‘Sat-nav could mean we lose our way’

Satellite navigation is a common feature in many cars, but is it harming our sense of direction?

Satellite navigation is a common feature in many cars, but is it harming our sense of direction? - Credit: PA ARCHIVE IMAGES

Basic navigation skills are under threat because of our increasing dependence on sat-nav technology, a leading expert has claimed.

Satellite communication consultant Roger McKinlay, former president of the Royal Institute of Navigation, believes the world is losing its way due to over-reliance on navigation aids.

Writing in the journal Nature, he argues navigation and map reading should be on the school curriculum.

'If we do not cherish them, our natural navigation skills will deteriorate as we rely ever more on smart devices,' he warned.

Navigation had 'invaded our dreams of the future' with predictions of fleets of driverless cars and swarms of drones delivering goods to people's homes. He doubted such visions would ever become a reality given the inherent fallibility of navigation technology.

'Satellite navigation is unreliable because it does not work well indoors or in built-up areas,' he said.

The way innate navigation skills were eroded by technology had been demonstrated by simulator studies, he explained.

Most Read

'Drivers in a simulator who follow satellite navigation instructions find it more difficult to work out where they have been than those who use maps.

'Instructed drivers also fail to notice that they have been led past the same point twice. Mountain rescue teams are tired of searching for people with drained smartphone batteries, no sense of direction and no paper map.'

With 80% of the world's adult population likely to own a smartphone by 2020, access to satellite navigation was 'ubiquitous'.

More satellites were being launched to improve coverage. By 2020, 20 orbiters from the European satellite navigation system Galileo would compliment the US Global Positioning System (GPS) and Russian GLONASS network. China had just launched the 21st satellite in its BeiDou system.

However, navigation is about 'more than knowing your position', he stressed.

'Newspapers regularly pick up 'sat-nav' disaster stories – such as a lorry bound for the Mediterranean that arrived at Gibraltar Point near Skegness in the United Kingdom,' he said. 'A sense of direction, a sense of scale and a map are essential.'

People had to realise that digital navigation tools rely on expensive satellites or ground stations and that machines know where they are, not the best way to get to a destination.

Mr McKinlay added: 'Schools should teach navigation and map reading as life skills.

'Navigation is where complex systems meet capable users.'

Are we losing our ability to read maps? Have you had a sat-nav disaster? Email motoring@archant.co.uk

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter