Sunday, March 18, 2012

Meet the GPS Predecessor, Etak

etak-popsci

Much like computers, cell phones and the internet, GPS is one of the more important transformative technologies of the 2oth century which will, no doubt, continue to change and shift for years to come. Since its first release in 1995, GPS satellites have been used across the world for various navigation and tracking purposes. But, where exactly did GPS come from?

Yesterday I came across an absolutely fantastic and thoroughly well-researched article outlining the predecessor to GPS, a navigation system called Etak. Named after a Polynesian navigation technique, the Etak navigation system was launched in 1985 and cost about the equivalent of $3,000. The system could be mounted in a car similar to modern-day dashboard navigation and was controlled with a series of buttons.

Of course, as this was 1985, the GPS satellite constellation wasn’t in orbit yet. So, instead of utilizing GPS signals, Etak used the more old-fashioned dead reckoning method to help users figure out where they were on a map which was displayed on a clunky black and green vector-based screen. Maps were stored on special cassette tapes. The system was not as widely accepted as GPS is, but was far from a flop. The device was even featured in the 1991 film, “Nothing But Trouble.”

Maybe it shows my age, but personally I had not even heard of Etak until I discovered the article. Regardless, I find reading about the beginnings and and early versions of complex systems like GPS and computing pretty fascinating. If you want to read more about it yourself, head over to Fast Company’s page to read the full article. It is a little on the long side, but really worth the time if you’re curious about where it all came from.

Some of you are probably a little older than me, so tell me… have you ever seen or used the Etak system? What memories do you have of it? I’d love to hear some of your thoughts!!

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