News Item

Technology threatening navigation skills

Past-President Roger McKInlay features in much of today's press as he warns of over-reliance on navigation aids.

Roger explains that dependency on technology is putting our basic navigation skills under threat. Describing navigation as a 'use-it-or-lose-it' skill, he warns 'If we do not cherish them, our natural navigation skills will deteriorate as we rely ever more on smart devices.'

He adds that navigation had 'invaded our dreams of the future', with predictions of fleets of driverless cars and swarms of drones delivering goods to people’s homes. But he doubted whether these visions would ever become a reality, given the inherent fallibility of navigation technology.

It has been demonstrated in simulator studies that innate navigation skills have been eroded by technology 'Drivers in a simulator who follow satellite navigation instructions find it more difficult to work out where they have been than those who use maps. Instructed drivers also fail to notice that they have been led past the same point twice.'

Roger explains that mountain rescue teams are tired of searching for people with drained smart phone batteries, no sense of direction and no paper map; yet, with 80% of the world’s adult population likely to own a smartphone by 2020, access to satellite navigation was becoming 'ubiquitous'. By then, there should be 4 global satellite systems operating - GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou and Galileo.

Roger stresses that navigation is about 'more than knowing your position . . a sense of direction, a sense of scale and a map are essential.'

He adds 'Mobility will not become intelligent unless we break two bad habits:
- First, we must recognise that digital navigation tools do not come for free. They rely on expensive infrastructure - satellites or ground stations - that governments have to pay for;
- Second, we should make better use of our innate capabilities. Machines know where they are, not the best way to get to a destination. It might be more reliable to employ a human driver than to program an autonomous car to avert crashes.

Roger concludes: 'Schools should teach navigation and map reading as life skills. The introduction of computers and calculators has not removed the need to understand numbers. Navigation is where complex systems meet capable users.'

Our Past President has appeared on television and radio today, with his article in the journal 'Nature' also quoted in much national and international press. It can be found at the Nature link below . .

  • 31 March 2016
  • RIN

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