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Robin was interviewed during the 3rd May 1998 'Into Tomorrow' radio chat show. This is broadcast across 75 USA networks, and overseas via AFN . The theme of this 2 hour show, hosted by Dave Graveline, was 'Transportation Technology'.
The show went out live from 1400 to 1600 EST (1900-2100 UK time) and Robin phoned in at 1430 EST. The show is broadcast on AFN - the US Armed Forces Network - around the world a few days later. For further information on this series of weekly radio programmes, visit the 'Into Tomorrow' web site on : http://www.graveline.com
Dave Graveline to Audience: ... Bringing you further 'Into Tomorrow', I'm Dave Graveline, we're talking today about 'Transportation Technology'... in the studio with us, Chairman and Professor at FIUs Layman Centre for Transportation Research, Dr David Chen... also from Florida's Department of Transportation, Kimberley Walton... and joining us on the 'phone right now, all the way from the United Kingdom, calling us from England is Robin Lovelock. Robin is the owner of Sunninghill Systems talking about the GPS System, among other things...
Dave to Robin: .. Robin, welcome to 'Into Tomorrow'
Robin: Hi David, How are you ?
Dave: very fine, how are you ?
Robin: very well indeed
Dave: good, what time is it in England
Robin: about 7.30 in the evening
Dave: that's fine, so we are not keeping you up late I hope
Robin: no, no problem at all
Dave: OK. Tell me a little bit about Sunninghill Systems, as you guys do a lot of GPS work that we're talking about here
Robin: that's right.. we only do one thing in fact.. it's one particular GPS Software product. It's intended for a future market, when we hope there'll be millions of 'Car-PC's, or 'Auto PC's, but for the last 3 years it's in fact been more commonly used for remote tracking by businesses, police, and in one or two cases - the odd military application.
Dave: OK - and can it be used by the General Public, now, for example with a Laptop, or something..
Robin: Oh - very much.. I mean that's in fact how it started off... we released it about 3 years ago. It's always been intended to run on a Laptop PC, and most people - that's how they use it .. they download it off our web site, with maps - we've now got maps for 80 countries, and we've got at least one person in each country - quite a few in the States I can say .. and basically the software shows where you are on a map - but it also speaks.. so it describes where you are, and obviously guides you to places.
Dave: very good.. so your software can actually tell us where to go..
Robin: Uhh yeah (laughs) - more than one meaning to that of course..
Dave: Bill tells me that you software is FREE ?
Robin: That's right.. from a practical point of view, to the public, and any business that is evaluating it, it is free because we don't deny any of the functionality - what they download from the web site is the latest product... and the only thing different is that when it starts up it has a little message that says 'unregistered'... but from a practical point of view, all the facilities, including the remote tracking facilities, are available. We just rely on the fact that any business that was going to sell it on - it doesn't make business sense to do that without involving us.
Dave: Sure.. I can understand that... does your software also have like a 'nagging back seat driver' feature ...
Robin: (laughs) - there was at least one TV programme where that was the opening line, in fact... "if you hate back seat drivers - you'll really hate this" ... but yeah, I think the practical point of view, is that because the software.. although the software can be used with speech recognition - so that you effectively have a conversation with it - speech recognition is still probably a year or two away from being reliable enough to use in cars...
Dave: .. now there's an important point too - I can imagine when travelling - and especially when travelling alone - it'll let the software keep you awake...
Robin: .. yeah.. what I found from a practical point of view.. I first sort of started the prototype about 6 years ago.. and although it was a bit strange, I suppose, listening to your own voice, and occasionally - with speech recognition - actually having a conversation with it... it was actually practically quite useful if you were coming across country.. middle of the night... wet roads... that it would give you confidence that you were going in the right direction, and how far you are from home, and where you were relative to other places.
Dave: Now what I would hope is that you would also, in the future, keep a good sense of humour, and work it out - you know - where people have the option, 'do you want the "sense of humour" software ? ... or do you want the regular software ?... .. I'd love to be driving - and the software says, "Hey Dummy ! I said Turn Left !"
Robin: (laughs) Oh well .. Jest not ! (laughs) ...in fact we are just in the last few months, we've been uploading other languages - it always spoke English and Japanese, and now you can download Italian speech, and sort of half of German, French, Spanish - and Chinese is on the way... but we are now branching off into other accents, including the chipmonk accent for kids (laugh)
Dave: Got yer, I was gonna say.. you mentioned that you were in 80 countries - so you've got to have a lot of multiple languages, and I would imagine that your staff has to be growing remarkably - almost like you need translators...
Robin: I know... but that's the funny thing about the business... actually.. it's a small family business.. and essentially we do everything through other people... and that's the reason we give the software away... to contact businesses... and all we're really selling is permission to use what's already there. We believe it's a good product, and because it's an Open product, it's fairly easy to add things like maps or languages to it.. it makes business sense for other people to use it.
Dave: OK.. now let's say we've gone to your web site... ...which is www.gpss.co.uk ... and of course listeners can visit our web site on www.graveline.com
Robin: - that's right and we've got a link through to you...
Dave: .. there you go.. an we've a link to yours... ..now we download your software ... but what else do we need in order to make this work... do we simply need a Laptop computer and a GPS receiver ?
Robin: That's it... the Laptop computer is the expensive thing.. so whatever those cost you in the States.. a guess a thousand dollars ish - as long as it runs any of the Windows Operating Systems - Microsoft Windows - that's fine... the GPS receivers, of course, are coming down in price all the time... I believe in the States you can get them for something in the region of a hundred dollars... they are coming down of course... in another year or two they will probably be half that price..
Dave: ..if they are 'Hot off the Truck' :-) I don't know if they are quite that inexpensive... (laughs)
Robin: (laughs) Yeah.. I think you'll find there are... they've come down a lot in the last year or so... and I think you can pick 'em up for that sort of ballpark - mind you - you probably get what you pay for.
Dave: Well that's true - so obviously, you'll get the best that you can afford because especially if you are going to do a lot of travelling, you don't want to be lost ...
Robin: .. indeed...
Dave: ... it needs to be dependable...
Robin: ... that's right...
Dave: ... now you mentioned that also businesses, and in certainly military, law enforcement and so forth can use them... one of the notes I have is for car security, and even 'chase' facility ?
Robin: That's right... in fact, strangely enough it was on Television... featured... the 10 minutes worth over here... showing one of the local police forces using it in that way. The basic thing is quite a simple concept - again there's a page on the web site describing it - and pretty any worthwhile engineer is probably capable of putting it together - which is... you take a mobile phone, and you connect it to a GPS receiver, and you package it in such a way that it can be hidden in the car. The net result is, if you want to know where that car is, then you run the same sort of computer and modem that you're using for Internet access, with our software - which is the same stuff that you've downloaded off the net - and so long as it's given the telephone number of that unit that's in the car - it can dial into it, and then it's getting a continuous flow of GPS data, so it'll be tracking it on a map.
Dave: ... to an accuracy of 3 metres anywhere in the world.. so they'll know where your car is ...
Robin: ... I don't know where the 3 metres came from (laughs)
Dave: ... but that's what the military would have us believe...
Robin: ... well ... that's certainly true... and there are occasions when it's that.. but at the moment there's a deliberate error of course, fed in by the system - the so called 'Selective Availability' error - which means that a lot of the time it may only be accurate to 40 or 50 metres, and occasionaly perhaps 100, but I believe your Government has announced a year or two back that it's going to switch that error signal off, and in fact a lot of people have noticed that it's switched off anyhow a lot of the time... so you're right - from a practical point of view it will be as accurate as that in the long term, but generally you have to spend more money to get special receivers to get that accuracy.
Dave: ... in case our listeners don't know why they even bother switching it on or off and so forth.. allegedly it's so we can't zero in on for example, on The White House, or The Pentagon or something like that... because it's also missile tracking... and that kind of thing...
Robin: ... well then obviously, from the military point of view, if someone knows exactly where they are, and they are going to fire morters or guns of some kind, then in order to deliver a weapon - a shell - onto a target, you've got to know where you're firing from, and that's probably the most important military use of it.
Dave: .. that's true.. and I had a guest on the show one time that was starting to say, "... for example Dave your house here is located at exactly..." - and I went, "no no ..." (laughs) ".. let's not be that specific... no more that a couple hundred metres off..."
Robin: (laughs) .. that's right...
Dave: ... it's Miami Lakes Florida - that's good enough for me
Robin: (laughs) ... exactly.. well as it happens I think I do know where you are, but I won't broadcast it (laughs)
Dave: ... thankyou very much... and we're tracing this call all the way to England as well :-)
Robin: .. sure :-)
Dave: ... Robin, one last quick question... how do you make any money then, if you're giving your software away ?
Robin: ... well, it's a sensible enough question, but the fact is, that we just rely on the fact that occasionally a business or an organisation like the police, need to use it legally, and when they use it legally they have to pay us some money, and they have to pay us whatever is the sensible market value for that particular use.
Dave: ... fair enough. Well I appreciate you joining us, and continued good luck to you guys... and, as I mentioned, we'll link our web site to yours, so our listeners can get more information...
Robin: ... OK, I appreciate that...
Dave: ... so our listeners can download the software... and see what happens... so stay in touch with us... maybe we'll get you live here in Miami next time...
Robin: ... OK, appreciate it, thanks very much
Dave: ... take care
Robin: ... Bye Bye
Dave to Audience:
... the good news is he can use his GPS system to find us...
Footnote from Robin in November 2015: What an interesting read, from all those years ago ! That web site of www.graveline.com has now been replaced by www.intotomorrow.com - good to see Dave (and his son?) still in the same business. I was obviously wrong in 1998 about voice recognition "taking off" - I guess we are still waiting, despite the massive advances in things like mobile 'phone computing. I certainly did not foresee IBM PCs and Microsoft Windows being overtaken so dramatically by things like smart 'phones and Android !
I remembered this old radio interview when chatting recently by email, with a Russian in Moscow, who contacted me about Snoopy's robot boat. I realised that there may be some stories on Robin's Grumpy Old Man Page that might be of interest to American and AFN listeners. Some of those "Grumpy" stories may be "too hot to handle", even if interesting. e.g. use of the nazi salute in America until 1942. The same applies to several of the topics raised such as the history of Ukraine. Some stories, such as the NHS (the UK National Health System) will not be of interest outside the UK. I've had Internet friends for over 20 years in 150+ countries - not just in America.
But what about that mystery, at the very end of the Grumpy page, of who rescued Snoopy's robot boat, and put it on Brighton Beach ? My best bet has always been that it was the UK Royal Marines SBS (Special Boat Service), having a bit of (dangerous) fun. Or was it the Seals ? A good story to put out on AFN ? See Snoopy :-)
"Hi Guys ! I've lived so many years in Europe, I hope you don't think that I have "gone native". These clothes were given me by McDonalds, when they gave out clones of me around the World, and they are appropriate: Vikings were the first to reach American shores, long before the French or British. I'm looking forward to coming back home to my mother-land of USA, if and when that idiot Robin succeeds in making me a suitable boat. Sorry about his insistence in our boats flying the British Flag: I'm sure he is only doing it to annoy you. I often hear him muttering, 'we should never have worn red, and marched in a straight line'! I hope to see you soon: I will give you plenty of warning !"