Is GPS a Good Thing on the Back Roads of Maine?

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OK, we've all heard the story: a driver installs a new GPS in his car and while following directions in detail, drives into a river when the road dead ends at the river bank. Ah, technology.

Now, we all know computers are logical, right? They never make mistakes. We've come to trust our new-fangled technology so much it's become a part of us. Working as I do testing software and finding errors, I know how error-ridden computer programs can be. Technology is only as good (or bad) as the humans who create it.

Case in point: It's a nice summer day, with afternoon downpours threatening. I'm working away in my home office, surrounded by my "office mates" (read cats) when the doorbell rings.

mmmwwwwaaaaaaaaahhhh, mmmmmwwwwaaaaahhhhh (Think fog horn, or Addams Family door bell. No really -- that's our doorbell. )

The cats scatter and I head for the kitchen door where I see a young woman and her dog. She introduces herself (we'll just call her "George") and explains she needs help. She was following her GPS which told her to follow the road past our house to connect to another road further north. The SUV she was driving got stuck in the mud on this "connecting road" and her cell phone didn't work and could she call for a tow truck?

Let me explain here that this "connecting road" is not a road at all. It is nothing more than an unpaved old logging road that I've only seen correctly described as a "jeep trail" on USGS printed maps. Few locals use this road, and then only to reach fishing spots on Egypt Pond. There are actually spots where small streams cut across the road.

The tow truck was called and my wife and I had a nice chat with "George" while we waited. When the truck arrived, I used my trusty printed map to show where the trail went. Turned out, the standard tow truck wasn't built for jeep trails either, and the driver had to bring a different truck to pull the SUV out of the mud. "George" drove back to our farmhouse to return the map I lent her, and I was amazed to see mud splattered over the windshield. I think "George" will think twice about trying an SUV on the logging roads of Maine.

Well, just the other day, early in the morning, the doorbell rings. This time it's an older gentleman, with "Sheriff's Office" printed on his jacket sleeve. He also was following his GPS down the logging road, but quickly realized the station wagon he was driving would never make it. Seeing our lights on, he decided to ask for directions. I pulled out my trusty map and explained to him how he'd have to drive five or more miles around to get to where he wanted to go.

So we know there are flaws in the GPS data. But what about Google maps online? Surely such a technologically savvy company would put all its resources into getting its maps right? Wrong. Google also shows this as a drivable road. Makes you wonder how error-filled all these "new" electronic maps really are...

So, all I can say to this experience is, while GPS is great if you live in a city or town, don't trust it as much as you may want to, once you're off the main roads. And never throw away those printed maps just because you bought that really expensive electronic mapping system. It may cost you more than you think.....

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This page contains a single entry by JeffAdminist published on January 21, 2009 12:07 AM.

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