- The Vehicle Information Center (VIC) and TravTek GPS navigation system in a 1992 Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo (Credit: Kyle May via YouTube).

    Testing the First Modern GPS Navigation System in 1992

    Thanks to a partnership between Avis Rent-a-Car, General Motors, and AAA, the first trial of a modern GPS navigation system, TravTek, began in 1992.

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    Today, we take GPS navigation systems and touchscreen infotainment systems for granted, with most new cars having some sort of infotainment system. Earlier this year, we published an article on the very first touchscreen display in a production car, the 1986 Buick Riviera, which used a Cathode Ray-Tube (CRT) display that allowed the driver to control multiple systems in their car. However, in 1992, thanks to a partnership between Avis Rent-a-Car, General Motors (GM), and the American Automobile Association (AAA), tourists traveling to Orlando, Florida could try out a brand new feature that would soon become available on many production automobiles- the first modern GPS navigation system. Read on to find out more about the first GPS navigation system, called "TravTek", and how it was tested in 1992.

    An infographic describing how the TravTek system communicated with the vehicle (Credit: Semantic Scholar).

    An infographic describing how the TravTek system communicated with the vehicle (Credit: Semantic Scholar).

    General Motors had been experimenting with touchscreen displays in some of their vehicles since 1986, when the Buick Riviera personal luxury coupe was the first production vehicle to integrate a Cathode Ray-Tube (CRT) display screen to control most vehicle systems. In 1989, a smaller version of the eight-inch Graphic Control Center (GCC), called the Vehicle Information Center (or "VIC", for short), was introduced in the new Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo sports coupe. The system was similar in functionality to Buick's GCC touchscreen, but integrated more physical controls (buttons), as well as a multi-color CRT touchscreen display. Wanting to test a brand-new feature that would later become available as a dealer-installed accessory (and later, a factory-installed option) on many of its vehicles, General Motors enlisted the help of Avis Rent-a-Car and the American Automobile Association to equip 100 1992 Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeos with their co-developed in-vehicle GPS navigation system, called "TravTek" (which is an abbreviated form of "Travel Technologies"). Using the factory VIC touchscreen, tourists could rent a specially-equipped 1992 Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo from Avis Rent-a-Car at Orlando International Airport (MCO) in Florida. The cars, which included an integrated cellular (car) telephone, a special antenna mounted on the rear deck lid of the vehicle, and specially-developed GPS navigation software, renters could be "Beta Testers" for the TravTek system.

    An example of some of the screens in the TravTek system (Credit: U.S. Department of Transportation/USDOT).

    An example of some of the screens in the TravTek system (Credit: U.S. Department of Transportation/USDOT).

    When a renter entered the TravTek-equipped 1992 Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo, they would be prompted to enter their name via an onscreen keyboard into the TravTek system, and then would be able to press a button on the Vehicle Information Center (VIC) to access the GPS navigation software. The software contained information about Points of Interest (POI's) in the state of Florida, and could provide driving directions via a computer-synthesized electronic voice over the vehicle's audio system, as well as provide information about nearby lodging (hotels), including diamond/star rating, amenities, and pricing. If the driver wanted to book a hotel room, all they had to do was select 'Call' on the VIC, and the vehicle's integrated telephone would dial the telephone number of the selected hotel. The system, like many modern factory GPS navigation systems, used wheel-mounted speed sensors in order to detect when the vehicle was about to turn, and provided the next direction. However, the system was monitored by the American Automobile Association (AAA), which monitored current traffic conditions, and transmitted them via the rear deck lid-mounted antenna to the vehicle. If the driver ever needed assistance operating the system, a customer service number, which connected to TravTek-trained representatives at a Florida branch of the AAA, was provided, and could be reached via the in-vehicle (car) telephone. The telephone was also connected to the vehicle's audio system, and calls could be heard over the vehicle's speakers for hands-free conversation.

    The "GuideStar" system available in select 1996 Oldsmobile vehicles (General Motors (GM) Photo).

    The "GuideStar" system available in select 1996 Oldsmobile vehicles (General Motors (GM) Photo).

    Many users who helped test the TravTek GPS navigation system found it easy and pleasant to use, and when the public, year-long trial ended in 1993, General Motors used data from the trial to develop a dealer-installed GPS navigational device that mounted to the dashboard of production Oldsmobile vehicles, including the 1996 Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight (88) LSS. By the mid-2000s, GPS navigation systems became more affordable, and more and more automobile manufacturers began to offer them as an option in many of their vehicles. Today, while many vehicles include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto that allow drivers (as well as their passengers) to integrate their Apple iOS or Android smartphones into their vehicle's touchscreen infotainment system and use either Apple Maps or Google Maps (and even Waze) to get directions, the 1992 TravTek system was ahead of its time. To see a video of this system in operation, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGrxur7dMh8 . What do you think of the TravTek system? Did you ever have a chance to experience it for yourself? Let us know in the comments down below!

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