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Navigational Devices

Tom Tom GPS

What is a GPS navigation system?

GPS stands for Global Positioning System.  It was originally designed for use by the U.S. Department of Defence using orbiting satellites to transmit precise microwave signals and in the 1980’s it was released for civilian use. GPS devices pinpoint your location and enable the user to navigate to a desired destination the user has entered into the device.

Some cars and 4WD vehicles come with a factory installed GPS but portable devices are also available.  The GPS system consists of GPS receiver, a map data base, and processor to calculate the route as well as the travel time and distance.  The screen displays the map, latitude and longitude (information from orbiting satellites), the route instructions and the speaker to provide the audio instructions.
Garmin Handheld GPS In-car GPS In-car GPS


Whilst the devices are fairly accurate it is necessary to look at the visual information displayed on screen and not rely solely on the audio directions as the device does at times briefly loose connection with the satellite.  Also roads displayed on some maps have changed and have yet to be updated.  The Australian map data is generally updated once a year and these updates can be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website or purchased from a retailer.  The satellite connection can also be lost or affected by tall buildings, forests or when travelling in tunnels. 


GPS external aerial or antennae Connection can be improved by installing an external aerial or antenna.  Some of these aerials come with a magnetic strip to clamp it to the body of the vehicle and an attaching cable that can be fed back through the vehicle door or window to the GPS device.

The GPS display screen may also double for the screen for a reversing camera if one is to be installed.

Programs such as Destinator, Navman and TomTom are available for installation in pocket PC’s or PDA’s but you may likely need to buy a larger memory card to facilitate this.

Navman GPS

For planning trips and 4WD excursions it is often easier to get the ‘big picture’ first by using paper maps as scrolling across a number of computer screens is often confusing.  See article on Mapping (paper maps)

Google Earth can also be used to view an area in photographic form.

VMS Touring Navigator GPS One GPS system worth looking at, although at the higher end of the market, is the VMS Touring Navigator which not only navigates around town but also rural areas, including the outback.  The VMS Touring Series uses 2009 Where IS for street navigation and iTOPO topographical maps with 4WD tracks, caravan parks and campsites are an optional extra. 

The VMS Navigation features also include spoken street names, lane information to assist you with the correct lane you need to be in for the next turn (which is really helpful when you are towing a caravan), auto routing, 3D landmarks, over speed warning and points of interest.  Map upgrades are available every 12 months.

The VMS in-dash A.V.N.C 3000 features off-road topographical 4 x4 GPS, Bluetooth Handsfree, FM/AM radio, Digital TV tuner, SD card & USB input as well as DVD/CD/mp3 player and iPod integration control.  You can also elect to upgrade the system with reversing cameras for the vehicle and caravan with the Touring 500 able to display up to 2 camera images automatically.  The 4 GB SD card can also be upgraded for an 8 GB SD card.

The VMS A.V.N.C range has preloaded Hema 4x4 maps (1:250,000) and will accept other maps down to 25:000.  If a map is not in digital form it can be manually scanned by the user and uploaded to the SD card ready for use. Routes and waypoints can also be plotted.

Digital Mapping

Digital mapping is defined as the process of storing and displaying map data in digital form (to store and retrieve on a computer).  These digital image files can be downloaded off the internet or purchased from publishers who produce maps by way of CD or DVD for larger files.

Laptop Computers

When navigating locally an in-car navigation or PDA device may be fine but in regional areas to get a bigger picture you may need a large laptop screen.  The screen size will obviously limit the amount of terrain you can view.  The laptop screen may be best used for planning your trip the night before and even printing off a colour map using the ‘zoom’ feature because driving with a laptop on your lap can be very tiring and some units will not stand up to the rough ride.  Also, the laptop screen can also be difficult to read in strong sunlight. 


PDA GPS NavmanWhat is a PDA?

PDA is short for ‘personal digital assistant’ which is a hand held device that may combine computing, internet, telephone and networking features.  A PDA incorporates a handwriting recognition feature and so input is by a stylus (writing utensil similar to a ballpoint pen) rather than a keyboard.  Some PDAs have voice recognition technology so they can react to voice input.

In-car Laptop Mount

PDA - personal digital assistant

PDAs are often called hand held computers, pocket computers or pocket PCs and its main purpose are to act as a personal organiser.  The latest devices can run multimedia software, connect to the internet and act as a GPS.  Cell phones or mobile phones now come combined with PDAs.

Any data and programs you add to the PDA are stored in the devices random access memory (RAM).  The more resources required the more RAM is required so many PDAs accept removable flash media add on cards.

It is recommended you use an SD (Secure Digital) card for map storage instead of the internal memory of the PDA as this will leave more free space for other programs.

PDAs are powered by batteries and the life of the battery depends on the model and its features.  Many PDAs come with the option for adaptors to connect to standard household power and/or your vehicle 12V.  Backing up your PDA is very important because you can lose all the data in RAM if all power sources are depleted.

One such device is the Garmin iQue 3600 combining GPS and mapping.  The manufacturer states some of its features are a flip-up integrated GPS antenna, speaker for voice–guidance commands and the capability of loading any Garmin Mapsource product for Australia, Europe, South Africa or USA.  It comes with a CD rom with City Navigator Australia which shows detailed street information for metropolitan and provincial towns plus all rural roads throughout Australia.

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