But thanks to modern technology, men no longer need to 'fess up to their shortcomings on the road, or wander aimlessly hoping to stumble across a familiar street or the correct exit to get them back on track.
Global Positioning Systems (GPS) have made life on the highway easier to navigate, improved time management and made traveling less stressful for road warriors today. A key component of these and many other electronic devices is highly refined, ultrapure copper. Although individual GPS units do not contain a large amount of copper, they would not be able to perform critical functions without it. "Now that GPS has made personal navigation so easy and so accessible, there's no going backwards," says Robert Weed, a vice president of the Copper Development Association whose job is to work closely with original equipment manufacturers, including automotive component suppliers. "All of the auto manufacturers now offer built-in GPS as an option, and eventually GPS will be as necessary as every other vehicle control system. The day is not far off when computer-controlled traffic systems will become a reality, and GPS will be required to accomplish this." These portable, affordable and increasingly ubiquitous navigation systems communicate directly with a fleet of orbiting satellites to determine their location, velocity and time, 24 hours a day, regardless of weather or local geographic conditions.
Although developed for aerospace and military use, civilian GPS units have numerous applications, but are mainly used as navigation aids for driving, flying, sailing, fishing, hiking, running, biking and even golfing.
"No longer are you trying to decipher a route from an Internet map or having to stop for directions," says Ted Gartner, media relations manager for Garmin, a leading manufacturer of GPS devices. "All the maps you need to get from point A to point B are loaded into that box sitting on your dashboard. What's great about GPS is that it lets you know where you are and tells you how to get where you want to go."
Unlike a compass, which simply indicates geographic direction based on magnetic north, GPS receivers are sophisticated microprocessors that provide consumers with a wealth of valuable logistic information. Each electronic device contains a circuit board with several layers of copper that enable its various functions. Typically, Garmin's GPS devices contain about one to one-and-a-half ounces of copper, Gartner added.
Originally known as NAVSTAR (for Navigation Satellite Timing and Ranging), GPS was invented by the military and, as a result, the devices all continue to acquire their positioning signals from a network of satellites placed in orbit by the U.S. Department of Defense. When units were first introduced to consumers, they were intentionally less precise than military versions, but as their popularity grew, additional functions and increasing sophistication inevitably followed.
Today, a number of companies manufacture navigation systems for your car, your cell phone or countless other hand-held devices. Units installed in vehicles are now commonplace, offering a variety of wide-screen, voice-activated, preloaded street maps covering North and South America, Puerto Rico, Asia and areas throughout Europe. Some units offer additional features such as 3-D views, Bluetooth wireless capability, roadside assistance and real-time traffic updates. Most models provide software that allows users to update and expand navigation data online or through retail stores that sell the devices.
Garmin has sold over 31 million GPS units since consumer sales began to take off in 2007, and some 10.6 million units in just the first three quarters of 2008. TomTom, another global GPS manufacturer, expected to sell up to 12 million "personal navigation devices," or PNDs, worldwide in 2008, earning $2.4 billion in U.S. dollars.
"Whether you're in downtown Manhattan or traveling on a dirt road out in Kansas, the GPS works," Gartner says. "I like to compare GPS to the microwave phenomenon. When you have one, you soon wonder how you ever lived without it. It's a convenience more than anything."
Many GPS units now offer features that extend far beyond basic navigation. Some include directions to points of interest at any location, including restaurants, hotels, clubs, gas stations and even ATMs. Models sold for hikers include live Internet links to orienteering events and activities, and golf GPS units contain maps and hole-to-hole playing information for individual courses around the globe.
"It's so nice to have these features when you're in an unfamiliar place or going on a spur-of-the-moment travel," Gartner adds. "It gives you the opportunity to search for a hotel or restaurant in order of proximity and then call ahead so you can make reservations."
GPS products are sold online, through Web sites such as Amazon.com, and in consumer electronic retail stores. Prices range anywhere from $100 up to $1,000, depending on the make, model and features available.
While many consumers increasingly opt for portable devices they can carry or easily transfer from vehicle to vehicle, some companies see built-in navigation systems as an essential component of every automobile in the future. The TomTom ONE, a PND installed directly into a vehicle's dashboard, is the company's top-selling GPS device. TomTom recently announced a strategic partnership with auto manufacturer Renault to provide fully-integrated navigation systems in Renault models beginning in 2009.
According to TomTom, GPS devices deliver "content and services that enhance the core navigation experience for consumers. With the best maps, routing and safety features available, (users) safely travel the most efficient routes, most cost-effectively. In essence, we empower our customers to navigate like a local wherever they go."
So ladies, the next time you go for a drive with your man in an unfamiliar territory, consider carrying along a portable GPS if his car isn't equipped with one. And take comfort and satisfaction in knowing that, although it won't be your voice giving the directions, the automated voice he'll hear telling him which way to go will invariably be a woman's.
Contact: Danielle McAuley 212.251.7209