It is very exciting to see real world applications of computer related technologies. It gives me hope that this field is actually doing work, as other fields of science do. One branch of such real world applications is “assisted driving. What I mean by assistance in here is providing information, such as current speed and location, as well as the path to go and the directions to follow at any moment.
Also, it might include information about road construction and traffic. Providing address and phone information about restaurants and hotels, as well as national parks and theme parks, close to current location is a plus.
Microsoft Streets & Trips
Microsoft Streets & Trips provides most of the above. I have been very happy about it in recent trips. It is really interesting that it really “worked” in real life situations.
- Since it uses around 1GB of your hard driv, you do not need to be connected to the internet to have the road maps.
- You can update the database online, with only a few clicks. The update includes road construction data.
- It can provide driving directions to destination from current location. If connected to GPS device, it can locate itself and update the data based on that.
- It can also give you accurate speed and direction, to avoid mistakes by driving in wrong direction.
- In case your GPS device does not provide you with coordinates and signal strength, the Microsoft Streets & Trips does it on screen.
- It can also read the directions loud so you don’t have to check the screen.
- You can do a quick search about different types of hotels, restaurant and other public places around you based on the distance. It simply draws a circle around you, and by clicking on each resort it gives phone number and address to that place. It is really impressing, since you have this information not using web, but only from your local database.
- You can plan for stops and specific route points. By specifying the start time and duration of stops, it can provide you an estimation of arrival and directions times.
- It can also predict total gas price, based on miles and gas price!
The problems with Microsoft Streets & Trips?
- It should be installed on a laptop, which is not very easy to take around in “your pocket”.
- Limitations of laptop battery apply. It means either you should have spare batteries, or you should be able to plug it in. This means converter to car plug or only using at office/home.
- It is not easy wise to drive and do the directions. If you are going to change route and find local place on the fly. There must be someone who does that, and you do the driving.
The other approach that has cleared the disadvantages of the Microsoft Streets & Trips is OnStar service. This is really hardware dependent. It means you should already have the hardware installed on your vehicle. But, in return, it gives you more services, as the service operator can not only interact with yourself, but your car as well.
Once you have the hardware installed on your car and subscribed to OnStar, you can “call” the service provider by pressing only on button on your car’s rear mirror.
- The operator can ask you where you want to go. No typing, no need to somebody else to do the route planning, you just speak. This is very comfortable even for computer professionals, and people who are not very interested to operate a device by themselves.
- The operator can send the directions to your car’s audio system.
- Your car “calls” the service operator if there is an accident. They can contact authorities in turn. The comfort it gives is really reassuring. I would buy such service for my mother if it was available in Iran.
- You can ask the operator to open your car if you forget the keys inside. You should verify your identity by a pin, which can be read by someone at home to you. Another comforting service.
- Since you do not have the database on your car, it is not your responsibility to update it. By database, I mean the map and the road information database. The service provider updates it constantly and you simply use it.
- It uses voice recognition so that there is no need to key in anything. There are only three or four button involved, one of which is the main OnStar button, and the other is the red emergency button.
The disadvantages that OnStar has can be listed as including:
- The OnStar is currently only available to cars with such hardware installed in factory. General Motors is currently installing it for its vehicles.
- As any marketer would do, the subscription has different plans. The plans range from basic safety plan, to having all features plus being able to call using the same system.
- The “call” is done using a more powerful cell phone system. I can assume it may be out of coverage in some places. I am already sure, as it happened, that the operator could not send the directions data to the car. The car was out of the “extended coverage area” and so data could not be transferred. Probably there was not GPRS/Edge service in that area.
- Privacy is already a great concern. Nobody wants to be tracked and spied on using their own vehicle, by a subscription fee they themselves pay. I also find it really uncomfortable to have a microphone equipped remotely activated system around myself all the time.
- Insurance companies can use the data gathered by the car to avoid paying insurance expenses.