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4/22/2002
04:20 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
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Langa Letter: Error-Free Business Travel

With today's affordable GPS units, Fred Langa says, you'll never again miss a turn--or a meeting.

Driving Reasons For GPS
I'm most familiar with a handheld GPS unit--a Garmin V. The screen is small, so I initially wondered how I'd use it safely while driving. But the software is a marvel. For the most part, you can ignore the GPS and concentrate solely on your driving. When the GPS senses that you're approaching a necessary turn, it beeps twice to get your attention, then prints the turn directions in large type on the screen. For example, it might say something like, "Turn Right on Main St., 530 feet ahead." The software also zooms in to show a simplified and uncluttered view of the upcoming turn, complete with a large directional arrow to orient you. A glance at the unit, and you know what your next move is. You then can ignore the GPS until the next time it beeps at you.

Because the GPS is so unobtrusive and easy to use, I actually find it less distracting (and thus safer) than using standard paper maps or printed turn-by-turn driving directions.

Other features also help avoid driver confusion and distraction. For example, a countdown timer always shows you how long until you'll reach the next turn, so you're never taken by surprise. The unit also knows how fast you're going and adjusts its audible pre-turn warnings accordingly. At highway speeds, the warning beeps come 60 to 90 seconds ahead of the next turn. In dense urban areas, the warning is closer to the actual turn. This way, you're alerted in plenty of time before a turn, but not so early that you might turn too soon onto the wrong road or exit.

Many GPS units also include some form of route recording, sometimes called "breadcrumbing." While breadcrumbing can be useful for backtracking along a given route, it's also a way to authenticate mileage expense reports or otherwise prove where you traveled.

Huge Range Of Products, Prices, Features
GPS units come in all shapes, sizes, and degrees of sophistication, from $100 basic units to $1,000 units that use a synthesized voice to speak aloud your turn-by-turn directions, and upwards into high-precision devices intended for specialized engineering purposes. Most devices that are well-suited for business travel include moving-map and route-planning software, and cost between $200 and $400 or so. Naturally, prices continue to drop.

If you travel a lot, a GPS unit may be able to pay for itself in direct time savings by always providing the fastest and best route to any given location. If you attend high-value meetings, GPS may be invaluable insurance against missing or delaying a key appointment. And for any kind of travel, GPS can be a major convenience and safety enhancer--far better than fumbling with paper-based maps or directions.

This is a business-oriented column, so the recreational use of business tools isn't a central focus. But while we're on the subject, check out "geocaching," a GPS-related sport that's amazingly popular. For example, a Google search turns up almost 100,000 Web pages that discuss or focus on geocaching. I'll bet you never realized GPS was in such widespread use that it's already generated an entire new worldwide high-tech sport!

But getting back to business: I realize that today, GPS technology may seem far-fetched as an ordinary business travel tool. But almost all the business travel tools we commonly use today--laptops, PDAs, cell phones, etc.--seemed strange and exotic at one time. I'm willing to bet there's a GPS in your future, and it soon won't seem strange at all.

But why wait? GPS can help on your very next trip. And once you've experienced the ease of GPS-assisted route planning and navigation, you won't want to travel any other way!

What's your take? Is Fred too far ahead of the curve on this one? Or--as the 100,000 Google pages indicate--is GPS about to break into the mainstream? Do you use a GPS unit, and if so, which one? What are the best GPS resources? What's the best use for a small, inexpensive GPS? Join in the discussion in Fred's forum!


Relevant InformationWeek Articles
High-Tech Hang Gliding: Hang gliding is getting teched-out. A senior researcher at Microsoft Research and his compatriots use tiny GPS devices to determine their location. Damage Assessment: Lessons From Ground Zero: Handheld system assesses damage to see how buildings survived. Snow Removal In The Windy City Gets Technical: Technology will get a workout this winter with the addition of global positioning satellites to Chicago's snowplow fleet. Wherever You Go, There You Are!: The GPS game Geodashing merges the information highway with blue highways.

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