Tag Archives | GPS

Inside Volkswagen's Silicon Valley Gadget Lab

Volkswagen never wants you to forget that its cars are engineered in Germany–hey, its current slogan is “Das Auto.” But cool Web tools,  innovative gizmos, and digital entertainment aren’t exactly synonymous with German engineering. It’s Silicon Valley that’s the world’s headquarters for that stuff. And so it’s not that startling that much of VW’s work on new and future electronics, gadgetry, and interfaces happens at its Electronics Research Laboratory in Palo Alto, California, in close proximity to electronics engineering talent the company might want to hire and tech companies it might want to work with. The ERL is also a quick drive away from Stanford University’s Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Lab, where VW collaborates with university students and researchers on new technologies. (I wrote about VAIL’s self-driving Passat a few months ago.)

As part of VW’s press event for the 2011 Jetta, I took a tour of the ERL last week. Herewith, some photographic highlights.

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Glympse Lets You Share Your Location on Facebook

Glympse is a clever app for iPhone, Android, and Windows Mobile that lets you temporarily share your location via dynamically-updated maps that show where you are–but only for as long as you want them to. Until now, the obvious application for the services has been to alert family members, friends, and coworkers to your whereabouts–maybe because you’re on your way to meet them somewhere and might be late.

Now Glympse has added a nifty bit of Facebook Connect integration that lets you embed a Glympse map in your Facebook wall. You can choose to make it either a one-time indication of your location–which Glympse describes as being similar to a Foursquare check-in, although it seems only vaguely related to me–or an auto-updating map that shows your travels for up to four hours. (That restriction is in place so you don’t forget and let Glympse reveal your wanderings to the world without your knowledge.)

The Facebook integration makes Glympses a bit more public, and therefore a fun way to share vacations or other interesting travel. But I like the granularity of the control Glympse gives you: When you set up Facebook on your phone, you can set your Glympses to be shared with just friends, friends of friends, everyone, or several other settings–including “Just Myself.”

After the jump, a few images.

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Volkswagen’s Autonomous Car: Drivers Unneccesary

On Thursday afternoon, I went for a very short ride–maybe forty yards–in the back seat of a diesel Volkswagen Passat. Here’s why I’m writing about it on a site called Technologizer: The car had no driver. I was attending the formal dedication of the Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Lab (VAIL) at Stanford University–complete with a ceremonial ribbon cutting by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The car in question was Junior 3, a collaborative effort between VW and Stanford researchers.

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iTag: Finder of Lost Phones

iTag, which launched here at CTIA today, is a little like LoJack for lost or stolen Android phones. Or, to make a more relevant comparison, it’s a rough equivalent of Apple’s Find My iPhone, with a dash of location-based social networking tossed in for good measure –a service that can help you locate your phone or, if it seems to be gone forever, make sure that nobody else can get at your private data.

Among its features:

  • The ability to make your phone ring–even if its ringer is turned off–which is handy if you’ve simply misplaced the handset somewhere around the house;
  • A feature which detects if someone has inserted a different SIM card in the phone and then alerts you of that fact;
  • The ability to remotely lock the phone and delete data from it;
  • Over-the-air backup and restore of your contacts;
  • Simple location features that let you send your location via SMS to a contact, or request that someone send his or her location to you.
  • A feature (which you can disable) that alerts you when you’re near friends who are also running iTag.

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Nokia: Free Navigation for All!

That Nokia event I liveblogged Thursday morning? The cryptic invitation made it look like it might involve some major new product, which it didn’t. But it did bring some good news: The company is bringing free GPS navigation–for drivers, pedestrians, and takers of public transportation–to users of its Symbian-based smartphones. The navigation offering covers 74 countries, and lets you download the necessary maps onto your phone so you don’t need a live Internet connection to route your trip–a particularly useful feature if you’re roaming in another country where you don’t have all-you-can-eat data.

The Symbian user interface still has some odd, outdated artifacts–you must scroll through lists with Windows-like scrollbars, not by merely swiping the list itself–but the OVI Maps application looks full-featured and fun. Pedestrians get some particularly nice features, such as shortcuts that drivers can’t take, and there are 3D models of landmarks.

The no-cost navigation is an obvious rejoinder to Google’s version of Google Maps for Android–as seen on the Droid and Nexus One–which also includes navigation with spoken turn-by-turn directions for free. Let’s hope everybody else in the smartphone biz feels like they need to match the Nokia and Google freebies…

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TomTom Puts the U.S. on Sale

GPS kingpin TomTom, which released its much-awaited iPhone version back in August for $99.99, has a new version out today for $49.99. The difference? The original edition (which remains available) covered the U.S. and Canada, and the new one is U.S.-only. It may not technically qualify as a price cut, since you get less for your money. But it does feel like a telling reaction to the extreme price sensitivity in iPhone appland, as well as the arrival of cheap GPS apps such as MotionX ($3.99 to buy, then $3.99 for any month when you use it).

Next question: What happens to TomTom and Navigon and AT&T and Networks and Motion and even MotionX if Google brings its free version of Google Maps with turn-by-turn directions from Android to the iPhone?


Is TomTom Toast?

Tom Tom GPSAmong the bevy of interesting things about Verizon’s Droid smartphone is Android 2.0’s new version of Google Maps, which includes full-blown turn-by-turn GPS navigation with spoken instructions–for free. Judging from the couple of trips around San Francisco it’s guided me on so far, it would be pretty darn appealing even if it wasn’t a freebie–the directions worked, it speaks the names of streets in a crisper voice than AT&T Navigator sports on the iPhone, and I like the way it switches to a Street View photo once you’ve arrived at your destination.

Google says it’s working on bringing the new version of Maps to other devices. If it does, for-pay navigation applications will have to be radically better to compete, which is bad news indeed for all the companies charging for smartphone navigation apps–and probably even worse news for those who sell stand-alone handheld navigation devices. People are already spreading doom and gloom about the future of navigation stalwarts such as TomTom and Garmin.

There’s at least one form of dedicated navigation hardware that I hope doesn’t vanish: built-in car systems, which have nice big screens and, in some cases, user interfaces better designed for on-the-go use. And pilots, sailors, and other specialists will still want their customized GPS devices. But if we all get navigation that’s 90 percent as good as the best stuff out there for 0 percent of the price, it’s hard to see how many folks will justify paying for another gadget–especially one that may carry a monthly service charge.

Your take on the fate of GPS hardware, please: