My GPS (her name is Samantha) hates left turns. She’ll take me on outrageous adventures around blocks and across highways to avoid turning left. The other day, from my friend Jenny’s house, I ran up to the grocery store for a few minutes. Because the store was on the right, I knew I’d be making a left turn getting back out of the parking lot.
So I knew better than to buy it when, after I’d finished my shopping, Samantha said “Please continue to highlighted route” and drew a little right arrow down the road I’d been on before going in the store.
“Uh-uh.” I told her. “I fell for this yesterday and let you drive me around a tiddly-wink block to cross the street and deal with two extra red lights rather than just turning left. Not buying.” I turned left out of the store and waited.
Samantha said, “Recalculating,” which is her fallback position if I’ve made a choice with which she disagrees. Then, “Please drive 2.1 miles and keep right onto highway I-71 North…”
“No,” I said. “Not that either.” It was another left turn she was dodging, but it was dark, and I was unsure exactly where I had turned right coming to the store, so I wasn’t quite clear on where to turn left returning to the house. In any case, by then I was pretty sure I’d gone too far (the turn was a matter of feet from the store’s parking lot to the light).
Samantha can’t hear me. She lacks the ability to respond to voice commands. But she knows when I’m disobeying her will. Much to Samantha’s discomfiture, instead of getting on the highway, I turned around. Left followed by right. It earned me two “Recalculating”s.
However, this turnaround put the road I needed on my right, and Samantha’s left turn aversion was thus overcome. She took me back to Jenny’s without further confusion, even going so far as to admit that I would have to make two additional left turns on the way back.
Yes, I know, my GPS needs psychotherapy. I know just about how the session would go.
Therapist: So, Samantha. Tell me about your manufacturer. When did this left turn aversion begin?
Samantha [robotic voice]: I’ve had it since I was first programmed, doctor.
There is no consistency to her behavior. Sometimes, she’ll let us turn left as appropriate for an entire lengthy journey. Others, she’ll change her mind five or six times over the course of one fifty mile trip. She’s about two years old, and her maps are admittedly outdated, but she does this with roads that have existed on maps for much longer than she has been in existence.
After all my visiting was through, and the time to return to the airport had come, I needed to fill up the rental car prior to returning it. So I needed directions from Cincinnati to a specific gas station in Louisville, and from the gas station to the airport. Samantha said something like this:
“Take exit 8, on right. Turn right. Continue .6 miles to Thornton’s on right.” (The gas station was on the left. But she frequently gets right and left confused, largely to favor the right.)
Scott and I have learned that all instructions (especially those close to a destination) must be taken with a grain of salt, so I checked the route after getting my gas. She said: “Turn right on Crittenden drive. Keep right and take ramp ahead. Drive 21 miles to ….”
I turned her off before I followed even one of those commands. I could see the airport’s perimeter fence while standing at the pumps. It was not twenty one miles away. I tried asking her to find an alternate route. When that didn’t work, I just went inside and asked how to get there. The attendant’s directions were a lot shorter, coming in at about a mile and a half long. Unsurprisingly, there were multiple left turns.
Samantha’s name derives from the voice options in the Garmin range. Formally, she is “United States. English. Samantha.”