For anyone who has ever been truly, deeply lost, the system is a godsend. But automakers have been slow to install it. Some companies, such as GM, jack into the GPS constellation indirectly through the OnStar system, which connects drivers to live operators over a cellular network. But car-based GPS systems are still pretty rare in the majority of new auto designs. The techno-lethargy is due mostly to the fact that until recently, in-car GPS was a little rusty: the complex software that translated GPS signals to onscreen maps sometimes got drivers more lost than they already were. But a new series of GPS mapping units, beefed up with friendly interfaces, are finally coming on the market, delivering on the promise that in a GPS-enabled world, we'll never be lost again.MORE>>
It's been something of a surprise to see how long it has taken car manufacturers to embrace the Global Positioning System as a standard for in-car navigation. GPS, which relies on a constellation of orbiting satellites to provide real-time positioning data, was a Cold War military innovation that's been available to civilians for about a decade. It's killer technology — literally. Designed to deliver cruise missiles within three feet of their target ("We can put a Tomahawk through a window," is what the Air Force used to brag), it can also be used to locate your Toyota within a yard or so of where it really is.