Monday, 5 January 2015

GPS a helpful tool, but use common sense, too

I gave my wife a new GPS for Christmas.

               In case you are technologically challenged, a GPS in a space-based satellite navigation system that provides location and time information in all weather conditions, anywhere on or near the Earth where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites.

               A GPS device is about the size of a bar of soap.

               It can be hand-held or mounted on any vehicle on land, a boat, submarine or aircraft.

               The GPS system was originally developed as a top secret way of accurately targeting nuclear missiles. Today, the position accuracy of a civilian GPS unit is about the width of a street. The system was made fully accessible to the public after Korean Airlines flight 007 strayed into Soviet air space in 1983 and was shot down, killing all aboard. Navigation errors in the onboard computer, which would have been corrected by a GPS system, were found to be at fault.

               GPS systems are not perfect.

               The internet is full of stories of people being led astray by their following their GPS units slavishly.

               In one experience, three women used their GPS to go to a museum in California's Death Valley, the hottest place on earth. On the return trip they decided to take a detour to see another sight.

               They got lost. Or their GPS unit got lost. Then their car ran out of gas.

               Fortunately they found a small oasis where they could drink some brackish water, but their situation was growing more desperate.

               In the meantime their family has called the police who had mounted and active search from the air.

               Close to turning back for fuel, a police helicopter located the women and directed a rescue party to them.

               On another case, a teenager in New Jersey made an illegal left hand turn, a turn his GPS said was allowed, and caused a four car collision.

               For the longest time, right  here in Owen Sound, my GPS wanted to take me out to 6 & 10 by taking me up 4th St. East by Summit Place.

Unfortunately, that takes you right into the Niagara Escarpment. Eventually the map was corrected.

               GPS devices are wonderful, but they are only as good as the underlying technology and the ability of the user to program them. And they can become more and more complex. My wife's GPS, for example, can be trained to respond to voice commands and can allow her to dial and receive phone calls without touching her cell phone.

               But all of this comes at a cost.

               I had to read the manual thoroughly before I installed the system.

               I had to update the software and the maps.

               I had to charge the battery.

               It's almost enough to cause you to throw up your hands and say "Why bother?"

               In the long run, it is worth it.

               The avenues and streets, east and west, can be confusing in Owen Sound. And even though the fire number system in Grey and Bruce counties makes finding a location pretty good, nothing is perfect. There still needs to be deep human involvement and interaction to make the technology work.

               I would not depend on GPS technology entirely. I'd still check my senses and keep an eye on the road. And if push came to shove, I'd probably stop and ask for directions.



Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County