The Garmin DriveSmart 50 and a potted history of the sat nav


In-car satellite navigation systems – often shortened to ‘sat nav’ – have come a long way in three decades. But their development stretches back to 1909, when an engineer named J.W.Jones invented the Jones Live-Map in-car navigation system.

As reported by The New Yorker, the Live-Map was connected to a car’s odometer and consisted of a glass-enclosed dial, on which you could place a disk representing a particular trip.

The disk had mileage numbers around the edge, along with driving directions printed on the face. As you made your way along the road, the disk would rotate, telling you where you needed to go. In truth, it wasn’t all that good, but it laid the foundations for future development.

OnStar: born in 1966?

That said, the pace of development was surprisingly slow. The motoring world had to wait until 1966 for the next chapter in the history of the sat nav, when General Motors engineers designed a system called DAIR, or Driver Aid, Information and Routing.

DAIR relied on punch cards to provide information for basic turn-by-turn directions. The driver could ‘record’ a route with turns being represented as different gaps in the card’s surface. GM proposed a series of radio relay stations and magnetic sensors buried in roads, communicating everything from directions to road conditions and accident reports.

In many ways, DAIR was an early, albeit primitive version of the modern OnStar system, found in new Vauxhall models.

“Picture yourself on a long, lonely segment of highway,” said the research material distributed to GM personnel only. “It’s a rainy night, and you’re trying to stretch your gasoline to the next service station.

“Sure enough, the engine begins to stutter. You coast to the shoulder and stop. Your wife, who suggested a stop at the last town, gives you the special look she saves for such occasions. It’s a bad situation at best.”

GM promised motorists that DAIR could avoid such situations, but while the company’s ambitions must be applauded, it never really stood a chance. Just imagine how much investment would have been required to provide the necessary infrastructure.

The Electro Gyrocator


It was left to the Japanese to accelerate the growth in development. The brilliantly named Electro Gyrocator was launched as an optional extra in the Honda Accord in 1981, and is widely accepted to be the world’s first commercially available in-car navigation system.

Nine years later, the tech-laden Mazda Eunos Cosmo became the first car to be fitted with a built-in GPS-based navigation system, with Toyota another early pioneer of navigation systems.

The availability of GPS (global positioning by satellite) was the real turning point for in-car navigation. The technology was developed by the United States in the 1950s, with President Reagan making it available for civilian use in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, from a spare bedroom in Surrey, NextBase created the AutoRoute journey planner: a complete digital road map of Britain. For the first time, motorists had an alternative to the humble road atlas.

In the early days, in-car sat navs were the preserve of flagship motors, such as the BMW 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the Renault Safrane, which featured Carminat in 1995: a European CD-based system featuring a colour interface and 2D map not too dissimilar to the systems of today.

The birth of intelligent sat nav

Today’s systems are far more advanced. The Rolls-Royce Wraith, for example, uses GPS to select the right gear for an approaching corner. Meanwhile, Audi’s adaptive cruise control works with the navigation to select the appropriate pace for corners, junctions and speed limits.

After the turn of the millennium, the in-car navigation system came into its own. No longer the preserve of luxobarges, the availability of sat nav filtered down to humble superminis and city cars. There was a cost, of course, but there was also a choice.

The likes of Garmin, TomTom and Navigon flooded the market with aftermarket devices, the majority of which were considerably cheaper than the OEM systems. A manufacturer might have offered a system for a four-figure sum, while an aftermarket sat nav could cost a couple of hundred pounds.

For years, experts warned against splashing the cash on an expensive OEM system, arguing that it would be obsolete in a few years and you’ve never be able to recoup the cost when it came to resale.

Today, the lines are a little more blurred. Many motorists buy a car via a PCP deal, meaning the issue of obsolescence is no longer an issue. Equally, the growth of smartphone connectivity has meant that motorists already have the maps and apps required before they buy a new car.

Garmin DriveSmart 50: short review


Does this mean the end of the aftermarket sat nav system? Garmin doesn’t think so, which is why we were sent a DriveSmart 50 to review.

Truth be told, it’s been a while since we used an aftermarket sat nav. The majority of test cars are loaded up with gadgets, while we tend to rely on traditional maps when driving our own cars (for the true retro experience).

Garmin unveiled its latest range of sat nav systems at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2016, with the DriveSmart sitting just above the entry-level Garmin Drive.

The DriveSmart is aimed squarely at the smartphone generation, featuring customisable smart notifications that allow drivers to display calls, text messages and app notifications on the navigation screen.

Press the appropriate button on the screen and the Garmin lady will read your text, email or social update to you and anybody else travelling in the car. It’s a little like Apple CarPlay in this respect, although there’s no option to voice a reply to a text.

Other advantages of the DriveSmart over the basic Drive are the availability of a voice-activated navigation, Bluetooth for hands-free calling and real-time access to traffic and weather reports via a Smartphone Link app.

The 50 in DriveSmart 50 refers to the size of the screen – in this case five inches. If size matters and you fancy something a little larger, the DriveSmart is also available with six-inch (60) and seven-inch screen (70).

Garmin DriveSmart 50: what’s in the box?


In the box you’ll find the obligatory suction mount, 12v socket to mini USB charging cable, USB to mini USB charging cable and a few leaflets. There’s no manual, so you’ll have to find this online.

Be warned: although the DriveSmart 50 will operate straight from the box, you’ll need to download Garmin Express via the internet to take advantage of its features, not to mention the most current software. There’s no clear instruction to tell you this, just a diagram hinting that this might be the case.

Using a 60mb broadband connection and an iMac, it look less than an hour to install the required software and update the maps, but it’s worth bearing this in mind if you’re intending to use the sat nav before a long trip or a holiday. Update it first!

There’s a bewildering array of options to scroll through, including the vehicle icon to show on the map, driving map view, map detail, layers and audible driving alerts. But once you’ve established your ideal settings, you’re unlikely to feel the need to change them again.

Garmin DriveSmart 50: audible driving alerts


The audible driving alerts are a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand it’s good to be alerted to schools, animal crossing points, speed limits and bends, but it can also be incredibly annoying.

After three ‘bongs’ alerting you to various bends ahead, you will be reaching for the off button. Fortunately you can pick and choose the alerts you want. Our guess is that the majority of drivers will remove them all.

They’re not exactly consistent, either. On the rural roads of Dartmoor, we were warned about animal crossing points a number of times, but not once did it alert us about a school. Some consistency is required.

On the plus side, the voice control system is very good. Even with Ken Bruce chattering away in the background, the Garmin was able to recognise our commands and reacted accordingly. Again, you’ll need to spend a few minutes to set things up, but the reward is a reliable and intuitive system.

Garmin DriveSmart 50: maps and guidance


As you’d expect from Garmin, the maps and route guidance are very good. It’s easy to get carried away with the array of apps and smartphone integration, but the primary role of the DriveSmart 50 is to get you from A to B with the least amount of hassle.

Inputting a town or postcode is easy, not least because it features predictive text, while the voice control allows you to make changes on the move. A neat touch, and something you don’t often find on OEM systems, is its ability to provide street names as part of the instructions.

In other words, while the OEM system we tested alongside the Garmin simply told us to turn right, the DriveSmart instructed us to ‘turn right onto Rose Cottages’. Makes things a bit easier, especially in a built-up area.

It’s not perfect. On a few occasions, the estimated time of arrival was a little pessimistic, saying we’d arrive at our destination a full 10 minutes later than the actual ETA. Not a problem on a four-hour journey, but not great when the journey only took 25 minutes.

It also warned us about traffic delays that simply weren’t there. In fairness to Garmin, this problem tends to affect other systems, but it might result in a few needless diversions.

The screen itself is clear, if a little prone to reflections, while the maps are easy to use. Zooming and panning is simple thanks to ‘pinch and zoom’, although this can lead to a few smeary marks on the screen.

Garmin DriveSmart 50: clutter


In fact, an aftermarket sat nav probably isn’t the best choice if you’re not a fan of clutter or mess. With the Garmin attached to the windscreen, you’ll need to find a safe home for the trailing charging cable, while the suction mount will leave a circular mark on the glass when removed.

Being picky, we’d also like some kind of pouch or sleeve to keep the sat nav safe when not in use. We’re forever being told to remove sat navs from our cars when parked up, so some kind of protection would be handy.

Other gripes – which aren’t isolated to the DriveSmart 50 – include the fact that, unlike OEM systems, the volume of the stereo isn’t lowered when commands are being read out. Furthermore, the commands sound a little ‘tinny’ compared to the OEM sat navs which have the advantage of using the car’s speakers.

Garmin DriveSmart: conclusion

But with prices starting from under £150, it’s hard to argue with the Garmin DriveSmart 50. Our system is the more expensive 50LMT-D, which features lifetime map and traffic updates, along with UK, Ireland and Western Europe maps, and costs £189.99.

The OCD in us would prefer the simplicity and uncluttered convenience of an OEM navigation system, but when even the Media Nav Evolution on a Dacia Sandero costs £300, it’s easy to see the appeal of an aftermarket system.

Besides, the DriveSmart is as smart as the name suggests, with an ability to look at previous journeys to inform you if there are any expected delays on your daily commute. Features such as this will encourage you to continue using the system, rather than leaving it in the glovebox.

Equally, the free traffic and map updates for life will keep the DriveSmart current, long after after sat nav units have been condemned to that drawer containing all the other gadgets you’ll never use again.

One final point: for us, the jury is out on the whole notifications thing. While we can see the attraction of having texts, emails and social updates read out on the move, isn’t it just another distraction for drivers?

What’s more, without the ability to voice command a reply, isn’t there a temptation for drivers to pick up their smartphones and respond in real-time? At least with Apple CarPlay you can reply to a text message without touching your phone.

Thanks to Halfords for the loan of the Garmin DriveSmart.

BBCThe New YorkerGeneral Motors

Amazon Alexa BMW Connected

Amazon Echo already supported by BMW in the UK

Amazon Alexa BMW ConnectedWhen the Amazon Echo virtual assistant device ships in the UK (and Germany) later this month, early-adopters who own a BMW will find they’re immediately able to operate BMW Connected functions by their voice alone.

BMW has confirmed its integration with the Amazon Alexa virtual assistant technology will be functional from launch when the new Echo speakers launch in the UK – meaning British BMW owners are likely to number among the first buyers now Amazon has opened pre-orders here.

BMW Connected is a personal digital mobility assistant: via a so-called ‘Alexa skill’, Echo owners will be able to control it in their home via voice activation alone, in addition to the existing BMW Connected iPhone, Apple Watch and Android smartphone apps.

So what can you do? Use your voice, says BMW, to:

  • Check your BMW’s fuel level…
  • … Or your BMW i3 and i8’s battery charge
  • Lock and unlock the vehicle
  • Set sat nav destinations
  • Ask Alexa what time you need to leave in order to make your next appointment

You use it simply by speaking ‘Alexa, BMW’, followed by the question. Wondering if you have time for another round of toast and a coffee in the morning? Don’t bother checking your phone – simply say: “Alexa, ask BMW when I should leave for my next appointment”.

Which, you have to admit, is pretty cool.

BMW is the first car manufacturer to announce it’ll be fully integrated with Alexa in the UK: if you’ve an Echo device on pre-order for September 28th delivery, best get to your local BMW dealer double-quick to buy a car you can use it to talk to.

BMW 5 Series Remote View 3D

The new BMW 5 Series will let you watch over it from afar

BMW 5 Series Remote View 3DThis is the new BMW 5 Series, uncovered and in all its glory… albeit viewed from above by someone watching over it on an app.

So while this technically is a world reveal, it doesn’t tell us much about the car. What it does reveal is a cool new app BMW’s developed for new 5 Series owners – that lets them watch over their car from their smartphone.

Using the car’s 3D cameras, BMW looks to be letting owners watch the same reverse parking camera view seen on the iDrive screen via the BMW Connected app.

As this works ‘live’ when in use during reversing, it will also mean owners can watch almost-live overhead footage of their parked car, wherever they are in the world (it seems to let them refresh the image, which presumably instructs the cameras to turn on so it can take another screengrab). How cool is that?

There’s likely to be more: it’s probably going to be linked into the car’s alarm sensors and other detectors, so would be able to alert owners if it picks up something untoward. Someone trying to break into your BMW? Watch what’s going on via the app.

It may even record incidents if someone drives into it, which would also be smart. And, we’re sure, BMW has loads of other functionality built into this new app – perhaps allowing owners to isolate individual cameras to spy in more detail, for example.

For now the firm, literally, isn’t saying much: in revealing the image, it simply stated: “Always know what is happening around your vehicle.

“The next generation of the BMW 5 Series with the BMW Connected feature ‘Remote View 3D. Coming soon.”

Consider us eager to see more, BMW. Not least of the new 5 Series you’ve actually given the world debut to here…

Audi SQ7

New Audi suspension charges the battery as you drive

Audi SQ7Audi is developing a new type of suspension that replaces traditional suspension dampers with electromechanical ones – which have the ability to convert kinetic energy into electricity.

This means the suspension can generate power as the car drives along – from 3 watts on a smooth motorway to a hefty 613 watts on rougher roads.

In other words, the worse the road, the more electricity the car suspension generates. Which is much better than today’s systems says Audi AG technical board member Dr.-Ing Stefan Knirsch, which merely absorb energy and then lose it in the form of heat.

“With the new electromechanical damper system in the 48-volt electrical system, we put this energy to use.”

Audi eROT suspension

That’s not all the prototype new eROT system can do. As it’s actively controlled, it responds ultra-quickly to changes in the road surface, and can also allow suspension to be soft in compression but firm in rebound – comfort with control, in other words.

And as the electric motors that replace the traditional dampers are mounted horizontally, it means there’s no need for suspension turrets so the boot can be bigger.

Audi says it’s “certainly plausible” to use this new type of suspension in future production models – as it’s going public with it, you’d have to imagine it’s a near-certain. It does require cars to use high-capacity 48-volt electrical systems though, which the firm is rolling out for the first time next year (although todays Q7 already uses a 48-volt system in the suspension).

So, bets on the first Audi to have suspension that can charge the battery as you drive? The next-generation Audi A8? Watch this space.

Although we’re not fully sure eROT is an acronym that works universally, Audi…

Volvo IntelliSafe Auto Pilot interface

Video: How does a Volvo self-driving car work?

So how will self-driving cars actually work? This video reveals Volvo’s vision…

Lotus Cars

Lotus weighs up savings in a year of cuts

Lotus CarsLotus has revealed it’s cut a hefty 207kg from its model range in the past year alone, proving the spirit of founder Colin Chapman, whose mantra was ‘just add lightness’, is alive and well.

Significant weight savings include 70kg cut from the Lotus Evora Sport 410 over the already-honed Evora 400, 91kg from the Exige Sport 350 over the Exige S, while even the familiar Elise has benefitted from a weight reduction of 15kg.

It means even the heaviest Lotus model tips the scales at under 1,400kg – significantly lighter than even the lightest, supposedly-lightweight all-aluminium Jaguar F-Type, which in base 340hp V6 guise tips the scales at 1,537kg.

“To perfect a pure sports car, you must consider weight your enemy,” said Lotus CEO Jean-Marc Gales. “Lose weight and you will make significant gains: hard er and faster cornering, better braking, greater agility and responsiveness, along with faster acceleration.

“Colin Chapman famously said, ‘Adding power makes you faster on the straights, subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere,” and that thinking has become part of our DNA.”

Lotus Elise

As such, the inspirational new Lotus boss has, for the past few years, been running a so-called Lightweight Lab, where all Lotus models are stripped bare and each part analysed to see how to make it lighter. It’s this strategy that’s led to such significant ongoing savings.

Examples include the Lotus Exige Sport 350, where detail engineering cut the weight piece-by piece:

  • Louvred tailgate: -3kg
  • Redesigned gearshift mechanism: -3kg
  • Revised subrame: -3kg
  • Optimised body panels: -12kg

Optional carbon composite components cut another 30kg, giving the roadster a kerbweight of just 1,085kg – outrageous for a 350hp rear-drive sports car (and key to its impressive performance).

Lotus also points out its bonded aluminium chassis technology is still considered a benchmark in the automotive industry, more than 20 years since it was introduced.

Lotus Elise Chassis

Lightweight extrusions are bonded together with epoxy adhesive which means the ultra-strong chassis for the Elise and Exige weighs just 68kg. That’s half that of an equivalent steel chassis  – and, significantly, roughly the same weight as a carbon fibre chassis, despite being significantly cheaper and more adaptable.

Now, Lotus continues to find weight savings in the lightweight lab, with Gales coining the phrase, ‘the Lotus approach to light is right engineering’.

So, 207kg has been cut in a single year alone. How much more lightness can be added?

Volvo autonomous driver

1 in 2 new cars already have autonomous tech

Volvo autonomous driverDriverless cars may sound like tech for the future but new research from the SMMT has revealed 1.5 million new British cars are already fitted with semi-autonomous ‘driverless’ technology.

Such autonomous safety tech, which includes collision warning, adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking, takes over from the driving in safety-critical situations – and the tech behind it is also the same used by fully self-driving cars.

The new research thus shows the building blocks of the driverless car is already sitting on the driveways of 1.5 million new car owners. And uptake continues to grow.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said, “Fully driverless cars are still a long way off from everyday use, but this data shows advanced autonomous technology is already making its way into the majority of new cars.

“Connected and autonomous cars will transform our society – vastly improving safety and reducing congestion and emissions – and will contribute billions to the economy.”

Driverless car boom

Uptake of autonomous new car tech is rapidly growing. Five years ago, less than 7% of new cars sold featured a collision warning system either as standard or a fitted option. Today, that figure has grown to more than 58%.

More than 1 in 3 new cars has blind spot monitoring and more than 30% have adaptive cruise control.

Such autonomous safety tech will have a big impact on road safety. Research by the SMMT suggests that serious accidents could fall by 25,000 a year by 2030 – and 2,500 lives could be saved every year.

Autonomous tech will also give a huge boost to the economy, predicts the SMMT: the annual saving to consumers could be as high as £40 billion, it believes.

SEAT Samsung SAP MWC 2016

SEAT, Samsung and SAP create a Connected Car at MWC 2016

SEAT Samsung SAP MWC 2016SEAT has joined forces with SAP and Samsung to create a concept of the connected car of the future – and has showcased its technological innovations at Mobile World Congress 2016.

A ‘Connected Car’, a SEAT Leon X-Perience, has been packed with new tech that SEAT aims to have real-world usefulness – such as an app that allows the driver to reserve and pay for a parking spot without even leaving the car.

Similar to Samsung’s Pay platform in South Korea, the SEAT version is designed to incorporate SEAT’s ConnectApp and is operated by using fingerprint recognition.

SEAT Samsung SAP MWC 2016

Another technological system on display, the Digital Key, uses a Samsung smartphone as a car key.

It will also allow the driver to operate the air con and the windows remotely, but it’s most fascinating function is the ability to transfer authorisation of the car from phone to phone by creating a virtual copy of the car’s digital key.

A time limit is set on the duplicate key and when the timer runs out the sharing capability ends.

See SEAT’s Connected Car tech in pictures

There are plans to introduce a more advanced stage of the key, which would configure the car’s functions or performances such as setting a maximum speed or specifying the driving mode in order to get better fuel economy.

SEAT also announced that, in collaboration with Accenture, it has developed the concept of MY SEAT App, which seeks to explore the potential services opportunities of the Internet of Things (IoT).

The app will showcase functionalities including remote control of connected home appliances, replicate car dashboard warnings and alerts, and offer driving tips to increase performance, reduce fuel consumption and alerting the driver to unplanned car maintenance.

Skoda Wireless MirrorLink

At the same show, SEAT’s Volkswagen Group stablemate, Skoda, announced that it has teamed up with RealVNC to develop Wireless MirrorLink prototype technology.

The system is designed to allow the transfer of content from your phone to the car’s infotainment system, wirelessly, which is an improvement on the current MirrorLink system, which requires a cable.

Volvo Spotify app

Volvo’s new models will have built-in Spotify

Volvo Spotify appVolvo will be the first car company to fully integrate the Spotify music streaming service into all of its models without the use of a smartphone.

Making the announcement at Mobile World Congress 2016, Volvo said its new S90 and V90 models, which are both due to be released in the spring, will be the first to receive the service, along with the XC90 SUV.

Volvo has worked closely with the popular music streaming service to design a useable interface that does not require the use of a smartphone.

Currently, Spotify is only available by using Apple’s CarPlay and Bluetooth, both of which are available on newer Volvo models: the new service means music streaming even if (shock) you leave the smartphone at home.

Volvo announced that this feature will be available in all countries where Spotify is currently offered.

Ford’s SYNC 3 will be ‘very similar to a smartphone’

Ford’s SYNC 3 will be ‘very similar to a smartphone’

Ford’s SYNC 3 will be ‘very similar to a smartphone’

Ford will be revealing its third-generation SYNC communications system at next week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona – and it’ll let you check the weather on the move, find the nearest coffee shop, and even earn money by delivering packages.

Using an 8-inch touchscreen, SYNC 3 uses ‘conversational’ voice commands to provide assistance while driving. For example, the driver would just need to press a button and say ‘I need a coffee’ for the navigation to reset to a nearby coffee shop.

This could also be used to find petrol stations, car parks, airports and hotels.

Further features, such as the ability to record and share audio clips as well as check the weather on the move and earn money by delivering packages will be accessible via SYNC’s AppLink.

Ford of Europe’s Electronic and Electrical Systems Engineering chief engineer, Christof Kellerwessel, said: “With pinch-­to-­zoom and swipe gestures, plus the familiar one­-box­-search we know from internet search engines, SYNC 3 provides customers with an experience on the vehicle screen very similar to smartphone screens, and is easier and more intuitive.”

Drivers of 15 million vehicles worldwide already use Ford SYNC’s in-car features – and the company says it’s drawn on more than 22,000 comments to make SYNC 3 more user-friendly.

The process has been simplified, with navigation, audio and phone all easier to access with fewer steps required for each command. This will be welcome news to users of its current SYNC 2 system.

Kellerwessel added: “Whether you are craving your morning cappuccino on your daily commute or covering the cost of a journey by transporting a package, SYNC 3 brings to life innovative new ways of staying connected on the move.

“Designed to complement modern smartphones, with an intuitive touch screen, SYNC 3 understands more conversational speech, is faster, and offers an easier­-to­-read graphical interface.”

SYNC 3 will be compatible with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay – and will be capable of automatically receiving updates via your home’s WiFi network when your car’s parked in the garage.

The system will make its debut in the new Ford Kuga at MWC2016, with European launches taking place as soon as summer across Mondeo, S-Max and Galaxy models.