GPS navigation systems tell motorhome travelers where they are, where they’re going, and where they’ve been.
By Lazelle Jones
Global positioning system (GPS) technology can be called rocket science, and, in fact, it really is. Currently 24 GPS satellites are orbiting the earth at an altitude of approximately 12,000 miles. Each satellite completes two revolutions around the earth every 24 hours. Whirling through space at 7,000 miles per hour, each of these 24 satellites continuously transmits a signal that can be picked up by a GPS receiver on earth. Each GPS receiver contains a mini-computer. When the signals are picked up by a GPS receiver, the onboard computer determines the time it took the signals to reach the GPS receiver (from the satellites) and the current location of the receiver is calculated (time multiplied by the speed of light).
By receiving simultaneous signals (via the receiver or antenna) from three different satellites, the computer can determine the longitude and latitude of the GPS receiver, or, in other words, the exact location on earth where the receiver is positioned “” down to within a few feet. As the receiver or antenna moves about over land, across the sea, or through the air, the real-time location of the receiver is delivered to the individual who is navigating whatever kind of vehicle the GPS receiver is attached to (aircraft, boat, RV, etc.). The process used to calculate longitude and latitude is called triangulation.
When signals from four satellites are received and processed by a navigation system’s computer, the altitude (feet or meters above sea level) of the earth-based receiver also can be calculated. The information a GPS navigation system gleans from the data it receives is presented to the user as visual information (via a monitor) or as auditory information (via a speaker). Some systems deliver both visual and auditory information simultaneously.
The only place this kind of stuff doesn’t work is underwater, below ground, or inside a building and that’s because it works on a line-of-sight basis. GPS navigation systems (satellite, receiver, and computer) have many useful applications in plotting the exact location of boats, airplanes, and, yes, motorhomes. Handheld GPS navigation systems are also popular with hikers and those who love exploring the backcountry.
Global positioning systems were pioneered back in the 1970s and initially were used only by the U.S. government. The government finally made the technology available for public use in the 1980s.
What follows is a look at GPS navigation systems as they apply to the world of recreation vehicles and, in particular, how they can help those who enjoy the use of motorhomes. As we shall see, a GPS navigation system can aid the RV enthusiast in several ways. As per the norm, the more you spend on a system, the more features you can enjoy. We will look at several companies that build complete GPS navigation systems (hardware, software, and various kinds of appurtenances) and some companies that offer individual items (hardware and software) that fit into the mix of what makes up a GPS navigation system.
Some GPS navigation systems are permanently mounted or installed in a motorhome, while other systems are portable. Some portable systems can be coupled to a docking station inside a coach or towable, making them (for all intents and purposes) a permanent system when the end-user elects to have it docked or configured that way. Depending upon the system, the number of points of interest (POI) entered into the database can range from a few hundred thousand up to literally millions. A POI is the information that is enclosed on the DVD or hard drive database that lists things such as campgrounds, gasoline or diesel service stations, exits and on-ramps, street names and specific addresses, restaurants, amusement parks, etc. A POI can be anything and everything that the navigating user may possibly need to locate and, in some units, call ahead of time for reservations (while on the fly
Traffic services are also available, often offered as an option, but not always. This can include providing the location of traffic congestion on a real-time basis, with the navigation system suggesting how to detour around it. Some can even provide the speed or flow of traffic. Restaurant guides and locations also can be a service, right down to the type of fare you want to enjoy and even how the restaurant is rated. Emergency information such as the locations of hospitals, highway patrol offices, etc., are POI that can be essential when traveling in unfamiliar areas. Some navigation systems feature call-up capability when the navigation system is connected via a Bluetooth adapter to a cell phone.
ALK TECHNOLOGIES INC.
The CoPilot Live Laptop 9 transforms a laptop PC or a desktop PC into an advanced GPS navigation system that offers RV-specific features in the database, such as 12-foot-6-inch RV height restrictions; propane restriction routing to avoid tunnels that prohibit propane tanks; scenic routing; and POI including RV campgrounds, parks, and dump stations. It can be swapped between a motorhome and a car for use when a campsite is reached. It features spoken turn-by-turn directions and provides generic and RV-specific points of interest alerts when the driver approaches restaurants, rest areas, campgrounds, or diesel fuel stations. The user can choose which navigation information is displayed on the CoPilot Live screen. Features such as side-of-street-notification indicates on which side of the street the destination is located. Should the driver miss a turn, automatic route recalculation instantly provides new directions.
The CoPilot Live Laptop 9 offers two-way voice technology “” it provides spoken instruction and responds to voice commands. It offers a toll avoidance option and navigates around unexpected traffic delays. It reorders scheduled stops for the most efficient routing (MSRP: $299).
www.alk.com; (800) 377-6453
The NVE-N872A navigation system offers map coverage of the United States and Canada. With the system’s turn-by-turn guidance, essential information is provided so the driver can concentrate on the road. It can be paired with the touch-screen AV head unit (a head unit is the car’s in-dash system that is used to provide a unified interface for various audio and video components, among them audio players such as a remote-mounted 12-CD changer, speakers or an audio amplifier, and rear-seat DVD monitors). The user can input data via voice command, touch screen, or remote control. Hands-free voice control is available when the N872A is paired with the Alpine IVAW200 monitor. This system offers hands-free activation and turn-by-turn voice commands that are available in English, Spanish, and French. The Zagat Restaurant Survey guide acts as a personal concierge, providing ratings for Zagat-reviewed restaurants.
An optional satellite traffic data service (powered by NAVTEQ Traffic) provides options for detouring around traffic congestion in major U.S. metropolitan areas. The option also alerts drivers to accidents and other kinds of traffic obstructions, while color-coded traffic congestion levels are displayed on-screen. Satellite traffic data is available from XM Satellite Radio XM NavTraffic via the Alpine HCE-100XM satellite traffic receiver. A separate traffic receiver is required to receive SIRIUS Satellite Radio’s SIRIUS Traffic service. (NVE-N872A MSRP: $1,700, plus the cost of a monitor.)
The Blackbird PMD-B100 portable navigation system can be moved from vehicle to vehicle. When used with the Alpine wired docking station PMD-DOK1, the Blackbird can serve as the brains of the navigation system while the audio and navigation functions are transferred to the Alpine in-dash monitor. This permits touch-screen functions on the in-dash monitor and via remote control. Driving instructions are played through the vehicle’s audio system. The Blackbird comes with a built-in traffic tuner and does not require a separate box for traffic service (PMD-B100 MSRP: $750; PMD-DOK1 MSRP: $200).
www.alpine-usa.com; (800) ALPINE1 (800-257-4631)
Because so many folks own and travel with a laptop PC these days, DeLorme has designed the Earthmate GPS LT-20 (“LT” stands for “laptop”). Using an existing laptop, this GPS navigation system goes anywhere the user needs it to go. The LT-20 system includes a 12-channel receiver; a 5-foot USB cable that connects into the laptop; navigation software; and street-level map data called Street Atlas USA, which covers both the United States and Canada.
The software includes 4 million points of interest and delivers voice navigation capabilities. More specifically, the user hears spoken directions for upcoming turns, can issue spoken questions and commands, and can receive spoken responses (if the laptop has voice capability). The software offers turn-by-turn on-screen directions, with large directional arrows and large-print written directions. A feature called GPS Radar lets the user locate upcoming POI based upon their current GPS location (e.g., lodging, restaurants, fuel stops, retail stores). Earthmate provides back-on-track navigation, which automatically recalculates the route if detours or spur-of-the-moment side trips take the user off the pre-established route. The entire system (receiver, cable, and a laptop) can be transferred from a motorhome to a towable and back as needed (MSRP: $99.95 and up).
www.delorme.com; (800) 561-5105.
Garmin offers several different GPS navigation systems, all of which are portable so they can be moved from one vehicle to another. The top-of-the-line StreetPilot 7000 Series includes two models, the 7200 and the 7500. These units display navigation, entertainment, traffic, and weather information on a 7-inch touch screen, along with audio prompting. An optional traffic management system notifies the driver of accidents, construction, and weather delays and presents an alternate route, if available. Both of these StreetPilot units are capable of displaying video from backup cameras. The 7500 StreetPilot offers an additional dead-reckoning feature that provides navigation cues when GPS signals are lost in places such as tunnels or in between high buildings. Automatic rerouting is also provided should the driver wander off course. (StreetPilot 7200 MSRP: $1,499; StreetPilot 7500 MSRP: $1,800.)
The StreetPilot c500 Series features Bluetooth Wireless Technology, which permits hands-free calling from a personalized phone book or from phone call history. Other features include integrated traffic capabilities, a high-sensitivity GPS receiver, and a high-bright touch screen. Map data is provided by NAVTEQ. A four-digit PIN helps to deter theft. All models come with a carrying case, a suction cup mount, an adhesive dash mount, a 12-volt adapter, and a USB cable (MSRP: $799.99).
Garmin’s nuvi acts as a “Personal Travel Assistant” that combines a GPS navigator, a language translator, travel guide capability, an MP3 player, an audio book player, a currency and measurement converter, a world clock, and a digital photo organizer (MSRP: $799.99).
www.garmin.com; (913) 397-8200
RoadMate 860T is a portable GPS that provides real-time traffic alerts and will automatically reroute users around delays to get them to their destination more quickly. Magellan’s SayWhere is a feature that yields text-to-speech directions where the name of the road is made available for the next maneuver. The Magellan RoadMate 860T comes with a 3.5-inch color touch screen that provides routing to destinations in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It comes with 3D map view, a built-in music player, a picture viewer, and an integrated battery for portable entertainment when used with an SD card or 10-gigabyte internal storage. It comes with a feature called SmartVolume, which automatically increases volume when vehicle speed exceeds 45 mph. It has 6 million POI, provides trip review data, includes a “Night View,” and provides optimal routes for multiple destination trips (MSRP: $799).
RoadMate 3000T can be moved from one vehicle to another. It features one-touch access to key features and provides turn-by-turn voice, visual guidance, and 3D map views. SmartDetour routes drivers around freeway traffic obstacles. On-screen icons show POI along a route. The 3000T comes with a rechargeable battery, a music player, and a photo viewer. Magellan’s optional TrafficKit is available, a feature that gives live traffic reports with automatic rerouting when needed (MSRP: $599).
RoadMate 3050T offers everything the Magellan RoadMate 3000T features, plus it includes as standard Magellan’s TrafficKit (MSRP: $649).
RoadMate 6000T delivers the convenience of hands-free calling when used in conjunction with Bluetooth-enabled cell phones. It features a built-in real-time traffic receiver and a photo viewer, and it will simultaneously receive turn-by-turn guidance while allowing MP3 and music files (via an SD or MMC memory card) to be enjoyed. The Magellan RoadMate 6000T comes with SayWhere text-to-speech guidance that speaks the name of the road or street in upcoming driving maneuvers. It features an integrated battery, which means it doesn’t need to be connected to a cigarette lighter to operate. It comes with six million POI and can be moved from vehicle to vehicle (MSRP: $799).
www.magellangps.com; (800) 707-9971
The AVIC-D2 is Pioneer’s entry-level double-DIN in-the-dash DVD-based navigation system that features a 6.5-inch touch screen and CD/MP3 playback capability (MSRP: $1,500).
The AVIC-N3 is a single-DIN unit that fits into most in-dash openings and features a motorized screen that folds out of its chassis to expose a 6.5-inch-touch screen display. The N3 features DVD-based mapping and database access. The N3 also has DVD-playback capability for entertaining rear-seat passengers or while the vehicle is parked (MSRP: $1,800).
Pioneer’s AVIC-Z1 features a built-in 30-gigabyte hard disc drive for mapping, POI database access, and music storage. The Z1 also can interface with the ND-BT1 Bluetooth adapter that permits the user to connect (hands-free) to a POI via a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone. In this configuration, it can dial telephone numbers in the POI database, such as a campground, restaurant, etc. (MSRP: $2,250).
The AVIC-S1 is Pioneer Electronics’ portable navigation system that provides mapping for the lower 48 United States and Canada. It provides the flexibility of moving the GPS navigation system to a towed vehicle once a destination has been reached and the towable is used to run about in. The S1 is small enough to fit into a shirt pocket (MSRP: $599).
www.pioneerelectronics.com; (800) 746-6337 (PIONEER)