Ideas For Navigation Systems

I know roads. I am acutely sensitive to many things about them that normal people are not. Riding my bicycle every day gives me a chance to reflect on the dreadful condition of the streets of my neighborhood. It's not merely inconvenient for me, unless it is not too much of an understatement to say that being dead is inconvenient. There's one place, for example, where a freeway off-ramp merges into a high speed surface street going down a hill. About 18" from the edge of the road, about exactly where a cyclist would be is a parallel crack about 2 inches wide running the entire length. If you get your wheel caught in that in the wrong way at the wrong time - life ends. I play this game every day. I take road surface topology extremely seriously.

On my route I know every crack, bump, dip, pothole, storm grate, man hole cover, uneven pavement, curb, cateye, stripe, puddle, patch of gravel, oilslick, and gutter. I do a fair job of avoiding hazards, but sometimes I get caught. About a month ago I had my front wheel fall into a deep crack in the road and it twisted the bike and dropped me on the ground. Strangely I was actually going up hill at the time and it wasn't a serious fall.

Thinking of my large internal database of road surface defects, I came up with an interesting idea for on board GPS navigation systems. Although bad roads are a life and death issue with cyclists, even driving a car bad roads are a severe annoyance. Why not have the GPS systems help you drive smarter with respect to road surface issues?

Basically the way it would work is that a GPS system would need to be communicating with a central server. My friend, Seth, works for a company that has just such a product designed primarily to report back on traffic conditions. No matter what, this technology can't be too terribly prohibitive these days and soon everyone will have it trivially in their cell phone. Thanks to the accelerometers found in certain modern mass produced items like hard drives (they tell the drive to park the head when it's moved suddenly to prevent disk corruption in portable devices) this kind of technology is cheap and easy.

Basically your car would just drive along and as you hit pot holes and drainage dips, etc., your GPS would report that back to the central server which could be compiling a rather accurate profile. Eventually, you could ask your GPS computer to plan the best route for you that involved the quickest way *or* the smoothest. This concept need not stop with bumps but could also apply to curves allowing you to seek out the least curvy road or the opposite if you're testing your new motorcycle tires.

Another interesting similar idea is that you can rate your drive when you arrive. In other words, did you feel that the drive was decent? The computer could then start compiling profiles of areas that can be inferred to cause dissatisfaction. Then the computer can be instructed to produce the "best" drive. Collaborative filtering could be used so that the curve-favoring people got the same advice as each other, but the opposite advice of the people tending to not enjoy curves.

I'm also working on installing a roof rack on my car. I remember once driving with bikes on the roof of a car and hitting one of those swinging bars at a parking garage. Now I'm pretty paranoid about forgetting about my bikes and driving into something stupid. This is another area that the GPS computers could help with. You could tell it specific points that you know about (which it could share with others) and it could then remind you about the bikes. So for example if your garage is too short for the bikes, when you put them on the car, you can tell the computer that and as you approach it, it will remind you. Easy to do. Slightly harder is hooking that up with a database of all fast food restaurants so the computer can say, "I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you go through the drive through."

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