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GPS Navigation

A driver has to know where he is so he can figure out how to get home again. This task was much simplified when GPS systems came up. In the old time you had to study maps carefully, work with a compass and draw lines on paper maps.

What's a GPS?

It's a small electronic unit about the size of an pocket calculator. It shows you your position in the standard form for navigation. Some units have built-in maps which might be easier to use..

Please forgive me for using as much the Garmin Emap on these examples. Besides the fact that I own one it seems to br establishing itself widely as a new standard for 4wheeling. No, I don't have any financial interests in Garmin (wish I had).


Above is an example of the Garmin Emap showing its start-up screen (left) and the 300 Kilometre resolution (right). Don't worry, most menus can be switched to show English, German or French (amongst others) text. The data fields on top show the current speed, the total trip distance since last reset and the precise time. To the left is a compass rose which changes to an arrow when you are navigating. The blank line below the data fields shows the name of the next street to come up when you are moving. All those fields can be switched off so only a full screen map is left.

How does GPS work?

A GPS unit receives signals from satellites. From this signals it calculates its position. Read here for a basic introduction.

Is it difficult to work with?

Yes and no. Most units will only show you your position as a string of numbes and letters like N49°37.047, E006°07.109. This is enough if you have some time to transfer this on a map. .

Other units have an built-in map on which they show you your position. This is by far the faster way to see where you are. The drawback of these units are their price as the built-in memory has to be much larger. Those units can be mastered in quite a short time..

The last possibility is to connect a GPS receiver to a laptop or a handheld PDA. Those can show an even larger degree of map details but are also bulkier. Click here to see what a GPS connected to a laptop looks like. When using it you will also see a moving arrow or similar on the map indicating your position.

Why do I need a GPS?

You don't need one. Except if you drive into the Sahara. Or the Australian Outback. Or an similar remote area where geographical features are not available. But it's a useful tool. You also don't need 4-wheel-drive most of the time. But in some cases it comes in mighty handy. This is exactly the category GPSs fall in.


Above Left: A typical shot in 300 metres resolution. The thick lines show main roads, the thinner the line the smaller the road. In many countries (like Luxembourg) even a good deal of the green lanes are shown! To the right is the same part on the computer screen before downloading to the GPS