A moibile phone-based navigator can do double duty, inside and outside a car ( Photo: SatNav Systems)
'Hi-tech roads, take me home!

 Satellite -based navigation technology in India,  gets  personal -- and increasingly  affordable.
You are alone, lost in   a strange city  and need  some help to get where you want  to  go?   Head  for the  nearest  paan shop or dhaba  and ask for directions,  right? Wrong.  That would be so yesterday.   
Today, you would  whip out a personal navigator from your pocket, enter details of  your present location, and your destination -- and follow  directions, on screen or through your earphone. These will guide you, street corner by corner, with a continuous update on how much further you have to go and how much time it will take,  if you are on foot, riding a bicycle or a  motor vehicle.
 Welcome to the world of Global Positioning System--based personal navigation,  a technology which has reached tipping point in India -- which means the rest of us can access  it, right here, at  a reasonable price -- not just  well heeled frequent fliers, who do their shopping in Singapore, Hong Kong and further afield.
 In recent weeks, two of the biggest  Indian  names  in the satellite-based navigation business have launched new models   that have  sharply dropped the asking price and subtly repositioned their offerings so that they will interest not just car owners  but  those who use bikes, autorickshaws -- or just walk.
 MapMyIndia  whose forte has been providing  digitized Indian map data for over 15 years,  has released the Lx130 'Light"  navigator,  a handy  device with a 3.5 inch touch screen  and  map information for over 400  Indian towns  and 800,000 kms of roads.  It is small enough ( and at  122 grams, light enough) to fit in a pocket or a ladies purse  but  can also be fixed on the dashboard of a car. It retails for less than Rs 12,000.
 The Hyderabad -based SatNav Technologies  has launched    the PND ( for Personal Navigation Device) Moov 300, with   a larger (4.3 inch) screen that doubles  as a calculator, photo viewer,  audio and video player. It has its own  all-India maps package bundled into its current  price of Rs 13,590.
 Also on offer, these days, are    software packages  which  enable mobile  smart phones to double as navigators... provided  the phone has a built-in  GPS receiver.  Such  solutions are   usually  offered in the form of  a monthly subscription that could be as low as Rs 250.   Realising  that the vast majority of  hand phones in India, might not be GPS-enabled, SatNav has an even more attractive solution: a  kit to add a GPS receiver to the phone.  The tiny device, the size of a thumb drive, can be plugged into the phone -- or even connected wirelessly if the handset has Bluetooth capability.   It costs about half of what one would pay for a stand-alone navigator.
 For India's burgeoning middle class for whom a hatch-back family vehicle  is increasingly affordable,  a friendly navigation tool for the car  has become a can-have accessory, much like a music system or an FM radio. And being able to  remove it  and share it  among family members who might travel by  different modes, is a powerful incentive to buy.   
 A new entrant in this market is Delhi-based GoGoIndia, whose G35 GPS car navigation system  offers 200 Indian city maps and 2 million points of interest, even as its built-in FM transmitter  routes  incoming mobile phone calls or the unit's turn-by-turn instructions to the car radio. It can be purchased online for Rs 13,499.  The promise of a sharply growing market for  personal navigators  has also seen, global  brands like Garmin and Bosch, set up retail chains in India for their GPS range.
'Made in India' solutions
 And beyond its potential as a market,  the world  may soon see another -- more innovative -- face of India  in the GPS navigation business: as a creator of world-class solutions. In recent weeks, the Pune-based Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) has  unveiled a home-grown mobile navigation solution, "Saarathy", which  extends the reach to Indian languages like Hindi and Malayalam and also tweaks the basic  technology so that it can be used  for sending emergency SOS messages to police, hospital  -- or from children to their parents.
 A Bangalore product developer, iWave Systems,  has   created what is arguably the world's  tiniest GPS receiver module, just 7 mm thick and weighing less than 25 grams  -- which  might enable    mass consumer mobile  phone and pocket PC makers to adding navigational capability in much the same way that they now feature built-in cameras or FM radios.
'Country roads, take me home,  to the place, I belong', sang John Denver in an earlier age. Today's  earthier, city-bound  young, might well leave it to their pocket GPS navigators to do the job, in double quick time./ Sep 7 2009
A shortened version of this   story appears on page 51 of  the current ( Sep 13 2009) issue of “The Week” ( www.the-week.com )