Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/10/15/bionav_road_test/

Reg road tests the BioNav™ in-car nav wonder

Sophisticated kit - at a price

By Lester Haines

Posted in Mobile, 15th October 2004 09:24 GMT

Let's face it - you're no-one these days unless you've got an onboard satnav system in your motor - preferably one that speaks, can guide you to any location to within one centimetre and will tell you when your road tax has expired.

Indeed, so impressed were we by the ALK CoPilot Smartphone - as recently reviewed by Tony Smith on a fearless transnavigation of the mean streets of London - that we decided to look into other technologies designed to make your transition from A to B as pain-free as possible.

Step forward - literally - the state-of-the-art BioNav™. According to which press release you read, the BioNav™ was either three million years in the making, or knocked up from raw materials in a couple of minutes. Whichever is the case, it's a truly extraordinary piece of technology, comprising millions of moving parts packed into a tactile leather-effect case. In keeping with the current trend to offer kit in a range of colours, the BioNav™ comes in a virtually limitless palette of pleasing tones from black to white and is available with any international language preloaded.

Our challenge for the BioNav™ was a short hop from the centre of Colchester, Essex, to a out-of-town supermarket in Ipswich, Suffolk. The route - encompassing both urban and dual-carriageway sections - was challenging enough for the system without streching it beyond what could be reasonably expected. The journey is about 20 miles. We allowed one hour.

Installation

The BioNav™ is completely self-installing. Simply indicate the vehicle, and it will make its way to the passenger seat without further prompting.

Getting started

Depending on the route, the BioNav™ may already have the optimum course pre-programmed, or may require the data to be inputted in real time. In the former case, users should note that the BioNav™ memory banks degenerate over time, so it's as well to check that it's confident of the chosen route. In the latter, geographical information can be provided via a road atlas or folding map.

Planning your route

The BioNav™ is programmed to find the best way to your destination. If the chosen course seems convoluted, it is simply because the system is making complex calculations designed to avoid bottle-necks and snarl-ups. If you do not agree with the BioNav™'s analysis, it is largely pointless to protest. After all, the system will argue, if you know better why don't you navigate yourself? Impeccable logic.

Alerts

The BioNav™ hardware is designed to alert the driver as to approaching junctions, turn-offs, etc. Interestingly, while the system is pretty effective at low speeds, velocities over 50mph may adversely affect its ability to issue adequate warnings. So, when asked on a fast section of the A12 where the turn-off for Ipswich was, the BioNav™ replied: "We just passed it."

The user-nav interface

Naturally, overshooting the required junction on a dual carriageway can mean a lengthy detour to reacquire the desired route. This can prove frustrating, but users are strongly advised not to berate the BioNav™ in any way. Strong language delivered at high volume simply confuses the system further - often to the point where it cannot distinguish left from right. This glitch may manifest itself while coming up to a roundabout. Further angry comments will result only in total system crash - instantly recognisable by the BioNav™ throwing the road atlas on the floor, crossing its arms and adopting a resolutely silent and sullen stance.

Rebooting

The only effective method of rebooting a BioNav™ is to pull over at the side of the road and suggest that it might like to walk the rest of the way. Invariably results in full and immediate restoration of navigational capabilities.

Verdict

Our test vehicle eventually reached Ipswich after three hours. To be fair, the BioNav™ had not travelled the route for more than three weeks, and so could not be expected to recall every minor detail of the course, such as the general location of Ipswich or the major carriageway which goes there.

We found that while the BioNav™ is initially free (you can't buy them in the shops - you just sort of bump into them in pubs and clubs or at work) the long term maintenence costs can be high. Even an undemanding model may cost £5,000 a year, but a top-of-the-range designer offering can set you back £15-20k per annum.

On the plus side, you may find yourself warming to your BioNav™'s foibles. Indeed, many owners bond with their BioNavs™ for life. It may not be able to read a map for toffee but hey, who said technology was perfect? ®