UK-based Trafficmaster Plc is developing an in-car vehicle navigation system called T-nav which combines an ‘off-board’ server based routing system with the company’s current live traffic flow data information.

Trafficmaster claims T-nav is unique because it takes into account current and forecast traffic conditions. Once a driver has logged a chosen route with the T-nav call centre, using a mobile telephone, a route-guard service is automatically provided, watching the route ahead and sending an automatic alert should traffic problems be noted.

Although the company is keeping pricing and subscription information to itself for the moment, the system should cost much less than the $US5,000 typically charged by car makers for in-car sat-nav.

A source said that although “the commercials have not been done yet” the hardware was likely to be priced under $US400 and the operating costs would probably be a modest subscription charge plus a mobile phone charge for each destination entered.

With T-nav, the hardware and mapping database is housed off-board in a central server computer and the only equipment added to the car is a GPS satellite-based positioning device and a small in-car unit (ICU) which receives the route data.

Trafficmaster therefore takes care of map updates, unlike on-board systems which require the regular purchase of a new CD to keep up to date with road system changes.

To use the service, the car driver contacts the central server with a single mobile phone key press, automatically providing the car’s exact location to the server computer.

A call centre operator will request details of the destination required and can advise the expected journey time, based on the route chosen and live traffic information to hand.

Route data is automatically downloaded to the car’s ICU, formatted to minimise cellular airtime and keep operating costs down. The ICU then provides route instructions via the car audio system speakers using a voice-based Oracle programme.

As with conventional sat-nav, each instruction is issued ahead of an upcoming junction/route change.

Should the system be alerted of congestion ahead, the driver is automatically warned and, by pressing the star key on the hands-free mobile phone, can select an alternative route.

The T-nav system provides the shortest and, taking account of traffic flows, the quickest route.

Regular routes can be entered into the system using the Internet and, via voice recognition technology, the driver uses the mobile phone to input a destination into the central server to obtain journey time and activate the route guard facility.

The new system is currently under development by a new operating division within the Trafficmaster Group, Telematics Service Provision, and will be available in the UK later in 2001.