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Satnavs getting us lost

Australian cartographer Peter Davis suggests that using maps or street directories in unison with satnav is "perfect navigation and maintains spatial awareness"

A study by the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics shows we find our way best if we face north, but that requires people to learn their environment and translate it to a north-facing map in our head which we have learnt from looking at a real map. 

Institute researcher Tobias Meilinger believes GPS devices will eventually erase these abilities. "If somebody doesn't care to learn the environment, that's fine, but they shouldn't complain if their mobile is not working and they are completely lost," he says. 

Australian cartographer Peter Davis agrees that paper maps still serve a purpose. "Using a satnav only, is like following a set of tail lights, take them away and you have no idea where you are," he says. 

"I have been conducting my own over the last five years or so and the instance of people getting lost is increasing exponentially with the increased use of satnav.

"However my research shows an unexpected trend of lots of people reverting to street directories and maps and throwing their satnav in the glovebox in disgust after being misdirected too many times. I actually believe this is also not constructive." 

The owner of World Mapman Solutions suggests that using maps or street directories in unison with satnav is "perfect navigation and maintains spatial awareness". 

Davis pointed out that navigation professionals such as pilots, sea captains and mining explorers use maps with GPS. 

The Max Planck Institute, which studies signal and information processing in the brain, tested 26 residents of Tubingen, a small German town. They were asked to point to a place they could not see and draw a map of the town. 

The results showed everyone performed most accurately when facing north, leading researchers to conclude that all participants had seen and remembered a map of the town at some point. Dr Meilinger says the answer to finding your way is to look at maps before you start your trip. 

"Keep them at hand, but navigate yourself, and try to rely on your memory," he says. "It will work better than you expect." Davis says his research shows that using maps and GPS together can enhance "map memory". 

"Without the context that is given with maps, memory of where you are or where things are, is lost but it is not permanent and in fact when maps and GPSs are used in unison my research shows that spatial and locational memory is actually enhanced because your spatial location is coming from multiple sources," he says.