Mapless GPS

Alexey Feldgendler alexey at
Thu May 22 12:27:08 CEST 2008

Randall Munroe, the author of XKCD, suggests an excellent idea:

Simply put, it's a GPS navigator that only repeatedly gives you the  
direction towards the target (in “three o'clock” style) and the distance  
to it, without using any maps at all. It probably won't help you in a maze  
of twisty passages all alike, but should be good enough when navigating in  
a city or suburb where roads are made to enable you to reach places.

This has a lot of advantages:
* Dead simple to implement.
* Doesn't require display. This allows to save power (usually GPS  
navigators have to keep the screen backlight on all the way) and use a  
headset to speak directions -- especially useful for cyclists.
* Doesn't require maps that are often expensive (especially routable  
ones), are in proprietary formats, get outdated, use a lot of memory or  
require a persistent internet connection. Only a one-time access to Google  
Maps or alike is necessary to obtain the target coordinates; or they can  
be saved from the current location of the device, sent to each other in  
SMS etc.
* Equally suitable for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.
* Doesn't insist on taking you blocked roads it doesn't know about.
* Makes following the directions more interesting because you actually  
make decisions and don't feel following directions like a robot.
* You get a chance to learn different roads and the way they connect  
instead of just taking the same path every time (important for the  
“navigation idiots” like myself who doesn't ever leave home without their  
GPS navigator).
* The idea can be easily extended to more complex cases, like having  
several targets and having the user, not the machine, make decisions as to  
in which order to visit them; having two OM users find each other by  
getting directions towards each other's location; taking note of the  
routes the user follows, comparing them by distance travelled and duration  
and giving hints like “last time you turned right here”; etc.

Alexey Feldgendler <alexey at>
[ICQ: 115226275]

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