Instead of consulting those bulky tomes or struggling with unwieldy road maps, lost motorists can now refer to a digital navigation system
Ditch that street directory

EVER have trouble finding your way around?

The front men of Asia Geographical Information Systems (Agis), Mr Jeremiah Loo and Mr Poon Kim Ying, together with Nanyang Technological University associate professor Goh Pong Chai as their technical adviser, promise that you will never be lost again. Just misplaced temporarily.

Together with business partner Information Mapping Research, which is one of the owners of the intellectual property rights to Singapore maps, Agis operates as a clever alliance of software and geographical information.

The homegrown company develops software and hardware systems that organise geographical information, to make it easier for businesses to use.

Mr Loo, the managing director, says: "We try to bundle GIS data and the maps that we have so as to have useful commercial applications."

Agis offers products like the street directory in print, the Global Positioning System (GPS) Navigator, Agis Vehicle Locator and other related solutions for commerce.

Of all these products, the one most likely to interest motorists is the GPS navigator, which is capable of replacing both the street directory, and the missus reading it and calling out instructions.

The navigator works by tracking your car's location via satellites, using the GPS system, and indicating your position on a street map via a Personal Digital Assistant.

A test run of the navigator reveals a few flaws.

For starters, it is difficult to read or handle the PDA while trying to drive.

In addition, the system is unable to plan the shortest route to your specified destination, leaving you to working it out for yourself.

This translates into some pre-journey manual labour.

Alternatively, it boasts a trace feature which allows route paths taken to be recorded for future reference.

As it is not exactly artificial intelligence like David Hasselhoff's car in Knight Rider, those inept at deciphering maps may only get marginal salvation.

When it comes to functionality, the navigator lags behind other international systems which boast options like voice-assisted directions, weather reports, notification of traffic conditions, or Internet access.

Nevertheless, consider the cost comparison. Most satnav units will set you back by a couple of thousands, and besides, the satnav systems that are available in imported luxury cars do not come with the relevant data for local roads.

The Agis system, on the other hand, costs only $290 (with $49 for an annual revised version), eats up a meagre 1 MB of your PDA storage capacity, and can run on any PDA which uses Windows CE.

There is an option to purchase all the necessary components separately or in a discounted package.

One notable element is that the map display offers the choice of which geographical information to show.

This means if you only want to see road names with commercial buildings, you can opt for these two layers of data to be displayed exclusively.

This turns out to be extremely user-friendly, as it leaves the map neat and clutter-free, with only the information required being displayed. Another good feature is that you can view a picture of your destination. How many times have you driven in circles around a location because you cannot see the building's sign and do not know what it looks like?

In addition, Agis claims that no public access stone was left unturned during the system's database creation. Every possible public building, road, or even petrol station can be found at the click of the "find" button.

Ultimately, the Agis navigator works well in its supposed role, that is, as a digital "you are here". Its creators say that most of the missing options mentioned above will be included in the near future, too.

Agis identifies tourist and rental companies, sales and field staff personnel, as well as new car companies as its target market. Tourists who drive will be able to home in on any desired attraction, delivery staff need never waste fuel and time in search of a location, and those who simply tend to get lost a lot will have all the directions they need.

The company's strongest attribute is the fact that they possess the most comprehensive library of Singapore's geographical information. Currently, detailed city maps of Johor Baru are also included in the software, with more to follow for Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

Although the navigator needs fine-tuning, it has plenty of potential if Agis fulfils its promises.

For now, it will be good enough for those who fancy a digital A to Z.

* For more information, contact Agis on 6284-2501.