- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Want to visit a distant relative but afraid of becoming hopelessly lost far from home? Global positioning system (GPS) navigation systems that use satellites to determine your car’s exact location and in-car wireless communications systems such as On-Star are making road trips far less stressful for the directionally challenged.

The latest DVD-based GPS navigation systems cover the entire country, replacing the more costly regional CD-based systems. They can now plot your driving route to destinations nationwide.

Better yet, if you are running low on fuel, these systems can guide you to the nearest gas station. If you are hungry, they show you the closest restaurant. And if need be, they can also direct you to the nearest hospital. An increasing number of these systems are voice activated, making them much easier to use while driving compared with their more complicated manual-input predecessors.

Another great way to find your way around D.C.- area highways — or West Coast freeways for that matter — is through the OnStar system. OnStar services can include route support, automatic notification of air-bag deployment, stolen-vehicle assistance, emergency services, roadside assistance with location, remote door unlock, remote diagnostics, as well as concierge and convenience services.

OnStar, a wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors, is the nation’s leading provider of in-vehicle safety, security and information services using the GPS satellite network and wireless technology.

OnStar is available on more than 50 GM models for 2004, as well as a range of models from Acura, Audi, Honda, Isuzu, Subaru and Volkswagen. OnStar services are also available on Lexus, under the name Lexus Link.

If you get lost, there’s great relief in knowing that there is someone at the push of a button who can tell you where you are — and more importantly, tell you how to get to where you need to be.

Or, if you accidentally lock yourself out of your car, OnStar can remotely unlock the door for you.

Can’t find your car on a crowded mall parking lot? Not a problem; OnStar will sound your car’s horn so you locate your vehicle.

Two uses of OnStar systems by this writer attest to its convenience.

In the first case, while driving to an evening appointment on a cold, dark and rainy night, I became disoriented in the throes of the District’s maze of concentric streets and traffic circles. I had an idea of where I was, but was having difficulty finding the exact address.

With a push of a button, an OnStar travel advisor pinpointed my car’s position and directed me through traffic-choked one-way streets to the location of my meeting — all with time to spare.

In the second instance, in the other Washington — the one about 3,500 miles away — OnStar was able to again pinpoint my car’s location while I was lost in Seattle.

Then, on a whim, because I saw it looming off in the distance, I asked the OnStar concierge if she could make dinner reservations for me at the Space Needle restaurant.

Not only did she make the reservations, she directed me there turn-by-turn, and then guided me to the valet parking area when I arrived.

I was able to make spur-of-the-moment dinner plans thousands of miles from home while confidently and safely driving through a large, unfamiliar city as the OnStar adviser steered me to my destination. Pretty amazing stuff — and it was all hands-free with just the single touch of a button.

As a testament to the growing popularity of hands-free Personal Calling service nationwide, two years after launching it, OnStar has sold more than 200 million wireless minutes.

This demonstrates another of the system’s assets — and the increasing value OnStar subscribers place on their ability to make and receive hands-free phone calls while safely driving their vehicles.

The OnStar Personal Calling feature also allows access to automated, real-time customized traffic and weather reports, and other helpful information simply by asking while driving.

OnStar’s powerful 3-watt embedded cellular phone and external antenna result in a connection much more reliable than a standard half-watt cell phone.

Plus, users do not have to worry about their cell phone battery running out.

Because of OnStar’s enhanced power and external antenna, areas of weak cell phone signals are also significantly reduced.

With OnStar, the channel is clear for steering a course on “which way” to go.

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