CAR Associate Editor Gareth Dean tells us the story of how Honda, together with Alpine, developed the first in-car map-based navigation system for the 1981 Accord. During this time, GPS technology was in its infancy stage with it being used in scientific and military applications. Because of this, the technology wasn’t widely accessible which is why the duo elected to use an inertial navigation system.
This system uses a combination of computers, accelerometers and dead reckoning which is a means of navigation that involves fixed positions, and average speed. This system had been used hundreds of years before Columbus had discovered the Americas.
Dubbed the Electro Gyrocator, the retrofitted accessory featured an inertial module similar to what you’d find in a guided missile. This was overseen by a helium gas gyroscope and a servo attached to the car’s transmission housing that fed parameters such as speed and distance covered to the Gyrocator.
The information gathered was transferred to a six-inch monochrome monitor mounted to the dashboard, over which a series of acetate overlays are placed. As the Accord drives around, a dot projector on the screen would move across the map in accordance with input from the inertial guidance system.
The Gyrocater also had a setting that would plot a line on the screen to show your path of travel. A set of Honda-approved pens were provided to consumers which allowed them to make their own annotations to the map.
The production run of this system only lasted a year until a less-bulky CD-ROM-based system was introduced in 1987. The first GPS-enabled system was created in 1990 and has since become the example that is widely used in today’s cars.
In 2017, the Electro Gyrocator was recognised as an IEEE (The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) milestone and presented with a commemorative plaque.