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The Traveller SK 6801 Electronic Route Planner

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As members of the Forum familiar with my topics will know, I am always up for buying and researching cheap but interesting “vintage” electronic items. Today’s item for review came via a charity shop sale where it had been reduced from the heady sum of £3.95 to a mere 50P. It seems to be working fine, and it fortunately came complete with the instruction manual.

 The item in question is an electronic route planner dubbed the “Traveller” Model SK 6801, and it was produced by Intervision Electronics Ltd. who were then based at “Unit 1, Stroud wood Business Centre, Frogmore, St. Albans, Herts. AL2 2YY”. More about them later. The instruction booklet has a reference, “SK 6801/01”, and I believe that this relates firstly to the model of the item and secondly, after the slash, perhaps to the year (2001) or the version of the device (first). In fact, the device was certainly launched prior to 2001, as seen by the instruction booklet illustrated below which is for 1998/9. The measurements of the Traveller itself, when placed on its back rather than upright, are 25 mm maximum height, 115 mm wide, and 107 mm deep. The backlit LCD screen measures about 70 mm X 42 mm.






(Above two pics from i.ebayimg.com)




 The Traveller is essentially a route planner designed to give directions for the quickest (not necessarily the shortest) route from A to B, anywhere in England, Scotland and Wales. The user can specify a route which avoids low bridges, or is suitable for towing; includes or avoids motorways; goes via specific places or avoids specific places. If it is found necessary to alter a journey at any point en route then the Traveller will provide a new set of directions from that point. The Traveller offers a choice of two route descriptions - concise route or full route - and during a journey, or at the end of a journey, the user can change the information on which the Traveller is calculating. This means that the user can re-route the journey (if, say, there is a traffic jam up ahead) starting from the junction on view to the destination. The Traveller can change a route if requested and can plan a reverse route from the destination back to the point of origin. It should be noted that the instructions warn the user than local knowledge can trump the machine, and that for journeys of less than five miles, local knowledge (and signposting) will almost always be better than a set of machine instructions.

 The Traveller can also accept basic information about the user’s vehicle (eg, average fuel consumption or speed) and from this data it will estimate the journey time and estimated time of arrival (ETA), the cost of the journey, and fuel consumption for the journey.






(Above two pics from i.ebayimg.com)


The Traveller SK 6801 with its in-car kit (pic from i.ebayimg.com):






 I do not plan to laboriously go through the instruction booklet, as that would be deadly boring. The Traveller has the usual power saving switch-off features, and I noticed that it has a group of external contacts on the bottom side of the device, which are apparently for use with a car or desk kit. Using the car kit, power comes via a cable from the cigar lighter. The device has 38,000 place names in its directory, and updating is done via the removable 3Mb ROM card; judging by the logo that first comes up when the device is switched on, onboard map information is derived from the Automobile Association (AA). There was evidently an expectation that new cards, software updates and accessories would become available, and the customer is requested to register his device to be kept informed of these developments. Unfortunately, Intervision Electronics Ltd. was dissolved in 2001, perhaps quite soon after the Traveller entered production.

 Before leaving a description of the Traveller, here are the basic specifications as provided by Intervision Electronics:

 “Power consumption 0.5W Processor: 12MHz 32 bit 68EC000 Serial port: 9600 baud RAM: 64K SRAM Memory card: 3Mb ROM; connector PCMCIA compatible LCD: Fast Twisted Nematic (FTN) 160 X 100 pixel with Light Emitting Diode (LED) backlight.”

 The company that produced the Traveller lasted for close on twenty years. Intervision Electronics Ltd. was a Private Limited Company with Share capital, incorporated on 9 January 1990, and it traded until its dissolution on 18 September 2001. The company secretary, who was also a director, was a Malaysian resident in England named Mr Charles Leek Onn Loong; he was appointed on 9 January 1992 and remained in post until the closure of the firm. Also with the company at its demise was the sales director, Australian Ross William Shadbolt, who had only joined the firm in 2000. Other directors during the life of the company were Stephen Kaye (in post January 1992 until April 1995) and his successor, Nicholas Charles Dearsley, who remained with the firm until 1 June 2000. According to companycheck.co.uk, company activities were “Non-specialised wholesale trade - Business of developing and distributing electronic equipment”. Charles Leek Onn Loong seems to have had a colourful business life, as companycheck.co.uk reports him having had no less than 20 directorships, 13 of which were closed and 9 resigned - he currently has one active directorship.

 For me, the main interest in the Traveller SK 6801 route planner lies in its historical position with regards in-car navigation systems - in particular those that rely on GPS. Having had a brief look at the earliest adoption of in-car satellite-based navigation aids, it would appear that the Traveller device was already becoming obsolete at the time of its launch. The first CD-ROM-based navigation system was introduced in 1987 on the Toyota Crown, while the first production car with an in-built GPS navigation system was the Mazda Eunos Cosmo in 1990. The Americans were relatively quick to start the ball rolling in the USA, following the Japanese, while the first European car to feature GPS navigation was the BMW 7 Series E38 in 1994. The establishment of built-in sat-nav in cars has had something of a bumpy road, with the emphasis on installing it on only the more expensive vehicles, and Google Maps on a mobile has somewhat replaced portable sat-nav technology. Interestingly, the most popular Satellite navigation device, Tom Tom, was actually voted the most important invention of the 21st century in a 2016 YouGov survey of the British public. Having given the Traveller something of a "brush-off" as I came to the end of writing my text, I was taken by surprise when choosing illustrations because there for sale, brand new on Amazon UK, is what appears to be an almost identical device -  the Lexibook Travel Machine NAV2000GB. Interestingly, the backstamp on this Lexibook device bears a copyright date of 2003, so it may have been launched not long after the demise of Intervision Electronics Ltd. in 2001. 



The Lexibook Travel Machine NAV2000GB, upper two pictures, and the Travel Machine car kit (pics from amazon.com):




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