It's 9 o'clock in the evening, you're in an unfamiliar part of town, and you've run out of cash.
No problem. Just type a request to find the nearest ATM into your auto navigation device, and the computer establishes the quickest route there, based on distance and posted speed limits. You are then guided turn by turn via directions on the screen, as well as by voice prompts.
Such technology, held up for years by cost and reliability, is starting to make a move and two local companies, Magellan Corp. of San Dimas and Monrovia-based IVS Inc., are in the forefront.
"As the market scales up and prices scale down, I expect consumer demand (for in-car navigation systems) to increase steadily over the coming years. At some point, the GPS navigation systems will move out of the aftermarket and be offered as an option directly from the car manufacturer," said Joshua Harari, senior investment officer for S & P; Equity Group.
GPS stands for Global Positioning System technology, which uses a network of satellites to pinpoint the exact location of a car equipped with a special antenna.
Cars are just the most recent application for GPS products, which the United States GPS Industry Council says will create an $8.5 billion industry nationwide by 2000. GPS has been most widely sold for military, commercial aviation and commercial nautical uses. The second-largest use, Harari said, has been for recreation, after hand-held GPS units dipped below $100. Hikers and boat owners take the systems with them not only as an orienteering tool, but also a safety device.
Japan started the push for auto navigation systems in 1990 and now leads the market. But the United States is catching up; in North America, the number of vehicles with navigation devices is expected to double to about 15 percent between now and 2000, according to the Electronics Industries Alliance Market Research Center.
Magellan, which recently merged with Sunnyvale-based Ashtech Inc. and last year acquired Rockwell's commercial GPS division, reported that domestic sales of its "PathMaster" in-car navigation units could hit $3 million this year, up from just $40,000 in 1997.
That growth rate towers over the 30 percent rate of growth Magellan is seeing for its industrial and hand-held navigational products, although they currently constitute a larger share of Magellan's sales.
"GPS was originally created for government and airline applications, but now consumers are driving the industry," said Magellan President Chuck Boesenberg. "So-called smart cars with such features as collision avoidance are still five to 10 years out, but the navigational systems are available now."
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