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Road Maps: Drivers Get Digital Choice

By March 13, 2009No Comments
Alan Beckford, General Manager of the Jamaica Auomobile Association (JAA), discusses the Garmin Nuvi Global Positioning System navigation device on Thursday, March 5.

‘Getting lost is half the fun’ of getting to know the island, Margaret Morris advised in her 1988 book, ‘Tour Jamaica’.

That ‘fun’ can now be optional with the launch of a new digital road map of the island by Mona GeoInformatics Institute (MGI) on Thursday. This offers a major upgrade for the island’s drivers, says Alan Beckford, General Manager for the Jamaica Automobile Association (JAA), against the background of the launch at the University of the West Indies.

“It is introducing something light years ahead of regular maps,” Mr. Beckford said. The JAA is now distributing Garmin Global Positioning System devices on which the map of Jamaica will be loaded in a partnership arrangement.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a global satellite navigation system. It uses microwaves from satellites to triangulate locations, also allowing GPS receivers to determine their time and velocity.

“Historically we used to give our members paper maps,” Mr. Beckford stated. With technological changes, this has now been superceded by GPS navigation

The introduction of GPS is one aspect of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology which has quietly revolutionised major aspects of Jamaican life. Dr. Parris Lyew-Ayee, Director of MGI, stated in a recent study, that the technology has been used to map land, roads, vegetation cover, and other important data used to manage the island’s natural and man-made resources.

Different government departments have adopted GIS, which now forms an integral part of many of their operations, Dr. Lyew-Ayee stated. It has, however, not had much impact on the wider society outside government and some business activities.

“This is due mostly to the cost of large scale GIS implementation by smaller firms and the relatively high skill level required to operate such a system,” the MGI Director stated.

The new navigation system is intended to address that deficiency.

“It will use GPS signals to pinpoint your current location on the island and provided turn-by-turn directions to your destination,” said Mrs. Shereen Jones, General Manager of Management Control System, the island’s sole authorized dealer of Garmin products. Garmin is a global leader in GPS systems.

“Mona Geoinformatics has included all the police stations and hospitals on its map database,” she said. In addition it has hotels, gas stations, theatres and quite a few restaurants already loaded on the maps.
The device guides drivers from their existing location to where they wish to go by verbal instructions. The driver can set the system to automatically select the shortest route or choose alternate routes from the default setting.

A feature of the system is that it will enable the user to locate the closest hotel or other point of interest. Users will also be able to input as many as 1,000 of their own favourite points of interest such as schools or clubs.
Jamaica does not have a standardized street address system so drivers will be able to locate streets rather than individual addresses, Mrs. Jones indicated. Directions will be available straight to the specific points of interest however.

The ordinary driver will be able to travel around the island with greater confidence, Mr. Beckford said. “There will be fewer people getting lost.”

It will allow for greater efficiencies for those with fleets of vehicles as some units facilitate auto selection of the most effective route among multiple stops. Trip reports can also be saved and used to determine whether schedules and routes are being maintained.

Additionally, while traversing the island can be difficult for Jamaicans, it can be even more so for tourists. The new GPS tools will make it easier for them to get around.

The full range of Garmin products will be made available locally, Mrs. Jones said. This includes products specially geared to serve the needs of hikers, bikers, runners, fishermen and regular motorists.

“A good road map is an essential tool for drivers,” Mrs. Morris had stated in ‘Tour Jamaica’. Mrs. Jones said the new navigational technology could be regarded as offering Jamaicans an even better road map.