3 min

When We Navigated Without Satellites… (part 3)

Navigation has come a long way since the days of paper maps and hand-drawn directions. In the past, travelers relied on traditional navigation methods that required careful planning and a lot of guesswork. However, with the advent of digital navigation, the process of finding our way around has become easier and more efficient than ever before.


17 May, 2023

In the 1980s, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) began digitalizing its topographic maps, which were previously only available in print form. This made it possible to view and manipulate the maps on a computer and was a major step towards the development of digital maps.

CD-ROM based solutions arriving from Japan 

By the end of the 1980’s, digital maps had gradually become more widely available and sophisticated. In addition to the development of digital maps, the late 20th Century also saw considerable advancements in navigation technology. One of the earliest examples of this was from 1987 with the introduction of a CD-ROM-based navigation system in the Toyota Crown Royal Saloon G. The Japanese car featured a color CRT display.

This was the world's first auxiliary screen to use a CD-ROM-based navigation system, and it was a landmark achievement towards the development of modern in-car navigation systems.

The evolution of navigation systems in the nineties

Over the next few years, handheld devices with built-in digital maps began to appear on the market. As digital maps became more sophisticated, they also became more interactive. Navigation technology continued to evolve rapidly, and the first in-car navigation systems began to appear on the market.

In 1990, Mazda introduced the Eunos Cosmo equipped with the world's first GPS navigation system. This system was expensive and not widely used, but it marked a turning point in the development of modern in-car navigation systems.

It was in 1994 when the first Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight series equipped with optionally available on-board GPS navigation made its first U.S. appearance. GuideStar, the hard-disk-based system of the American manufacturer was way ahead its time – which was one of the reasons why it was eventually a flop. GuideStar, integrated into the dashboard of the Oldsmobile, only offered satellite navigation for 17 states, and was hampered by low precision. The navigation option was 2,000 USD at that time, and the drivers were charged an additional 400 USD for each map cartridge. 

Millennium, a complete breakthrough by NNG – navigation on SD card 

In the early 2000s, in-car navigation systems became more common and more complex. These systems included features such as real-time traffic updates, voice-activated commands, and 3D maps. Around the millennium, the cumbersome CDs and cartridges started to gradually disappear. Thanks to a special compression method developed by NNG, navigation software put on the market in 2006 could store a detailed full Europe map on a single 1 GB SD card, something that was impossible to imagine until that time. It helped to save an enormous amount of storage space on the head unit and was a complete breakthrough in onboard storage.  

Not science fiction – it’s the present 

In just 40 years, navigation without satellites has developed into a standard, even in low-cost cars, where you can have your route calculated by giving verbal instructions to the application, rather than manually entering your destination. Moreover, thanks to collaboration with innovative addressing company what3words, you can now also add your destination using three simple words, improving upon the traditional addressing system which can be limited by inaccurate location data.

The user experience has continuously improved, which in 2023 is a credit to the advance of software solutions, rather than hardware developments.

Want to see for yourself? Try out iGO navigation.

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