Tag Archives: satnavs

Get lost Tom-Tom

When learning The Knowledge, maps were indispensable. A huge A-Z was pinned to the wall, enabling one to pin two places and running a cotton between them to find the shortest route. A pocket-sized Collins Superscale, with its vast index, was essential when riding around London. I even possessed a map which showed every illegal left and right turn, and another with famous buildings drawn upon it at the appropriate spot.

[S]O IT WAS WITH CONCERN I recently heard of a current Knowledge boy using today’s technology upon his scooter. He proudly displayed a compass the size of an orange, a traditional Knowledge board, an iPhone running Memory Map, multiple action camera points, a global tracker linked to his Mac back home and a 12inch iPad Pro in the back box.

So what’s wrong with using a SatNav to negotiate oneself around London? Well, everything apparently. We are particularly good at developing ‘mental maps’ of an area, which improve with use.

Research has found London cabbies had an enlarged hippocampus in the brain, developed from its excessive use is nothing new. In the 1940s, the psychologist Edward C. Tolman used rats in mazes to demonstrate that ‘learning consists not in stimulus-response connections but in the building up in the nervous system of sets which function like cognitive maps’.

When exploring an area, without a SatNav getting your attention, we perceive landmarks, remembering their position along the route and the spatial relationship between the streets. The brain stores this in the form of a mental map and has the ability to overlay each spatial map upon another, thereby giving the traveller confidence to find shortcuts, detours or just a favourite scenic route.

Julia Frankenstein of Darmstadt Technical University in Germany had 26 residents from Tübingen navigate a 3-dimensional model of their town wearing head-mounted displays. They were then asked to point to well-known locations not visible from their current position. Incredibly all participants were more accurate indicating the direction when facing north; the very start point on most maps, and were less accurate when facing further away from that direction.

In Japan walkers using GPS got to their destinations more slowly than those using a conventional paper map. The GPS users experienced a reduced sense of place. As humans we have to face the fact that mentally we are lazy, most would rather watch TV’s diet of drivel than engage in understanding a programme titled Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.

Our brain tries to decrease the amount of information being stored, which, of course, is the appeal of GPS. But surely it’s better to have an understanding of our place within the urban environment. Just around the corner could be an exquisite building just waiting to be explored, or a small green space to get solitude.

While others are looking at a blue dot superimposed upon a crude map on their phone, and because of the high buildings in the vicinity, it’s giving them an inaccurate signal telling them they are standing in the middle of the Thames when patiently they are standing in Trafalgar Square.

The Lost of London

When you successfully complete The Knowledge you might expect that your day would entail the picking up of passengers and taking them to their destination with a little lively banter thrown in for good measure. What you’re not prepared for is the second service we seem obliged to provide – that of a mobile tourist information office.

Now I don’t mind directing the odd tourist to the theatre 10 minutes before the curtain is raised, or someone who is late for a job interview, but what I do object to is when a “professional” – courier, private hire or van driver – asks directions. They either don’t possess a SatNav or have wasted their money on the wrong model.

[A] little over 2 years ago I wrote a post about the Navigation Master and recently I’ve upgraded to their latest model, the A-Z+ Cabbie’s Mate.

The first thing you notice is the size – a 5″ screen larger than its predecessor and almost one-and-a-half times larger than a TomTom.

Only half an inch thick, with its rounded edges it’s looks are more akin to an i-phone. So portable is the little gizmo the makers have thoughtfully produced a carrying wallet that can be slipped into a jacket pocket.

It has the usual accessories: window mounting bracket, 2 chargers, USB cable and for my fat fingered colleagues a rather clever stylus secreted within the housing.

As with the previous model there are two navigational systems. The one most drivers use, a complete A-Z of Greater London and a conventional Countrywide version.

Three databases are incorporated, a complete street directory and postcodes, not much different from White Van Man’s SatNav.

But it’s the database of over 450,000 points (23,000 in London) that make it worth the money. Clubs, hotels, museums, you name it Cabbie’s Mate most probably has it logged. If not regular updates are available, in fact your first update is included in the purchase price.

Select a destination and Cabbie’s Mate draws a straight line between your current position and the chosen destination. No trouble for London’s cabbies then to drive to there armed with that information. However, if White Van Man cannot follow the straight line (known by cabbies as being ‘on the cotton’ from when on the Knowledge a piece of cotton would be put between two points to indicate the shortest route) they can switch instantly between the A-Z and the conventional mapping or back again. A robotic voice instructs them in which direction to take and the names of the individual roads with a clarity that even a minicab driver could understand.

Another nice touch, but just don’t tell the wife if you are having some extra curricular activity. Cabbie’s Mate draws a trace recording your movements, if you enter into a large non-descript housing estate, turn on the trace and retrace your steps.

The biggest fault with my old Cabbie’s Mate was the conventional SatNav. Using Its new Navigation Master software this latest model has all the bells and whistles of my TomTom: speed cameras, it warns of exceeding the speed limit, lane assist, distance to next turn or destination, in fact everything you would expect from a SatNav.

And to wile away your time waiting on the rank you have a music player, video player, photo browser, there is even an e-book reader, alright its not a Kindle but try using a book reader to find your way round London.

It has hands free mobile answering with the Bluetooth function, it never fails to dismay me when I see a cabbie holding his phone while driving.

Three games are here, my favourite – Russian Block is their version of the timeless classic Tetris.

Pointless functions include a calculator and a unit converter (do I really need to work out how many gallons I’ve just put in my tank?). And it claims to have a web-browser, but with the limited time I spent trying to surf it failed to work.

But my real criticism is the name, it – well – just discourages non-cabbies to buy it, so I’m still going to have to answers those dam fool questions.

Navigation Master

They say good things come in twos, and this has proved to be the case for me over the Christmas period. After spending a decade denigrating SatNavs I’ve received two in as many weeks.

The first was a TomTom Live gadget, an Christmas present from my wife, bought I suspect to stop me getting lost in every town outside of London, I’ll just have to swallow my pride and use it when we’re exploring England, no more blaming the wife now, when I get lost, it’s TomTom who will get it in the ear now.

[T]hen the next week a received a telephone call and after a short conversation to tell me the news that I had won a Navigation Master SatNav from Stuart Pessok the editor of our trade newspaper (with the imaginative title of TAXI) a package arrived the next day.

Navigation Master’s screen is large measuring about 4½ inches across; much larger than my TomTom, robustly built with its own cradle and basic instructions (a full detailed instruction book is available on their website. With Bluetooth, address book, storage for music, video, photos and even e-books it doesn’t lack facilities.

My charger for use in the cab did not work, but after finding a help line number on the downloadable information sheets a simple call to arrange a meeting meant that I had my replacement charger within 30 minutes, that’s what I call customer service.

The map section is split into two with the A-Z London mapping giving three maps; A-Z Great Britain, A-Z Greater London and the iconic A-Z Central London which shows one-way streets, places of interest and all manner of information, as I have written about in this blog A-Z is among the best mapping available for cabbies, and Navigation Master with its search facility has an enormous database of thousands of entries.

When we do the Knowledge the student has to call all the roads from one point to another and the method we use to see if you’ve taken the correct route is to string a piece of cotton between two pins. If you have taken the correct route without deviation it’s said to be “on the cotton”. Similarly Navigation Master will draw a blue line between your start and finish points. It is just a matter of following the blue (or should that be yellow) brick road to your destination. The system by this simple, but effective charting of a route is only of assistance to somebody with an intimate Knowledge of London, a black cabbie in other words.

The second part of the mapping is a standard SatNav system developed by Smart to Go and produces visual and audible directions as any other SatNav. Supplied in map form, and rather over reliant on menus it’s not as easy to use as my new TomTom and traffic alerts and 3-D mapping come at an additional price. Rather disappointingly the keyboard does not follow a standard QWERTY layout unlike the A-Z section making it far more difficult to use.

But for the A-Z London map with its traffic alerts and vast database (I’ve yet to ask for one it didn’t know) this little gizmo is worth the £300 price tag. Given there are only about 14,000 possible users and already 800 devices have been sold, I would recommend that you use one as your working day will be so much easier.

Is that Marble Arch Tom?

Is that Marble Arch TomTom?

It looks like L’Arc de triomphe to me

TomTom (so good they named it twice)

In order to earn your license to operate a London Black Cab, a taxi driver has to pass a gruelling examination known as ‘The Knowledge’ which involves memorizing every street and location of public buildings within a six mile radius of Charing Cross.

[O]n top of this, we have to know some 320 specified routes through the city that include all the points of interest within a quarter of a mile of the endpoint, and know this off by heart. Think that is tough enough, well there is more: all the major routes in and out of the London suburbs need to be memorized as well. And to pass The Knowledge, and get that coveted license, we have to pass a rigorous exam which includes reciting a precise route from any two points that the examiner fancies. No wonder it can take at least three years to pass, and often very much longer. If you see people on scooters with a clipboard and map attached to the handlebars driving around London, chances are they are doing The Knowledge which can involve travelling up 26,000 miles across the City on our Honda C90’s memorizing those thousands of places of interest, all the one-way streets, no right turns, landmarks and street names.

When I did The Knowledge little did I realise that as time moved on every postcode would also have to be committed to memory. It’s these SatNavs that are to blame you see we Cabbies are constantly given only postcodes as our customers’ destination. So why do we bother with The Knowledge? After all, GPS based SatNav systems are cheap and plentiful and know all this stuff without requiring us to look like the world’s oldest pizza delivery boy. The private taxi companies, known as minicabs in the London have long since realized this. The biggest and most successful firms all have SatNav in their cars, yet according to the London Taxi Drivers’ Association less than 5 per cent of Black Cab drivers are using these devices.

Yet I cannot help but think we London Cabbies have it right: we know the streets better than just about any SatNav device. We don’t try and drive the wrong way up a one way street, we don’t think we should turn left even when it’s obvious the car isn’t going to fit down that alleyway, and we don’t get stumped when a roundabout has been constructed that isn’t yet on the map. More importantly, and this includes even the new breed of device with traffic reporting built in, we know instinctively to avoid a certain street at a certain time because a different route will be quicker.

What’s more, we know that you can get from A to B quicker via C today because of all the road works and temporary traffic lights springing up everywhere.

The truth is that there is more to getting around a city like London than simply knowing the street map, local knowledge is King. And if someone produced a SatNav system with mapping that was up to The Knowledge standard I would not only buy it, I would invest in the company as well. As long as it does not start lecturing me about politics and sport along the way, that is.


Now TomTom take me to the Texas Legation Memorial please and be quick about it.

PS It’s in Pickering Place SW1 just in case you wondered.