FaceTime in the car for the ultimate GPS

One of the recurring themes in my marriage to my wife Aviva is her getting lost and calling me for help. When this started almost 16 years ago, she was new to Boston and had a job that required driving around the city and its surrounding communities.  This was before GPS, and Google Maps wasn’t going to be invented for another eight years. We bought her a cell phone (a big, heavy thing the size and weight of a small water bottle), and I kept a big book of maps in my office so that she could call for help if she got lost.

She got lost a lot.

Each time, we would go through an arduous process of her trying to explain where she was.  I would frantically hunt for the street she was on.  Once I found it, we needed to figure out the cross street, and then finally what direction she was facing.  She always left at least an extra half hour so that she had time to get lost. I tried to generally be aware of her meeting schedule so that I could make sure I was near a phone if needed.

Over the years, these phone calls have become a lot less frequent.  She gradually learned her way around, and then GPS technology became common place.  I was thrilled when Apple rolled out their “Find My Friends” technology, since it could tell me what I always wanted to know in these situations… where she was! Of course, the phones now had GPS built-in, so she hardly ever needed help anymore.

Until last week.

Our son needed to go to see an orthopedist to have the cast on his arm removed. I had taken him when he first injured himself, so I had already been to the doctor’s office in nearby Assembly Square in Somerville.  It’s a confusing knot of streets, but I have been the nearby Home Depot many times and knew my way around.

I was supposed to be taking him for the cast removal too, but due to a rescheduling conflict, my wife was doing it instead. I was worried. The office is in one of these big industrial buildings whose street address had no real relationship to where the parking lot was. The GPS would get her nearby the building, but not actually…there.

Before they left, I pulled up a 3D satellite model on my iPad. I showed her what the building looked like and pointed out a small side street that she would need to turn down to find her way to the parking lot. I figured she would be fine.

And then, 25 minutes later I got the call. She was lost and couldn’t find the building.

“Hang on, let me locate you,” I told her as I pulled up “Find My Friends” on my iPhone. Sure enough, I saw that she had missed the side street and was now on the wrong side of the block.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “Take your next right onto New Street and you’ll find the parking lot.” Then I hung up.

But, a few minutes later, she called back.  There was no sign marked New Street, and she claimed to be on Revolution street, which according to Google Maps didn’t even intersect the street she had been on.  We fumbled back and forth for a while, trying to figure out where she was exactly and where she would need to go.

Finally, out of desperation, I told her to pull over and start a FaceTime video call so I could literally see exactly where she was. I had her slowly pan the camera around until I saw a building off in the distance that looked right.  “There!” I said.  “Right next to the movie theater.  That’s where you want to go.”

But I wasn’t 100% sure she would get there.  Then I had an idea.  “Tell you what – just leave the FaceTime call going. Put the phone in the mount and I can see what you see.”

We have a Kensington dashboard mount for our phones so that they can be easily visible when being used as a GPS. While they aren’t designed to be a dashboard cam, it does hold the phone’s camera so that it is pointing towards the road ahead. Half of my view was taken up by the dashboard, but I could generally see where she was going.

While not intended to be used as dashboard cam, the phone's camera showed me the general road and features ahead.

While not intended to be used as dashboard cam, the phone’s camera showed me the general road and features ahead.

As I watched her drive, I took over the role of the GPS lady but giving even more precise directions.

“Turn right here.”

“See where that truck is pulling out? That’s the parking lot you want to pull into.”

“That doorway you just passed is the entrance to the office. Park anywhere you can find a spot.”

And she was there, with five minutes still left before the appointment.

I felt just like the voice of KITT in Knight Rider. Just like old times.

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One Response to FaceTime in the car for the ultimate GPS

  1. Deborah Rothman says:

    This is priceless! What an ingenious solution. Way to go!

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