2. Characteristics of route finding systems

Until only a few years ago, only the military had access to hi-tech navigation systems. The rest of us had to make do with paper maps and pencilled notes. But then companies were allowed to make use of the Global Positioning Satellite system to produce consumer-level navigation systems.

Route guidance started in the transport industry to help commercial drivers but now they are commonplace.

Even GPS mobile phones can now be used as a navigation system with the right software.

There are also many web-based services that offer route-guidance information.

So what is it that has made navigation systems so popular?


Here are some of their attractive characteristics:

They can provide directions in graphical form / maps
Text based directions can be produced
Directions/maps can be printed and saved for later reference
Zoom-in/out feature can be applied so that you can see different levels of detail
Places of interest/ fuel stations/ hotels etc can be shown
They can allow you to plot multiple destinations per journey - these are called 'way points'
You can select road types you want to use e.g. motorways, 'A' roads etc
Can select fastest/shortest routes
User gives start place/postcode and the destination postcode
Different routes may be offered


Advantages of route finding systems

  • They are very fast and convenient compared to plotting a route with a paper map
  • Map databases are updated frequently so more up-to-date than traditional maps. It s surprising how much the road network changes in just a few months.
  • Directions can be printed so the car passenger can simply read out the instructions (driver should not try and read them on the move!
  • Very useful for commercial drivers on an unfamiliar route who need to avoid obstacles such as low bridges, weight-limited bridges, narrow roads etc
  • For long journeys, fuel stops can be planned in and printed along with the route instructions
  • Time details of journey provided, helping with planned rest stops and letting people know roughly when you will arrive
  • Distance details provided - helping estimate cost of the journey.

Disadvantages of route finding systems

  • Need access to the internet for web-based guidance
  • Need access to the right kind of mobile or navigation device for 'real-time' guidance
  • The route may not be the best or even sensible, for instance choosing the 'shortest' route may take you through extremely difficult country lanes
  • Many villages now have 'no sat-nav' signs to warn drivers that the road is not suitable even though the sat-nav tells you to use it. Many lorries get jammed trying to drive down narrow roads they were guided along
  • The route may take you through residential streets, making it more unsafe for residents due to the extra satellite-guided traffic
  • Cannot factor in delays such as temporary road works or diversions
  • Maps need to be up-to-date
  • Need to be technically literate in order to make use of the technology


challenge see if you can find out one extra fact on this topic that we haven't already told you

Click on this link: Route Finding Systems