Approximately 30 years ago in 1981, we introduced the Honda Electro Gyrocator, a predecessor of Internavi. The world's first car navigation system made its debut as one of the indispensable technologies to complete the "automated driving" system to which Honda devoted itself at the time. It was launched along with other technologies such as Antilock Braking System (ABS) and Cruise Control System. The debut of the Honda Electro Gyrocator signaled the start of our new challenge to meet the demands of car navigation users, such as requests for the best possible routes and the most up-to-date map data.
Car navigation systems are close to everyone, within easy reach. "That's why if there's a feature, not quite a defect, that doesn't live up to their expectations, they easily feel that something is missing," said Takeshi Imai, Executive General Manager of the Internavi Telematics Division at the time of Internavi's launch. Honda listened to customer demands for more precise road information and easier access to new map data, and swiftly responded with customer-oriented development that facilitated digitalization and Internet compatibility to update routes and map data with the utmost speed. In 2002, Internavi evolved to allow interactive communication, and in the following year, Internavi Club members were able to share traffic information among members. This is how the current Internavi emerged.
For over two decades, our associates in the field of car navigation took on many challenges to overcome various obstacles – mostly in the area of communications technologies. However, there were also obstacles related to laws and regulations. "Traffic information used to be under the control of each local government. For instance, private companies could not provide an ideal route for travelers from Yokohama to Narita Airport because it crossed several prefectures," said Kazuya Tamura, Manager/Chief Engineer of the Internavi Telematics Division. It's almost unbelievable now, but due to urgent requests from Honda and others in the industry, private companies were finally able to process traffic information freely in 2006 when the Road Traffic Act was revised.
What Internavi delivers is not confined to information that enhances driving comfort. We started offering Internavi Weather, which provides real-time information on weather conditions, ahead of the competition in 2005. In 2007, the service expanded to offer the world's first pinpoint forecasts of intense rainfall. In 2008, the industry's first earthquake information was added, and now Internavi offers other information that helps people prepare for disasters.
The Chuetsu Earthquake in Niigata Prefecture in 2004 prompted our development of the Traffic Record Map, which utilizes traffic information shared among members, in collaboration with the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention. Soon after the new system was launched in 2007, the Niigata-Chuetsu Earthquake put the system to practical use. "Based on that experience, we didn't hesitate to respond swiftly when the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred," said one Internavi Telematics Division member. On the evening of the day when the earthquake hit, Internavi Telematics Division members inspected the system, confirmed its operability and started compiling traffic information in the devastated area. They then released the compiled traffic data in the Google Earth format at 10:30 a.m. on March 12, the day after the devastation. Furthermore, we started releasing information on Passable Road Maps on March 14 so more people could understand the traffic conditions. Disclosing Honda's proprietary information to the public may have been a bit awkward. "We actually hesitated for 10 seconds," Imai laughed. Since Honda's priority was to provide convenience to users, we decided to release the data.
Our traffic record information was utilized by many people driving vehicles to provide aid in the devastated areas. Moreover, these drivers provided wide-ranging comments on the situation. Twitter users were even requesting that Internavi users in the devastated region transmit their location information. In response to requests for information on Niigata and Ibaragi prefectures, the relief supply delivery routes, we expanded information coverage to include these areas on March 16. Predicting that many more people would be heading toward the affected areas during Japan's Golden Week holiday, we also began providing traffic congestion information on April 27.
These Internavi activities received recognition in the form of various awards that included the 2011 Good Design Grand Award, the Great East Japan Earthquake Response Special Awards from the 2011 Nikkei Superior Products & Services Awards, and the Review Board Special Award from the 41st Japan Industrial Technology Grand Prizes.
We are honored that the performance of Internavi is widely recognized. Having started the "dots" service in March 2012, which connects Internavi with social networks, and Honda Moto LINK for Honda motorcycle owners in April, we believe the system has much more to offer. Recalling the words of Soichiro Honda, "Wishing to deliver what's useful to people, convenient and fun to use," Imai looks forward to the future and says "the potential of Internavi is even bigger."