GPS: 1920s Version

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Old 20-Sep-2010
Saini Sa'aB
GPS: 1920s Version

GPS usage has become so ubiquitous that it’s hard to imagine a world without our little satellite navi-friends. However, it wasn't always so easy to find your way around, especially if you were traveling roads at a fast pace. Around the turn of the twentieth century, road maps were still in their infancy, and new roads and trails were developing rapidly.

The Roll-map Routefinder was invented in the 1920s and was designed to be worn on the wrist and used with an odometer. Maps were printed on small rolls of paper indicating turns and waypoints. It never really took off because so few cars were on the road then; however it might enjoy a resurgence as an accessory for fashion-forward steampunks.

This unit mounts to the car dashboard.

This next automated roll map was a huge step forward from the little maps on the wrist. It automatically advanced based on an odometer, but also included manual override.

Today, roll maps are still used in a handful of situations. They are commonly used for rally-style motor racing. Motorbike riders still use what are commonly called “roll charts” or “roadbooks” for navigation, and often use them in addition to a GPS. Here is a modern system used for the Dakar Rally. Buttons on the handgrips move the roll chart back and forth, while LED backlighting enables nighttime navigation.

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