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12 Map Happenings that Rocked our World: Part 9

🌈 Abstract

The article discusses the Etak Navigator, the world's first practical vehicle navigation system, which was launched in 1985. It covers the key innovations and technical challenges behind the development of the Etak Navigator, as well as the history of the company and the people involved.

🙋 Q&A

[01] The Etak Navigator

1. What were the key innovations of the Etak Navigator?

  • The Etak Navigator introduced several groundbreaking innovations, including:
    • Augmented dead reckoning using map matching to overcome positioning errors
    • A "heading up", moving map display that proved highly intuitive
    • The first consumer device to introduce address search/geocoding
    • Efficient map data storage and retrieval algorithms
    • Heads-up digitizing for map production
    • The world's first high-volume digital map production system
    • The universal map navigation symbol used in all navigation apps today

2. What were some of the major technical challenges the Etak team had to overcome?

  • Lack of GPS availability and accuracy at the time
  • Overcoming inertial navigation errors from wheel sensors and compass
    • Solved through topological map matching
  • Efficient data storage and low latency on the cassette tape medium
  • Dealing with magnetic anomalies and inclines
  • Optimizing the system to run on the limited 8-bit Intel 8088 CPU

3. How did Etak create the digital maps used in the Navigator?

  • Etak had to build the maps from scratch, using USGS quadrangle maps as a reference
  • They developed a revolutionary "heads-up" digitizing system to efficiently map roads and attributes
  • The map production system ran on a VAX minicomputer and involved 24/7 digitizing operations

[02] The Etak Company

1. Who were the key people behind Etak?

  • Etak was founded by engineer Stan Honey, who was an expert navigator and had sailing records
  • Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari, provided the initial funding and vision for the company
  • Marv White, a map scientist from the US Census Bureau, led the highly efficient map digitization efforts

2. What happened to Etak after the launch of the Navigator?

  • The high cost of the hardware and installation made it difficult to build a sustainable business
  • Etak pivoted to licensing the navigation technology to automotive OEMs like Bosch, GM, and Clarion
  • News Corp's John Evans saw the potential and acquired Etak, integrating it with the "Jaguar" travel media project
  • After News Corp sold Jaguar, Etak was sold to Sony, then Tele Atlas, and is now part of TomTom

3. What is the origin of the name "Etak"?

  • Etak is a Polynesian term for the concept of moving navigational reference points, which was the basis for the Etak Navigator's approach.
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