Lonely Planet Writer

Over-reliance on SatNav technology threatens our sense of direction expert warns

People may be losing their sense of direction as more and more navigational skills are handed over to SatNav technology. Roger McKinlay, a  former president of the Royal Institute of Navigation, claimed we are in danger of losing our way due to over-reliance on directional aids.

Satnav leads American tourists astray in Italy. Image by Gareth Simpson / CC BY S.0
Satnav technology  is leading people into a ‘use it or lose it’ dilemma with their own inbuilt navigational skills says expert, Roger McKinlay  Image by Gareth Simpson / CC BY 2.0

In an article in Nature journal, the satellite communication consultant called for the introduction of map-reading and navigation on to the school curriculum.

Warning of a “use-it-or-lose-it” scenario with the skill, he made it clear that our navigational nous would deteriorate if we continue to rely on the burgeoning number of smart devices at our fingertips.

He predicted that the situation could get worse very soon as our navigational requirements would be further tested with the introduction of driverless vehicles and the use of drones delivering goods in towns and cities.

Mr McKinlay warned though that for all the laudation it received, satellite navigation doesn’t work well in built-up areas or inside and was therefore more unreliable than we think.

And he pointed out that they could give false information in closed environments where signals could be bounced around.

The expert also highlighted how simulator studies had shown a reduction in human navigational skills by technology.

He explained that drivers in those situations who used satnav directions found it harder to work out than others who simply used maps.

Mr McKinlay pointed out that rescue teams were increasingly facing situations where people with empty smart phone batteries got lost and had no sense of where they were.

These phones would be virtually everywhere within the next four years, he added.