Taking the Pain Out of Getting Lost

Picture this: You're on your way to a sales demonstration, service call or an executive meeting, when you suddenly realize you've taken a wrong turn somewhere. As the clock ticks and your body heat rises, you're forced to spend 20 minutes asking directions from locals at a gas station, and 20 minutes backtracking to where you're supposed to be. There's nothing unfamiliar about this scenario but will it ever be unavoidable?

Enter Airbiquity and Televigation. The two companies recently demonstrated their new GPS-enabled, voice-activated, location-driven application for wireless users. The product is in beta testing mode and is expected to launch in the second quarter of 2001. According to Mark Musick, director of product management for Airbiquity, location capability is delivered via Airbiquity's GPS accessory, which is embedded in some wireless phone batteries. The technology is currently available in Nokia phones and the two companies are in negotiations with other manufacturers, including Motorola and starTac. Owners of older phones can purchase new batteries that are GPS-enabled.

H. P. Jin, president and CEO of Televigation, says that the new technology enables users to access turn-by-turn driving directions based on their actual location. The computer-generated voice announces upcoming turns well in advance and reminds the driver to turn just as he or she gets to the street. If the driver misses a turn, the application automatically calculates a new route to the destination. "It has the same capability as GPS, and since it is your mobile phone, it is with you all the time already," he explains. "Because the system is online, we can include traffic updates in the directions.

"The best thing is, it is all voice-activated. The driver does not have to punch in numbers or codes, he or she can just say what information is needed. If the driver has a headset, then the entire process is hands-free."

The application is also useful for mobile workers who know the city but who still need help finding the best route. "A mobile field force travels to a lot of points," says Jin. "We can optimize the routes, telling them if Point 'A' to Point 'B' to Point 'C' is the best or if the driver should call on the stops in a different order based on traffic conditions. It is dynamic, not static."

Drivers also can receive verbal instructions to nearby businesses, including gas stations, restaurants and ATMs. Airbiquity has agreements with AAA to provide a GPS-enabled battery pack to Auto Club members, says Musick. "When the user calls AAA from the handset, the call taker at AAA can summon roadside assistance, if needed, or provide nearby points of interest."

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