I have very vivid memories of sitting in the passenger seat as a child.
Soon after I clicked my seatbelt, I’d reach into the car door and grab every driver’s bible, laying it down across my little knee and placing the ribbon to our destination page.
Yes, the A-Z. Travelling around a lot, it’s a book we wore out as I helped my Mum navigate her way across the UK from as early as I can remember.
Fast-forward to 2014 and I stumbled across an article about the unveiling of Ford’s self-driving car: an autonomous vehicle equipped with infra-red light sensors mounted to a roof rack that constantly scan the road as you drive. Designed to search for objects such as other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and animals it takes measurements of the road as it scans, turning those measurements into a real-time 3D map which is then displayed on the vehicles on-board computer screens.
The self-driving car is not a new phenomena; Google has been testing driverless cars since September 2012 and although the idea leaves a lot of drivers feeling sceptical, could this be a look into our not-so-distant future as UK drivers?
Either way, getting from A to B has come a long way since the days of the printed map. The traditional driving bible has long been overtaken by the age of GPS and of course with the aid of smartphones.
However, an army of theatre enthusiasts are still flying the flag for the old-school format with a new musical all about the life of the woman credited with popularising the A-Z.
‘The A-Z of Mrs P’ tells the story of Phyllis Pearsall, a bohemian painter who published a London A-Z and founded the Geographer’s A-Z Map Company, the famous maps of British cities still published to this day.
This nostalgic celebration may be a reaction to UK sales of the paper map taking a very significant 25% dip between 2005 and 2012 suggesting that the A-Z could finally be on it’s way out.
Even before the popularity of satellite navigation and the age of the smartphone, tools such as Google maps gave drivers and pedestrians alike the ability to mark out their root and print off a copy before they set about their journey – a practice that soon became an alternative (particularly with new drivers) to buying an entire map.
Maybe this is the issue: newer drivers just don’t see the need for traditional A-Z road maps. In fact, with the arrival of the Sat-Nav, I’ve noticed many a driver no longer see the need to learn the major motorways, never mind their A’s and B’s. All you have to do now is buckle up, plug her in and away you go to your destination without so much as looking at a road sign.
However, let’s not say our goodbyes to the A-Z or the paper map just yet. With technology, as always comes glitches when you least expect it and when the battery in your smartphone gives up the ghost after one-too-many games of Flappy Bird, or your GPS loses signal you’ll be glad for a paper version to mark out your destination.
So although the self-driving car may be a big part of our navigational future, it’s worth keeping you’re A-Z tucked away in your glove compartment for the foreseeable. Not to mention the fact that, although zooming in and out of a smartphone works well for small journeys and GPS will direct you perfectly to the next right turn, sometimes we just need to take a look at the bigger picture.