Auto GPS on the Cheap
Turn an old laptop into a fully functional talking GPS navigation unit for your car for less than $200
Dept.: Repurposed Tech
Old Tech.: Laptop
Project: Voice-guided Vehicle GPS
Time: 2 hours
Dabbler | | | | | Master
I hate getting lost while driving, and in this age of GPS navigation, there’s no reason why I ever should-no reason except the $400-plus price tag of voice-guided auto GPS systems. Then I discovered the Garmin GPS 18 USB ($130; garmin.com), a GPS receiver that plugs into your computer and comes with software that gives it almost all the functions of a dedicated GPS unit: route finding for all North America, spoken directions, points of interest, even route recalculation when you take a wrong turn. The interface is a little clunky-when I type in Route 295, it presents me with a choice of Route 295, 295 or I-95-and the points of interest are as hit-or-miss as they are on most systems: I asked it for a gas station and it failed to tell me about the one across the street.
But for simply finding my way, I had few complaints. Near my parents’ house in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts, the unit’s suggested turns were about 200 feet off, but the options were so sparse, it was usually obvious which road was correct.
On my drive home to Brooklyn, the prompts were more timely
and the road names more accurate. A lone driver can use it-
a large-font banner display provides the information the voice directions leave out-but a passenger makes it easier, if only to keep the ungainly laptop from sliding around the seat. Next project: rigging a really big suction-cup mount for the windshield.
How to find your way anywhere, for $139
+ Laptop running Windows 98 or newer and with a CD drive, at least two gigabytes of hard-drive space, and a USB or serial port
+ Garmin GPS 18 [left]
+ Vector 70-watt Pocket Power inverter ($9; vectormfg.com)
1. Plug in the Garmin, and install the drivers and nRoute and City Select map software.
2. Take it outside and run the nRoute software to let it find satellites. Turn off the Wide Area Augmentation System to speed up the process.
3. Mount the Garmin
receiver in your car, parallel to the ground. The windshield mount works fine, but running it out a window to the roof will yield better reception.
4. Familiarize yourself with the software interface and hot keys. Enter a route. Drive.