You never know: Cassette navigation system from the ‘ 70s, how it worked?

The voice Navigator from 1970-ies was the first car computer in the world

You never know: Cassette navigation system from the ' 70s, how it worked?

The proliferation of smartphones and their capabilities have made a real revolution in the way information and interaction with the outside world. But the attempts of mankind to ease the life was made previously. Many of them were absurd, stillborn and of course does not have a future. But there were enough interesting options, despite the strange approach of engineers of the past to the solution of urgent tasks of the present.


An example of such an electronic unit shown in the video, which you can find below.


This video clip filmed in the 1970s for the BBC TV show “Tomorrow’s world” has lots of interesting things and attractive sides. From old-fashioned Volkswagen Beetle 1962 model year, performed for the British market, until new-fangled at that time, little things – amazing navigation system 1971 production. The prototype device, which is equipped with an old “beetle” has proven that the navigation system could be used without the help of GPS/GLONASS and any other satellite. It was enough for magazines and a couple of other advanced technologies of that era. The essence of the work is simple enough, but in a small town, this thing probably could really give hints to the motorist, more importantly to stock up on magazines.


Let’s look at this wonderful example of the technologies of the past.


In order to understand the essence of voice Navigator from the past to start is to watch a video of the 70-ies. Don’t worry that it is in English, the essence will be clear even visually. Box the electronics and speaker from which the monotonous voice of the Englishman dictates the turning point, indicating the main signs nearby, so the driver didn’t miss the right exit.

I watched the video? Let us consider the effect of technology up close.


Please note, the system catastrophically like working voice navigation in Google Maps or Apple Maps, or any other modern system available from third parties.

The driver receives voice instructions on the next upcoming maneuver on the road – where to go or turn, depending on the specific location of the car. This navigation system, which was 47-years to somehow cope with this without a satellite or cellular connection. She’s not even computerized!


Of course, this thing is much more limited compared to modern GPS systems, but within its parameters, it is really a smart device.

As we said above, the Central part of the technology was the tape. The system works thanks to recorded on the tape for each route instructions.


Keep in mind that the cassettes themselves were a fairly new invention for portable carrying any recordings, mainly music. Cassette players appeared in the West in 1964, and built-in radio with a cassette player for car is not sold until 1968.


But how to get the system to understand where the driver is driving at the moment of time where he is, how fast it’s moving? Just record a voice route and turn it on while driving would be pretty useless thing, better music to put, would be better to look for the right address. In fact, here’s where things get really interesting.


In addition to voice instructions on the tape recorded the beeps of different lengths, which also played. The duration of these signals is captured and decrypted with a special device, an electronic box mounted on the car under the dashboard. The length of the audio signals are converted to mileage, how many miles the car should move as expected will be played the following short recording.

You never know: Cassette navigation system from the ' 70s, how it worked?

For calculation of this mileage, the electronic unit is connected to the odometer of the car, through the “mechanical cable connection” simply- a cable speedometer that is driven by a gear inside the transmission that allows you to measure the number of miles driven, and when the number of miles the same magnitude, the duration of the tone signal starts playing the next programmed instruction.

It’s smart technology, which often uses elementary principles of computerization, which can be considered a simple analog computer.

Truly innovative is reading data from the cassette tape—it can be one of the first examples of the data carrier (cassette in this case) used for storing and reading computer data, for five or six years before the practice became prevalent in the first wave of home desktop PC.


It is also interesting how the system is calibrated under the dimension of the tire: by means of what, in fact, is the cartridge. A component that configures the algorithm of the electronics, the progenitor of the modern car computers, in accordance with the diameter of the wheels of the car. If this is not done, the device would have lied and included the entry sooner or later the situation.


These data were recorded on a small printed circuit Board that connects to the internal slot. You can watch the video, strap is signed “V W SALOON”:

You never know: Cassette navigation system from the ' 70s, how it worked?


This electronic circuit Board similar to the cartridge, not contain stored program in the ROM chip, and a series of jumpers or other components designed to change settings for the main “program” also appeared in the same year, the first home console the Magnavox Odyssey video game console.

You never know: Cassette navigation system from the ' 70s, how it worked?

So, let’s see what could make this proto-navigation systemto point you in the direction of movement, turn-by-turn directions to a specified location based on the distance that you drove. Not bad, honestly. Of course, if you make a mistake and ignore the turn, you will lose and everything will have to start again. That there is less chance for error, the voice on the tape was reproduced in advance, and drew the attention of the driver on the main signs, near the right turn. Just perfect!

The device performs many functions, even by today’s standards. And in the beginning 1970-x of years it probably was akin to space. The prototype remained a prototype. Probably, it was incredibly expensive and the creation of navigational maps was a time consuming process. But it does not beg its other advantages.