OnStar Turn-By-Turn Navigation

OnStar Turn-By-Turn Navigation provides spoken directions without requiring the driver to enter a destination manually; without continued operator involvement (unlike current OnStar directions); but also without any navigation display. It will require a 2007 GM car and cost about $10 a month more than current basic OnStar service.

OnStar Turn-by-Turn Navigation is the first factory-installed, fully-integrated GPS navigation product using n enhanced wireless data network and improved positioning solution. The simple, easy-to-use system delivers voice-guided directions without requiring manual destination entry or mapping DVDs. OnStar Turn-by-Turn Navigation is the highlight of the latest generation of in-vehicle hardware, its seventh version in just 10 years.

The salient appeal of OnStar Turn-by-Turn Navigation is user interaction that’s as simple as pressing a button and telling the operator where you want to go. When it is rolled out, Turn-By-Turn will add around $10 a month to the cost of basic OnStar service. Two Cadillac Cadillac s and a Buick will include it this spring, followed by nearly 1 million GM vehicles in the 2007 model year that will offer the new nav system as an option to subscribers.

Turn-by-Turn should provide a boost to OnStar; its current navigation system — Directions & Connections, which costs $399 a year — is costly both to subscribers and to OnStar, because it requires a live operator to read directions. The cheapest portable navigation systems have already dropped to $400, but OnStar chases a different market: one that values drop-dead-simple solutions that work at the single press of a button instead of several dozen taps on a screen attached by a suction cup to the car windshield. Factory-integrated navigation systems typically cost $1,500 to $2,000, and about 7 percent of the cars produced this year will have built-in navigation.

To use Turn-by-Turn, a driver or passenger needs to push the OnStar button on the vehicle’s mirror, which makes a cellular voice call to OnStar. The car’s occupants then tell the operator where they want to go, such as a street address or a point of interest like a theater or park, and then wait a few seconds for the information to be downloaded as cellular data to the car. The operator than hangs up and steps out of the picture.

Also out of the picture is any kind of directional display on the dashboard; Turn-by-Turn is voice-only, even if the car has an integrated LCD or multiline radio display. OnStar pitches this as a safety feature of sorts, because there’s "no data entry or touch screen to distract drivers from the road." A driver also does not need to look at a particularly complex upcoming intersection with two streets branching off to the right and one to the left.

Turn-by-Turn uses a car’s integrated GPS receiver for position fixes, as well as an ABS sensor for dead reckoning (in tunnels and urban canyons, for example). Directions are spoken through the car radio, and you can ask to hear the directions again or to preview the upcoming route instruction. OnStar downloads a "navigation corridor" — the proper route plus adjacent street — wide enough to steer you back on course if you stop at a highway off ramp or get moderately lost. If you’re way off course, you’re asked to download additional directions.

The exact pricing hasn’t been set, although Turn by Turn is just a month from launching in the Buick Lucerne and Cadillac DTS, followed by the sportier Cadillac STS in June. OnStar president Chet Huber projects the cost will be somewhere between the two current packages: Directions & Connections, $399 (or $34.95 a month), and Safe & Sound,$199 (or $16.95 a month); thus our estimate of about $10 a month more than the base-level Safe & Sound. That’s also what cellular providers such as Verizon typically charge for cellular navigation; VZ Navigator runs $10 a month or, for vacationers and business travelers, $3 for a 24-hour period. Huber said OnStar will consider selling trip packs — 10 for $30, perhaps?

OnStar Turn-by-Turn isn’t available retroactively. Other than the initial Buick and Cadillacs, users must own a 2007 or later GM vehicle equipped with the so-called "Gen 7" OnStar platform and anti-lock brakes — a potential market of 1 million vehicles.

OnStar representatives didn’t talk specifics about acceptance and renewal rates. Most industry analysts say OnStar has had a tougher time maintaining revenues per equipped car, as it has evolved over its decade of existence from a device on costlier cars to universal installation on GM vehicles.

What’s next for OnStar? Huber says future versions of its nav system might be able to display at least rudimentary navigation information, such as turn arrows, in cars with multi-line radio displays or in cars that have a built-in LCD. But Huber calls that a niche opportunity to reach cars with LCDs that don’t also integrate navigation systems.

OnStar Turn-by-Turn Navigation precedes another low cost navigation system by a month. At the March Geneva Auto Show, Microsoft and Fiat Fiat will announce a navigation system that uses a rudimentary integrated instrument-panel display; drivers will request trip routing with a GSM cell phone that’s connected to the car via Bluetooth. This is expected to be an option, costing about $200.

Enabling Technologies

  • Enhanced GPS System: OnStar’s GPS system is fully integrated with the vehicle’s ABS module, delivering a more precise positioning solution. The ABS module sends differential wheel speed and directional information to the OnStar system to provide location fixes even in environments where GPS satellites may not be visible, such as dense urban areas, tunnels or near obstructions.
  • Enhanced Wireless Data Network (CDMA 1XRTT Technology) : OnStar Turn-by-Turn Navigation delivers routing instructions through an enhanced wireless data network.
  • Mapping Database: OnStar Turn-by-Turn Navigation uses up-to-date mapping information available for the U.S. and Canada and is regularly updated for maximum accuracy. The maps are stored on a server (outside the vehicle) and there is no need to purchase new DVDs like with conventional navigation services.
  • External Roof-Mounted Antenna: OnStar typically utilizes a quad-band, externally roof-mounted antenna, optimally positioned for maximum signal reception.
  • Points of Interest (POI) Database: Upon request,OnStar advisors access an up-to-date POI database containing more than 8 million entries. This information is always fresh and does not require the purchase of costly DVDs to keep the data current.
  • Voice Recognition Technology: OnStar Turn-by-Turn Navigation uses OnStar’s advanced voice recognition technology, which has been optimized to work with a variety of dialects and languages to provide a simpler, safer and more convenient solution to navigate to unfamiliar destinations.

With OnStar Turn-by-Turn, once the operator downloads the route instructions to your car, it works just like any other nav system—except there’s no map. As you approach a turn, a voice prompt tells you how close you are to the turn and in which direction (left, right, bear right, and so on) you need to turn. Two beeps indicate you’re at the turn.

Most cars will have a rudimentary text display indicating the distance to the turn and the street you’re turning onto. But a prototype Cadillac STS Cadillac STS system I tested didn’t have an arrow indicating whether the turn was left or right. And if you go off course and opt to have OnStar navigate you back on course, you get cryptic messages—to drive south and then make a turn, for example, leaving it for you to figure out which direction is south.

Three cars are implementing Turn-by-Turn this spring: the Buick Lucerne and Cadillac DTS now, and the sportier Cadillac STS a bit later. Virtually the entire 2007 GM line will have the new OnStar system—or more accurately, the buyer will have the option and decide whether or not to pay for it. OnStar Turn-by-Turn Navigation is included as part of the standard OnStar service for the first year on the Lucerne and Cadillac DTS Cadillac DTS and STS for the 2006 model year; extended pricing has not yet been announced. OnStar has said it expects pricing would not be different from what others charge for downloadable nav help from, say, cell phones, which is around $10 a month.

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