, or a big video game display? Either that, or give us all homing robots like Speed Racer had.

So tell me again -- why are we shooting down satellites?

Semi-related video:

NASCAR Coach Reveals Winning Strategy: 'Drive Fast'


Jozet at Halushki said...

Okay...so, you can mark your calendar with a little star on December 13, 2008 because that's the next time you'll be getting any from me, Mr. "Ex-girlfriend's House Wife Doesn't Have Cell Phone On" Guy.

Now who's funny?


anne said...

Do they have the ability to locate the pole lines too? Because otherwise no one in Schuylkill Co. is going to want one.

Michael Plank said...

Actually I drove through Schuylkill Co. on the way to Scranton, right past the "egg-zit" for your house, in fact. The only thing that popped up on the Points of Interest were two keg parties and a kielbasa shop. Ba-dum-bump!