In 1966 GM Used Punch Cards for In-vehicle Navigation

Today’s cars have numerous computerized components to warn us about low tire pressure, engine failure, or to help navigate through traffic congestion. Have you ever wondered from where the GPS tracking devices came? If so, ask General Motors.

In 1966, General Motors developed a product called Driver Aid Information and Recruiting (DAIR) system. To test the system, General Motors had Walter Cronkite try it. “As I drove the test car, DAIR navigated for me,” he said, “telling me when to go straight, turn left, turn right, and so on. Speed limits and other traffic signs flashed onto the panel activated by low-power transmitters along the way.” This system was a fusion of proto-GPS and roadside communications, a precursor to GPS. In those days, though, the system did not use any computers. Instead, it used punch cards. Yes, a punch card. To use the DAIR, a driver would insert a punch-coded card into the device, sitting in or near the center console with an on-top-of–the-dashboard display. The holes in the card would translate to mechanical movements in the car itself, directing the driver.

Like today’s GPS devices, DAIR was designed to “assist the driver with his peripheral functions so that he can concentrate his attention on driving.” Additionally, the system could deliver alerts about upcoming road signs or changing speed limits. It could also telephone help if the vehicle got a flat tire or was involved in an accident, much like OnStar does today.

By the late 1960s, though, DAIR was already replaced by more modern route guiding systems. These systems gave rise to our current GPS devices, which may, or soon will, evolve into affordable self-driving vehicles.