Posts Tagged ‘GPS’
To start things of, you can probably think of at least one satellite navigation system (sat nav) mishap. Either from your own experience, a friend’s anecdote, or from an article in the “comedy” section of your favourite newspaper. Some stories, however, are far from pleasant for the user or the environment. I wrote this post for the The Mobile City blog. It is related to my New Media MA thesis at the University of Amsterdam, for which I did a case study on “Sat Nav mishaps”, a term derived from Anthony Dunne’s reference to Mobile Mishaps in the 90s. I’ll write a more elaborate post on this subject later, as I’m still in the process of finishing the final version. I’ve also removed the draft version, which was on here for a few days as an example for the Mobile City conference. In a larger scope, the goal of the case study is to research how communication between local and global space in satellite navigation system use can be understood and, more specifically, how communication can be enabled. As we shall see, there are not just consequences for the user of the system, but also for local space and territory. The following stories show just the tip of the iceberg of Sat Nav Mishaps appearing around the globe, in repetitive fashion.
Car wrecked on railroad crossing
Paula Ceely’s story, a 20 year old student from Redditch in England, had her car wrecked after she followed her navigation system onto a railway track. Fortunately, Ceely escaped injury in the incident, otherwise the consequence of sat nav use would have been very grim. ‘I put my complete trust in the sat nav, there were no signs at all and it wasn’t lit up to warn of an oncoming train,’ Ceely told British broadcaster BBC. An article in local Welsh newspaper The Western Telegraph sparked a heated debate by locals as to whether the crossing should be made safer for drivers unfamiliar with the local. However, Paula is not unique, a similar story surfaced in the United States.
What makes Paula Ceely’s story most interesting, is that it exemplifies a locally initiated call to adjust a hazardous situation caused by sat nav. And because the mishap repeats itself, as mentioned by the locals, it tends to change existing meaning of neighbourhoods. This is not just a single case: Dutch and Belgian municipalities have filed complaints about increases in traffic moving through their residential areas.
Netherlands and Belgium: Villages file complaint against Sat Nav use
In September 2006, villages around Dutch municipality Delfzijl filed a complaint about truck drivers, mostly new to the region, using their navigation systems and causing dangerous speeding situations. On the trajectory from Nieuweschans to Delfzijl, drivers can skip fourty kilometers if they choose the shortest route algorithm. The downside is that on large parts of the trajectory the speed limit is only thirty or fifty kilometres per hour. Local Theo Nijland from the village of Woldendorp says: ‘most truck drivers usually drive eighty kilometres an hour and started to hit the breaks just before a turn’.
In Belgium, traffic flow through a number of villages has increased after implemention of navigation systems in traffic. In February 2007, Belgian minister of mobility Pascal Smet, in response to a complaint from the municipality of Sint-Gillis, asked nineteen municipalities around Brussels to map all conflict zones dealing with an increase in traffic due to GPS navigation. Before Sint-Gillis two other municipalities, Mortsel en Leuven, already complained about the traffic increase. Especially near schools and village centres traffic should be decreased. Similar stories have surfaced in the United Kingdom, specifically in Micklefield and Barrow Gurney.
From database error to damaging houses
The new routes not only cause a nuisance, in some cases, trucks or cars driving through villages are responsible for physically damaging the local. Villagers in English Carmarthenshire say they fear restoration work is being damaged by drivers using satellite navigation. Local residents mentioned that trucks and lorries were smashing into buildings ‘that have already had thousands of pounds spent on them’. Belgian village Meulebeke is experiencing similar damages. Because of sat nav use, heavy lorries are (illegally) driving through the center of the village. Houses have been damaged because the trucks are unable to make the turns.
On a larger scale, English rail road company Network Rail blames drivers ‘following satellite navigation (satnav) instructions down narrow roads for a surge in damage to bridges and crossings.’ According to research done by the company, trucks have caused £15m-worth of damage in the past year ‘by striking low or narrow bridges after being directed under them by their in-cab systems.’
Seeking Solutions: Ignore your Sat Nav signs
Because of these mishaps, new ways are being sought the local to communicate with the user. A local space is being challenged, or tagged, by new meaning of global satellite navigation system use; the consequences of satellite navigation system use are similar all around the globe, as is evident in above stories. However, there seems to be an inability to communicate, or incompatibility, between spaces. The following solutions exemplify this. Firstly, there are calls for GIS database change by (local) politicians, for example in The Netherlands and the village of Barrow Gurney in the United Kingdom.
Secondly, and perhaps most interesting, is the appearing of new signs that constitute a level of acceptance into existing, dominant traffic protocol. Dutch village Roermond has put up signs to ask sat nav users to turn off their systems and follow an official detour (omleiding).
Exton, an English village, also put up a sign asking drivers to ignore their system. As local Brian Thorpe-Tracey mentions: ‘About two years ago we noticed a real increase in drivers using the lane. Vehicles are getting stuck and having to reverse back up, damaging the wall and fence. There’s even a piece of metal embedded 12ft up in a tree which looks like it’s come off a lorry.’
In a Welsh village, the first official British road signs to warn drivers about the dangers of trusting their sat nav. Especially foreign truck drivers navigating the region with their sat navs found themselves driving unsuitable roads.
Satellite navigation systems, the most widely used GPS enabled application in consumer society today, are causing interesting mishaps and perhaps even more interesting responses by local space and traffic protocol. However, solutions, such as traffic signs and calls for database change, do not enable any dialogue between global user and local inhabitant, battling over territory’s meaning. Therefore, the interesting question remaining is: how can real-time dialogue between local and user, using global technology, be established? If the sat nav algorithm would be able to take into account emotion, for example drawing its information from an Emotion Map, a vibrant dialogue might just emerge. Sat nav algorithms, the automated decision making process of navigation, is taking on existing traffic protocol. But even Sat navs are arguing what route is the best.
Recently I did a paper on virtual and augmented realities, especially the latter is in the spotlight of todays New Media studies. Lev Manovich remarked in his article The Poetics of Augmented Space: Learning from Prada: The 1990s were about the virtual, and it is possible that this decade will be about the physical space filled with electronic information, or augmented space.
The interesting thing about the two is definitely the fact that the virtual seems to be something we can always step out of, while the augmented is something we can become so immersed in that it is hard to let go. Sure, in both cases there is an on and an off switch, but if we take a look at the GPS systems which are becoming very common in cars today we need to emphasize that if we trust the augmented too much it might take along our real life for the ride, leaving the digital in the driving seat. And we all have heard about the drivers, trusting their GPS, and blindly riding in a river, or to the top of a mountain. Those situations are destroying the option of just turning the GPS system off when you want to. To repair the damage to your real life, you have to do a lot more than just turn it off.
The virtual also had ways of immersing the person in such a way that it had consequences for real life, for example the recent ‘gaming deaths’ in World of Warcraft. In these cases the gamers didn’t take care of their real life bodies, prefering the welbeing of their game characters. But in the case of the virtual, real life and the virtual are clearly distinguishable from eachother. One gets neglected, the other gets all the attention of the mind.
For some of these gamers there were ingame memorials, beside the memorials in real life. This also emphasizes the clear line between the two. It is one or the other. Never both at the same time. At all times it is possible to disconnect from the virtual, the button is always there waiting to be pushed. The only thing stopping it from being pushed is you.
The augmented reality on the other hand is a case of both at the same time, as the demonstration video below shows.
In this example it is used for business purposes, showing the colors of a car or the shape of a new building. What is interesting is that what I see (I can’t speak for everyone) in front of me, blended in my own real life, is something I believe much quicker. Without asking questions. Of course, if the programming is done correctly and there are no flaws in the software, this is amazing. But what if there is an error? We have seen it before in GPS technology, which is/was sending people to the wrong place. Trusting the construction of a building on an augmented simulation would be very tricky business. If flaws in the ‘augmented production process’ are discovered when the building is already there, there is no simple on or off switch. The damage is done in real life. Of course I trust the skill of the architectures, but we need to be very clear on augmented reality: It is just a simulation, not a real thing we can trust, even if we see it with our own eyes. We have to keep asking questions when we see the augmented coming into our real life further and further. Question what you see, even more than you already questioned the things in real life. Seeing is not believing.
Actions in the virtual have consequences for the virtual. For example you create a game character and through your actions you gain experience and higher levels, neglecting your real life body has death as a consequence. Two different actions and two opposite consequences.
On the other hand we have the actions in the augmented, which have consequences in both the augmented reality and in real life/the physical. Using your GPS (the action) has the consequence that you go to a place in real life and arrive at the destination (consequence). Or not. Because you can’t always walk away, and the line is blurred. Making you trust or use something, because it seems to be there but really isn’t.
Why not compare this GPS augmentation to a circus act? The audience watches the show in awe, totally immersed and all their attention is focused on the fact that it is a show. They continue watching when something goes wrong i.e. a clown cathing fire, thinking that it is part of the show. But when the audience suddenly realizes that the burning clown isn’t part of the show when the ambulance comes along, they are already too late and the reaction will be something like: ‘Why didn’t we see it earlier?’ For a moment they thought that real life was a show, but the burning clown was all too real.
The same thing goes for GPS, you trust the show that is given to you on your system when you drive your car. But when you are misguided (either by software error, or just clumsy route information) it is already to late too go back. For a moment you sit in your car and don’t see that real life is actually show. A show made up for you by your GPS system. But the wrong route you took was all too real. And the reaction?
‘Why didn’t I see it earlier?’
All my MA research logs are part of a work in progress and can not be distributed, copied, displayed or performed.