Retrotechtacular: Car Navigation Like It’s 1971

Anyone old enough to have driven before the GPS era probably wonders, as we do, how anyone ever found anything. Navigation back then meant outdated paper maps, long detours because of missed turns, and the far too frequent stops at dingy gas stations for the humiliation of asking for directions. It took forever sometimes, and though we got where we were going, it always seemed like there had to be a better way.

Indeed there was, but instead of waiting for the future and a constellation of satellites to guide the way, some clever folks in the early 1970s had a go at dead reckoning systems for car navigation. The video below shows one, called Cassette Navigation, in action. It consisted of a controller mounted under the dash and a modified cassette player. Special tapes, with spoken turn-by-turn instructions recorded for a specific route, were used. Each step was separated from the next by a tone, the length of which encoded the distance the car would cover before the next step needed to be played. The controller was hooked to the speedometer cable, and when the distance traveled corresponded to the tone length, the next instruction was played. There’s a long list of problems with this method, not least of which is no choice in road tunes while using it, but given the limitations at the time, it was pretty ingenious.

Dead reckoning is better than nothing, but it’s a far cry from GPS navigation. If you’re still baffled by how that cloud of satellites points you to the nearest Waffle House at 3:00 AM, check out our GPS primer for the details.

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Racking Up Miles On A Bicycle Odometer

[jonh] religiously tracks the miles he rides on his bicycle. When his odometer’s battery started getting low, he wanted a way to run the miles up to where they were before, since replacing the battery resets everything to zero. [jonh] used an Atmel microcontroller to run up the miles on his bike computer so he could pick right back up where he left off. There is definitely a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off joke in here somewhere.

The bike computer itself is designed to plug into a base that connects to a magnet-triggered reed relay. It uses a wheel-mounted magnet to count the number of revolutions made and thus the distance traveled. [jonh] hooked up a simple microcontroller-driven circuit to these connectors to trick the bike computer into thinking it was moving, and moving fast! Since he knew the number of miles he wanted to sandbag onto the odometer, he was able to program it to run up the proper amount of miles and then stop. There’s no source code listing for the project, but this shouldn’t be too hard to reproduce. He provides a pencil-drawn schematic for the connection to the cyclometer from the microcontroller. At the end, there’s also some sage advice for those of you who are interested in building a decent hardware hacking lab on the cheap.

Make Your Own Odometer From Scraps

For those out there who would enjoy a quick and interesting weekend project, this odometer made by [PeckLauros] is for you. Featured on Instructables it is made from the simplest of materials including some cardboard, a calculator, wires, glue, hot glue, magnetic drive key, an old CD and a reader, and a rubber band.  The magnets, when attached to the CD work in a calculation to add 0.11m to the calculator when a magnet closes the circuit. [PeckLauros] points out that since it is a homebrewed device, it does have flaws such as adding 0.11m twice when the CD is rotated too slowly.  It is easily fixed by simply running faster.  The video is below the break.

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