No really, where would we be? Joking aside, car GPS (Global Positioning System) navigation has revolutionized how drivers get around since it became commonplace in vehicles. However, what you might not know is that its roots date as far back as the 1930s, long before satellites were used to help guide drivers toward their destination. Fast forward to now, and GPS navigation through both smartphone apps and in-car systems has completely eliminated the need for fold-out paper maps.
Although it’s now a standard part of many cars and smartphones, GPS navigation had to experience some growing pains to get to where it is now. Here’s what you need to know about the history of GPS and car navigation.
The Early Development of Car Navigation
The earliest known attempt at developing in-car navigation technology for automobiles is believed to have come in 1930, when the Iter Avto was created. The Avto relied on a series of paper maps to help guide drivers from point A to B, which caused issues whenever they veered away from their planned route.
This is due partly to how the Avto was made, since the maps’ scrolling was controlled by a cable attached to the car’s speedometer, leading to the car’s speed determining how quickly the map scrolled.
The earliest attempt at developing navigation technology came in 1930
Three decades later, in 1960, the United States would take advantage of this technology and use it for their military, and other auto manufacturers would utilize technology such as Electronic Auto Compass and DAIR (Driver Aid, Information & Routing System) prior to the advent of more modern GPS systems.
Developments in the ‘70s and ‘80s, from Japan Back to North America
The GPS system, which allows receivers to determine their location by sending signals to satellites, began development in 1973 as a US military project. Ten years later, then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan signed an executive order to allow GPS technology to be used by civilians.
However, it would still take some years before it would become common in cars. In the meantime, those with auto careers might be interested to know that the ‘80s saw numerous auto companies make attempts to develop alternative navigation technology.
1981 would see the Electro Gyro-Cator navigation system appear in Honda cars in Japan. Developed in collaboration with Stanley Electric and Alpine, the Electro Gyro-Cator functioned via a helium gas gyroscope.
Other systems were also made during the decade, including the Etak Navigator (which was more digitally-focused than the Gyro-Cator) in 1985 and Toyota’s CD-ROM in-dash navigation system in Japan two years later.
A Timeline of Modern GPS Navigation Systems for Automotive School Students
While these ‘80s inventions influenced the development of modern GPS systems, the satellite navigation that students in automotive school know today didn’t truly arrive until 1990, when Mazda offered it for their Eunos Cosmos luxury vehicles in Japan.
General Motors would follow suit two years later in the United States with their GuideStar system, initially installing them in rental cars in Florida for Avis before making map cartridges available in other states.
Many auto manufacturers would experiment with this technology during the ‘90s, including Toyota, who added a voice-assisted GPS system into their vehicles in 1992. In 1998, Garmin introduced their StreetPilot GPS system, and eventually became one of the most well-known GPS navigation companies.
Nowadays, GPS technology has made its way onto smartphones — via Apple Maps and Google Maps, among others — and has become a ubiquitous technology we literally cannot imagine going anywhere without.