The touchscreen navigation/infotainment system in every new car or truck that some colloquially refer to as “the GPS” is technology that we take for granted today. But the road to today’s navigation touchscreens is a winding one marked by a trio of evolving technologies that developed over decades. It took a while before these innovations came together to ultimately doom the humble—not to mention difficult to read and refold—road map.
The next time you don’t know how to get somewhere and have to rely on maps embedded on your car’s display, you can thank the atomic clock, the satellite constellations powering actual global positioning systems, and the humble touchscreen.
I have the world’s worst sense of direction so GPS is literally crucial to me. I first used a Magellan system in a Hertz rental car 20 years ago and, while it was buggy, got me to my destination in Ohio from Nashville, TN and back with so little fuss (except for when I ignored it because I thought I knew better) that I almost wept with joy knowing my frustration with constantly being lost was almost over.