GPS Arrow Origin Traced Back to Atari’s Asteroids
GPS technology has become so commonplace that it’s easy to take the technology for granted. So many easy-to-overlook innovations are ignored when using this modern technology, including one particular aspect that found its roots in the foundational video game Asteroids.
One of the original technologies in this field was the Etak Navigator, first used in 1985. While this wasn’t a traditional GPS, it could still track a car’s movements relative to a map. One just had to mark their location upon booting up the device, and then their relative position would be displayed with vector graphics on a miniature CRT screen. On this vector screen, one’s location would be marked by a cursor that resembles the main cursor of the iconic Atari game, Asteroids.
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It turns out, Etak was funded by a firm of the Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell. With this, the financiers and engineers behind the Etak Navigator had some overlap with Atari itself. This led to the inspiration for this device to use a vector graphic display, and for one’s location to be represented through the very same triangular cursor that appeared in Asteroids. While Asteroids certainly did not invent the concept of a triangular cursor, the resemblance is still quite close upon inspection.
This shape is still used in GPS devices to this day, from the very first Etak Navigator to the GPS one may find on their phone. It is fascinating to think that such a minor, oft-ignored aspect of modern GPS devices had an origin in such a foundational title. Asteroids is not only one of the most recognizable arcade games of all time, but it even helped shape devices still being used today.
This piece of trivia also really show show far technology has come. In 1984, the Etak Navigator took visual inspiration from something as similar as Asteroids, and in 2021, the Tesla Model S can play games like Cyberpunk 2077. One can only wonder how much vehicular technology will continue to grow in the future, and if these changes will continue to involve gaming in some way.