Sunday, January 20

Lost and found

Driver cited in Bedford train-car crash caused by GPS mishap (The Journal News, NY)
Satellite navigation systems send trucks down the wrong routes in Britain (Christian Science Monitor)

Don't get me wrong, I love my GPS. Even though it can be a minor visual distraction, I maintain that it makes me a safer driver because (1) I get lost less frequently, and so it becomes less likely that I will speed in order to avoid being late; and (2) I don't have turn my attention away from the road to look at printed maps or directions.

Unfortunately, there are inherent risks when you become overdependent on a technology, and GPS is no exception. The stories linked above are recent examples, but there have been other instances in which disaster may have resulted from relying too heavily upon computer-generated directions. For instance: James Kim and his family became trapped in the Oregon wilderness during a 2006 snowstorm because their route led them down a road that was closed for the winter; he died after eight days when he left to find help. Although it now appears that faulty computer-generated directions may not have been to blame in this particular instance, it is not at all unlikely that a similar situation could happen in the future.

1 comment:

Gregory Brown said...

Interesting topic Kevin.

New technology always brings with it some unseen consequences. I'm in the aviation field now, and in the airlines pilots are trained how to take advantage of technology while not "tunnel visioning" on what cockpit automation is telling us.

A classic example of an aviation GPS related accident is American Airlines flight 965 which crashed in the mountains near Cali, Columbia. An incorrect waypoint was momentarily entered into the airplanes computer causing a turn. Unfortunately the 757 was flying in a valley thus leading to the collision with a mountain.

There where several contributing factors, but the reliance on new technology is similar mistakes as those made in the car born accounts you posted.

In a car as in an airplane one should focus on where the vehicle is heading before worrying about other navigation. An awareness of these limitations will help people avoid further accidents.