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Expert Comment: Mapping the future of Sat Nav

Sat_Nav_Times_Square_165_x_200 Wednesday 25 April 2012

Dr. Janet Speake, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Geography at Liverpool Hope University

Sat Nav technologies are becoming part of everyday life and, in the form of in-vehicle systems and Sat Nav enabled smart phones, are increasingly used by a wide range of people for travel and journey planning. Sat Nav technologies are marketed as a simple electronic wayfinding tool and represent a substantial diversification in the (re)presentation of cartographic information. Sat Nav offers visual and audio representation of a route and an alternative means of navigation.

Some of the disadvantages of Sat Nav use are well-reported – distractions generated by the system, dependency on out-dated cartographic information and overreliance on the technology. The first Sat Nav Summit in London convened by the UK government (Department for Transport) in March 2012 started to tackle some of these most obvious issues of Sat Nav use. In particular, it has highlighted the need to reduce the likelihood of drivers taking inappropriate routes while using Sat Nav and also the necessity to keep the underpinning digital mapping up-to-date and affordable.

However, there is much more to Sat Nav use than stereotypical associations with navigational blunders. Sat Nav is intrinsically changing people’s wayfinding behaviours, processes and practices of navigation. More fundamentally Sat Nav is changing our understanding of what ‘maps’ are and do.  Research by Axon, Speake and Crawford (2012) demonstrates that Sat Nav is not viewed, or used in the same way as more traditional technologies of navigation. Significantly, the digital spatial representations of Sat Nav are not viewed as ‘maps’ (in the same way that traditional paper-based maps are) but as something different and distinctive. There is also a clear preference for the use of Sat Nav over ‘traditional’ maps and emerging concerns that the use of Sat Nav may well have negative consequences on spatial awareness and cartographic literacy. The cartographic and spatial impacts of Sat Nav use are substantive enough to warrant much further exploration.

Axon, S., Speake, J. and Crawford, K. (2012) ‘At the next junction, turn left’: attitudes towards Sat Nav use, Area DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01086.x

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01086.x/abstract

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