On board navigation systems have been on the market for a few years now, after being pioneered by Oldsmobile. Consumer acceptance was slow at first, but as the merits and concept begin to reach the mass market new players are coming on board. Acura has been hard at work developing a state of the art navigation system, which is now offered in their top of the line 3.5RL series.
Powered by a 32-bit RISC microprocessor and featuring a 6 inch color LCD screen, the Acura system is really neat. Permanently mounted in the center console and accessible by either the driver or passenger, the Acura set up is a clear step ahead of the freestanding units we've seen before. Data is stored on a standard PCMCIA rewriteable, removable hard disk drive, which offers fast performance at the expense of the convenience of CD-ROM based memory systems. The Global Positioning sensor pulls in the satellite signals and receives GPS data accurate to 300 feet. An on board gyroscope and a speed sensor complete the system and supply data on vehicle turns and movements.
Acura's system offers 2 modes of display - map and guide. The map system can be viewed at seven levels of scale with scrolling capability at each level. Currently available maps cover all of California, with detailed city maps for San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego. A Las Vegas map is in there too, just in case you need to cruise over there. Updates will be coming every 90 days and the plan is to have the entire US on board someday. The maps are quite good, showing each street clearly named and many points of interest as well. When in map mode vehicle position and movement are tracked in real time.
Guide mode is a destination oriented key which shows a close up of vehicle location and offers visual and automated voice cues to guide you to a punched in destination. You can key in destinations any one of six ways; by address, by intersection, by place (comprehensive data base of restaurants, businesses, landmarks, hotels etc. is built in), by previous destination (the system remembers the last 20 destinations), by a PIN code locked private address book (2 available) or by manually selecting a destination on one of the maps. The guide system allows four methods of route calculation, most direct, easiest, minimize freeways or minimize toll roads. In case of mistakes the system can quickly recalculate the best way to return to course.
In my brief experience with the Acura system, I found it easy to use, extremely accurate and having a very clear readable display. Sure beats asking that stranger which way to go. Available now at as a $2000. option. I can assure you this is no silly toy.