The Lost Art Of Navigation

Discussion in 'GPS Use, Tracks & Maps Discussion' started by DavidFL, Dec 12, 2017.

  1. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator
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    The lost art of navigation

    An excellent & interesting article from advtracks


    There is no doubt that modern technologies make life (and travel!) easier. Adventure riding has been transformed since the dawn of the Internet and satellite navigation: finding your way around the world is now practically effortless. Invest in the newest GPS unit, set your route, and go. But is navigation really that simple?
    download.

    Roger McKinlay, a satellite specialist and the Immediate Past President of the Royal Institute of Navigation in London, argues that humans will always be smarter than machines and relying solely on your GPS isn’t the best policy when traveling.

    Tristan Gooley, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, explorer, and natural navigation author, says natural navigation – orienting yourself using the sun, stars, plants, animals, and water – is something that can enrich a journey in new and exciting ways.

    Bill Eakins, a veteran adventure rider and a scout and communications specialist for Butler Maps, claims that using your own sense of direction and clues from your environment brings back a sense of discovery, while Matthew Brummet, an avid motorcyclist and wilderness survival guide, notes that the most common reason people get lost is that they simply aren’t paying attention to their surroundings.

    So what’s your best bet when it comes to planning your journey, navigating the world, and getting your bearings when lost?

    A Route is Just an Opinion

    “Bikers probably have a much healthier attitude to technology than drivers. A driver who punches in a destination on his SatNav device and blindly follows it wants to get from A to B, but has no interest in what happens in between. I suspect most motorcyclists take a bit more interest in the routes and the nature of the roads: why let a machine decide how you’re going to get to your destination? We might look back on our current age as one in which we were rather confused about what we should do ourselves and what we should leave to the machines”, - says McKinlay.

    According to the navigation maestro, although satellites are constantly improving, humans will always be better than computers – even with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI).

    “A GPS unit – a receiver for working out where you are based on signals received from satellites - is really impressive technology, but it’s not fool proof. High buildings can block and reflect signals which confuses receivers. GPS does not work well in cities. The signals are weak and can be swamped by interference. The maps built in to the devices are only as accurate as the people who made them! And they can be out of date. Finally, the routing advice – how to get from A to B – is just one opinion of the best route, and the driver or rider may know better”, - notes McKinlay.

    “If we want driverless cars, we are going to have to develop much better navigation systems. The systems for navigating driverless vehicles will have to be very reliable, accurate, robust and rarely deceive. GPS as it is just isn’t good enough, so in the future, we won’t just rely on one technology. We’re likely to be using hybrids – satellites and sensors. As for AI, there will be a market for that. However, we know when it comes to navigation – rather than just steering round obstacles – humans seem to have impressive abilities. So, my view is that it will remain the domain of people using smart tools – including AI – and not machines doing it all. The more we find for machines to do, the more clearly we will identify the unique contribution human thinking can make”.

    McKinlay claims that getting truly lost will become more and more impossible in the next decade or so: GPS units are constantly improving, maps are getting better all the time and imagery from space is helping specialists map remote areas.

    “But it’s back to the fundamental issue of GPS making us lazy. Looking at a map is part of rehearsing your route and making sensible plans. When people get lost it is often not the fault of a map or GPS. The fault happened weeks earlier when they failed to plan what they were trying to do. Read any story about a GPS disaster (wrong destination, driving in to rivers, etc.): these are symptoms not just of over-reliance on the technology but of a lack of planning and thinking ahead. Doing some basic navigation will help you see things you would have missed otherwise. And it’s not about ditching the new technology. It’s about using it as just one of many tools rather than something “magic” you cannot do without”, - says McKinlay.

    The Poetry of Natural Navigation
    Tristan Gooley has led expeditions in five continents, climbed mountains in Europe, Africa and Asia, sailed small boats across oceans and piloted small aircraft to Africa and the Arctic. He has walked with and studied the methods of the Tuareg, Bedouin and Dayak in some of the remotest regions on Earth - and he’s convinced that natural navigation is worth re-discovering.


    “I think in a way, GPS navigation is a little like fast food. Sure, you get your calorie needs met, and it’s quick and easy. But fine dining on exquisite food is a very different experience altogether. Is it necessary? No, of course not. But neither is music, for example: you can go from dawn to dusk without music, without art. Natural navigation to a journey is what poetry is to daily life: not necessary to survival, but vital to enrich the experience”, - says Gooley.

    For him, everything in his surroundings is a clue. “Simply paying attention to what’s around you can give you so much information about where you are and where you need to go. The sun is always due South in the Northern hemisphere. Notice the direction of the winds: wind leaves permanent markings on trees and buildings. Have you noticed the vegetation change? There’s probably a river ahead. Observe cultural behavior: in any big city, you can easily find the center by following the flows of people in the morning, or going in the opposite direction in the evening rush hour when everyone’s headed home. Notice if someone hesitates at an intersection: they probably aren’t local, so asking for directions won’t help. Observe the condition of the road, especially if it’s gravel: at an intersection, the road which was used the most, which has the most tire marks on it, will probably lead you back to civilization. Pay attention to animal behavior: you don’t need to be a Pacific islander following herds of dolphins to get home, or a Dayak finding his way in the jungle by observing a hornet’s nest. Once in Greece, we couldn’t find the beach we were heading back to – there were five perfectly identical beaches in the area, and we were confused. What helped us was observing a pack of cats which were sitting around a garbage container – we’d noticed them before, and found our beach by remembering the cats”.

    Is sense of direction an innate gift? According to Gooley, it’s debatable – but so are the methods of navigation. “Some people navigate intuitively: they will always find their way, but they will be unable to explain how they got there. The Dayak, for example, have a very unique understanding of the shape of the Earth: for them, everything is not South/North or left/right – it’s upstream or downstream and uphill or downhill. The Touareg have an incredible familiarity with their localities: they can tell two identical dunes apart, but they would be lost in Manhattan where for them, all the buildings would probably look the same. So it’s more about what you learn growing up than some innate gift. When we are young, our brain decides what to prioritize. A little Cretan boy who spent his childhood herding sheep in the mountains with his dad will have a better talent for navigation than a city kid who was driven everywhere. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn to navigate, it simply takes time and practice. As a motorcyclist, when you hear a bike go by you probably know whether it’s accelerating or decelerating, what make and model it is, without even seeing it. Well, for me, it’s the same with navigation. It’s about actively using this skill and fine-tuning it as you go along”.

    Getting Lost Can Be Healthy
    Bill Eakins is constantly out riding, scouting new routes, roads, and tracks. Bill uses the rule of three when it comes to navigation: a GPS unit, a paper map, and a compass.

    But even the map maker himself sometimes gets lost. “Frankly, I sometimes take the wrong turn on purpose: when you get lost, you always learn something. Even if a road turns out to be a dead end, it’s something new that I didn’t know before. I think the early explorers had it right: they got lost a lot! But look how much they gained. To me, exploring uncharted territory brings back the sense of discovery and pure wonder. Even if it’s a different track around a familiar mountain, or a different angle to see some long-forgotten valley, it’s something that I’ve discovered, it’s a route that I have created rather than merely followed directions to a destination”, - says Bill.

    For Matt Brummet, it’s all about learning to read mother nature. “What will help you develop your navigation skills is learning about the natural world and your surroundings without the use of maps and electronics. Spending time studying and observing the natural world will reveal more than you think. At the very least, learn the most basic of navigation, the cardinal directions (north, east, south, west) and how to find them using natural means, the sun, moon, stars, life zones, plants, shadows, etc. Learning how to read maps, especially topographic maps, is a huge plus: being able to read topographic maps will show you the landscape in 3D. Reading topographic maps and developing route profiles for each day of travel are essential. A route profile is a way to plot out the day by reading the map and pointing out certain landmarks to look for such as trail junctions, creek crossings, geologic features, elevation gain/loss, mile markers, and so on. Finally, talking and listening to locals is always a great resource”, - says Matt.

    But what if you’re lost?

    “The main reasons people get lost are lack of paying attention, poor planning and mistakes they don’t correct. If you got lost, don’t panic. Well, you can panic but please don’t make any decisions while you’re in panic mode! After you have de-escalated from your mental freak-out, make a logical plan. Make sure you’re in a location that is safe from things such as flash flooding, avalanches, rock slides, dead trees, etc. Your priority is your safety. To orient myself in the wilderness, I pay close attention to the signs that nature gives me for general direction of travel. Line of sight, getting a vantage point to see farther and an overall view of the surroundings are vital along with finding the cardinal directions and keeping track of them throughout your travel. For this I use the sun, moon, stars, shadow stick, plants and ecosystem. Looking at certain plants, their ecosystem and life zones will all reveal information about general direction allowing me orientation. As an example, I’m in a high mountain valley, the sun is not showing and it’s hard to know direction. On one side of the valley slope are Aspen trees across the stream on the other slope are Spruce/Fir trees. Knowing that Spruce/Fir trees grow at a higher elevation than Aspen trees lets me know the slope with the Aspen trees is warmer then the Spruce/Fir slope. My conclusion is the Aspen tree slope receives more sun (south-ish facing) then the Spruce/Fir slope that grows at a higher elevation, which is colder, less sun (north-ish facing)”, - advises Matt.

    All four navigation experts agree: a GPS unit is a wonderful piece of technology, and navigating using paper maps – or no maps at all – isn’t a more ‘kosher’ way to travel. But having a basic navigation skill set, an ability to use natural navigation tools, and simply observing and paying attention to your surroundings can make the difference between a tourist holiday and an adventurous journey – or, in the more remote corners of the Earth, between and adventure ride and an adventure going wrong.

    So go, experiment, and get lost: discover the world on your own terms!


    Source: The lost art of navigation
     
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  2. canthai

    canthai Ol'Timer

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    Good article.
    1 mistake - The sun is always due South in the Northern hemisphere.
     
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  3. GTR-Admin

    GTR-Admin Ben Kemp
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    I am mildly embarrassed at my lack of interest in GPS units... It's odd considering that I spent years implementing Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and using survey-grade GPS & aerial photography to map utilities (water, sewer, stormwater) and earthquake fault lines etc. The technology is interesting, incredibly powerful, but in my case, not even at all compelling...

    My personal preference is a hard-copy map... Sure, I have used my phone + Google Maps to navigate to a hard to find resort/guesthouse/business in a city, but I like to use a proper map for an overview of where I'm going. Exploring is not something that everyone enjoys - I've never actually been lost in Thailand, but there have been a few times when I've had no idea where the hell I was, exactly - but that's part of the fun! :cool:

    My mum was well known for her interest in weekend exploratory excursions, to the point where she has the following engraved on her headstone; "I wonder what's down that road" - and I have the same view of the world. No GPS required - just follow the road to the end...

    As the article suggests, navigational preferences and skills really do depend to some degree on how you grew up. In my case I grew up going deer hunting every weekend with my dad and his mates, deep in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, and in the heavily forested lowland hill country. Pretty much everyone had an unerring sense of direction, so I understand that aspect very well... That, plus a standard "inch to the mile" topographical map, was all anyone ever needed to plan a major trip into wilderness areas. And of course, we got taught to read maps at school...

    There is a definite reduction in the availability of paper maps - there was a time in Thailand when the Seven 11 shops all had a map rack, but those days seem to have passed us by.
     
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  4. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator
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    Another interesting article for those who maybe interested

    Spatial Orientation and the Brain: The Effects of Map Reading and Navigation

    The human brain is a remarkable organ. It has the ability to reason, create, analyze, and process tons of information each day. The brain also gives humans the ability to move around in an environment using an innate sense of direction. This skill is called spatial orientation, and it is especially useful for finding routes in an unfamiliar place, following directions to another person’s house, or making a midnight raid of the refrigerator in the dark. Spatial orientation is crucial for adapting to new environments and getting from one point to another. Without it, people will walk around in endless circles, never being able find which way they want to go.

    The brain has a specialized region just for navigating the spatial environment. This structure is called the hippocampus, also known as the map reader of the brain. The hippocampus helps individuals determine where they are, how they got to that particular place, and how to navigate to the next destination. Reading maps and developing navigational skills can affect the brain in beneficial ways. In fact, using orientation and navigational skills often can actually cause the hippocampus and the brain to grow, forming more neural pathways as the number of mental maps increase.

    A study by scientists at University College in London found that grey matter in the brains of taxi drivers grew and adapted to help them store detailed mental maps of the city. The drivers underwent MRI scans, and those scans showed that the taxi drivers have larger hippocampi when compared to other people. In addition, the scientists found that the more time the drivers spent on the job, the more the hippocampus changes structurally to accommodate the large amount of navigational experience. Drivers who spent more than forty years in a taxi had more developed hippocampi than those just starting out. The study shows that experience with the spatial environment and navigation can have a direct influence on the brain itself.

    However, the use of modern navigational technology and smartphone apps has the potential to harm the brain depending on how it is used in today’s world. Map reading and orienteering are becoming lost arts in the world of global positioning systems and other geospatial technologies. As a result, more and more people are losing the ability to navigate and find their way in unfamiliar terrain. According to the BBC, police in northern Scotland issued an appeal for hikers to learn orienteering skills rather than relying solely on smartphones for navigation. This came after repeated rescues of lost hikers by police in Grampian, one of which included finding fourteen people using mountain rescue teams and a helicopter. The police stated that the growing use of smartphone apps for navigation can lead to trouble because people become too dependent on technology without understanding the tangible world around them.

    At McGill University, researchers did a series of three studies on the effects of using GPS devices on the brain. The scientists wanted to measure the brain activity of people while using two methods that humans employ when navigating. The first method is called spatial navigation, and this is where landmarks are used to build those cognitive maps that help us determine where we are in a particular environment. The second is called stimulus-response. In this situation, humans run on auto-pilot mode and retrace their steps according to repetition. For example, taking the same route home from work becomes second nature after a while, and sooner or later you find yourself retracing the route out of habit, not thinking about how you got home. Researchers claimed that this mode is more closely related to the way a GPS is used to navigate.

    What researchers found was significant in terms of how spatial orientation affects the brain. After performing fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans on people using both of those strategies, the individuals that used a spatial navigation strategy had an increased activity in the hippocampus. Conversely, they found that using a GPS excessively might to lead to atrophy in the hippocampus as a person ages, and this could put them at higher risk for cognitive diseases later in life. One of these diseases might be Alzheimer’s which impairs the hippocampus and leads to problems with spatial orientation and memory. Researchers also found a greater volume of grey matter in those who used spatial navigation, and this group scored higher on standardized cognition tests than those who used the other strategy. The results of this study demonstrate that using orienteering and building cognitive maps might be better for the brain than using a GPS.

    Researchers are now questioning whether modern global positioning systems and advanced maps are doing humans any good. Studies done by the British Cartographic Society have determined that high-tech maps can get users from Point A to Point B but are falling short compared to traditional paper maps. Old-fashioned printed maps not only show users how to navigate but also give other important information about an area such as historical landmarks, government buildings and cultural institutions. The fear of using a GPS exclusively is a loss of cultural and geographic literacy. The more humans use GPS, the more cut off from the real world they might become.

    Dr. Toru Ishikawa, a researcher and specialist in human spatial behavior, has done numerous studies on how using a GPS device affects the ability of humans to navigate the surrounding environment. Ishikawa and colleagues at the University of Tokyo asked three groups of people to find their way through an urban environment on foot using various means of navigation. One group used a mobile phone with a built-in GPS and another group used a paper map. Researchers actually showed the last group the route they needed to take before navigating on their own. The study found that the group that used the GPS walked slower, made more stops, and walked farther than the others. They made more errors and took longer to reach their destination. After their walks, the GPS users also exhibited a poorer knowledge of the terrain, topography, and the routes they took when asked to draw a map. The group shown the route beforehand by researchers did the best in the study.

    Researchers who point out the benefits of paper maps claim that using a GPS actually makes it harder for people to navigate. A GPS device encourages people to stare down at a screen instead of looking around at their environment. The size of GPS screen also means that users cannot view both their location and their destination at the same time. However, paper maps do not rely on getting a signal, and using a map in conjunction with a compass gives people a better feel for the natural world. Anyone can learn orienteering with a map and compass, no matter what navigational skills they are born with. Those in favor of paper maps also point on that there is a big difference between precision and accuracy when using a GPS. A device can be precise without being accurate. Anyone who has found themselves in the wrong place but exactly where the GPS told them to go knows what that means.

    A GPS can only go so far in aiding people with navigation. Barry Brown, co-director of the Mobile Life Center and co-author of a research study called, “The Normal Natural Troubles of Driving with GPS” tells the story of a man from San Diego who flew to the East Coast. When he arrived, he picked up a rental car outfitted with a GPS but, after twenty minutes of driving, the man sensed he had been headed in the wrong direction. He then realized that he had entered his own California address and that the GPS was leading him 3,000 miles away. Similarly, according to More Intelligent Life, a magazine from the Economist, Princess Diana’s niece once told a taxi driver to take her Stamford Bridge, a football (soccer) stadium in London. Instead, she ended up 150 miles in the wrong direction in the village of Stamford Bridge. A GPS cannot always save us from our own human errors.

    Those in favor of GPS devices argue that in-car navigation systems are most helpful when driving. These digital maps are helpful because they can tell the driver the location of the nearest restaurant or gas station. Some GSP devices can also help people make contact with friends though location-based social networking. In fact, a Taiwanese study suggested that GPS devices outdid paper maps when it came to driving efficiency. However, a study by Barry Brown and the University of California, San Diego found another way in which GSP navigation could be harmful to the human brain. Drivers who use GPS often find that their navigation skills have atrophied. Like any other cognitive skill, map reading and navigation need to be practiced in order to not diminish.

    The concern over GPS devices and its effects on the human brain only highlights a greater unease of what technology is doing to critical thinking and memorization. With information only a click away, people are losing their common sense. Each new innovation of Google Maps only brings about a decrease in basic geographical knowledge. Moreover, there are even apps for people to find what floor they are on in a building as if looking for floor numbers is too difficult. Researchers, academics, and even hike leaders are becoming concerned that technology is decreasing our mental capacity and observation skills. Then, if technology fails, people will be incapable of determining where they are.

    Gender also has an important effect on navigation and spatial orientation skills. Several studies have demonstrated that men and women use different strategies when trying to navigate. A study from the Netherlands asked men and women to find their way back to their cars in a crowded parking lot. As a result, men tended to use more mileage terms when describing the route while women mentioned landmarks more often. A professor at Utrecht University, Albert Postma, claims that a man’s brain is better suited to precise distances while women focus more on the relationship between objects. These differences in spatial orientation, although rather small, are the results of biological differences in the brains between genders but also different learning experiences.

    Another study asked a group of men and women in a Mexican village to gather mushrooms. The researchers fitted them with satellite positioning devices and heart rate monitors. The study found that the women expended less energy and seemed to know where to go. The women were also more likely to recall their routes using landmarks and retraced their paths to the most productive areas. Although men are usually better at reading and using maps, women usually get to their destination quicker because they are better at remembering landmarks. Consequently, women are less likely to get lost.

    Other studies demonstrate that men and women develop different methods of navigating and orienting themselves to the spatial environment because of differences in roles as hunters and gatherers. This could explain the reason why men get lost in supermarkets while women can find their way around in minutes. Research done at Queen Mary, University of London demonstrated that men are better at finding hidden objects while women are better at remembering where objects are at. In addition, Frank Furedi, a sociology professor at Kent University, states that women are better at making judgment calls while men tend to overcomplicate the most basic navigational tasks.

    The use of map reading and navigating skills to explore the spatial environment can benefit the brain and cause certain areas to grow while the use of modern technology for navigation seems to only hinder the brain. No matter which strategy men and women use for navigation, it is important to practice those skills and tune into the environment. While technology is a useful tool, in the end the human brain remains the most sophisticated map reader.

    Source: Source: Rebecca Maxwell @ GIS Lounge.​
     
  5. Oddvar

    Oddvar Ol'Timer

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    A GPS device encourages people to stare down at a screen instead of looking around at their environment.
    So true. Nothing beats getting lost with just a paper map. :):):)
     
  6. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator
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    The Benefits Of Learning Analog Motorcycle Navigation
    Expert off-road navigator Emily Miller shares her simple secrets of navigation

    emily-miller-navigation.

    Emily Miller doesn’t trust GPS maps.
    “Maps are really great, but maps can lie,” she says. “Or you can lie to yourself and want to believe something on the map is what it is when it is not.”

    As the driving force behind the Rebelle Rally—a women’s off-road navigation rally raid that requires participants to forgo GPS and any tech that connects to the internet—a fair portion of her life revolves around getting from one place to another the old-fashioned way.

    Navigation, Miller says, begins with knowing exactly where you are and where you want to go. It sounds simple, but few can look at the wilderness around us and pinpoint our location without a nudge from the electronic gadgets in our pockets. It’s a dangerous dependence when we’re just a small accident away from being cut off entirely. The fix?

    “Everyone should understand triangulation,” Miller says.

    Simply put, triangulation is the process of using landmarks you can both identify on a map and see with your eye to fix your position in space—and it’s as easy as having an understanding of compass basics.

    Miller learned the hard way, by taking a Coast Guard navigation course then testing her skills at the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles in Morocco.

    “I paid attention to all the parts that I understood, and the second it didn’t make sense, my eyes would cross,” Miller says. But the skills eventually come together, and in the African desert it’s almighty important that they do. “You get out there and realize that, to be the best rider you can be, it’s about knowing where you’re going, how to get there, and how to be smart about it. Often you’re alone.”
    emily-miller-reading-compass.

    You don’t need a nautical bent or a trial-by-African-fire to learn traditional orienteering. There are resources all over the country designed to give you an old-school navigation foundation.

    “REI offers a map and compass course,” Miller says. “It’s the same thing, and it’s a great way to start.”

    Past that, Miller says navigation novices can avoid the pitfalls she’s endured in her years of driving and navigating with a simple rule: “Just slow down,” she says. “You can only ride as fast as you can navigate

    Source: Motorcyclist 9 April 2018
     

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