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 )