If you want to visit San Francisco in an innovative way, you can now take a GPS interactive guided tour of the city. A company named GoCar Rentals has deployed a fleet of yellow buggies in the streets. The three-wheeled, two-seat cars are equipped with a computer system that guides the drivers throughout the city while telling them local stories about the landmarks. In "For Wandering Tourists, Help From on High" (Free registration, permanent link), the New York Times tells you more about this neat application of technology to tourism. And you will not have to break the bank to take a tour. It will cost you $40 for the first hour and $20 per additional hour.
Here are some excerpts from the New York Times article.
The geek-chic carts may be the first self-propelled example of a breed of smart devices that remove the guide from the tour, allowing visitors to explore and learn at their own speed.
The three-wheeled, two-seat GoCar, which is gasoline-powered, is made by Trigger Technics of the Netherlands. Customized with black racing stripes down its snub-nosed hood, the yellow vehicle sports the good looks of a Mini Cooper and weighs only 386 pounds.
Before going further, below are photographs showing the GoCars in action.
Here is a group of GoCars maneuvering in the streets of San Francisco (Credit: GoCar Rentals) (Link to larger version).
And here is a single GoCar descending a hill at 30 mph (Credit: GoCar Rentals) (Link to larger version).
How does the system work?
Mounted in the rear of the cart, which narrows like a motorcycle sidecar, is a Global Positioning System unit and a computer database of audio clips about 105 San Francisco sights and features. When the G.P.S. system senses that the cart is passing one of the points in the database, the stereo plays a story or gives clear, occasionally imploring directions.
"If you wish to visit East Beach, turn right at the entrance. If not, continue straight," the cart offers from two speakers mounted under the dashboard. It pauses, then prods, "I would love to show you East Beach with its beautiful views of the bay and Golden Gate Bridge."
The young founders of the company have imported eight cars so far, for a price of $6,000 per unit. And in the first eight weeks of operation, about 600 people already have rent the GoCars at Fisherman's Wharf.
The New York Times adds that there are still minor glitches with the GoCars.
There are, of course, still some kinks to be worked out. Directions and G.P.S. readings do not yet override the recorded tour monologue, so if you zip too quickly past the Palace of Fine Arts, the cart might still be chatting about the theater when it should be signaling a turn.
And anyone who takes the cart beyond the guided tour should be aware that its 50-cubic-centimeter engine will be outmatched by many of San Francisco's hills. Even on the relatively gentle rises along the tour route, the roaring two-stroke engines struggle, for example, on the climb from the breakers at Fort Point to the lofty vantages in the Presidio, when it finally exclaims: "Whew! You didn't think I'd make it up that hill, did you?"
Here are two links about the specifications of the cars and how to rent them. You already can book a tour in advance -- for weekdays only.
Next time I'll go to San Francisco, I'll try one of these buggies. In the mean time, if you take one of these guided tours, please be sure to post your comments below.
Sources: Tim Gnatek, The New York Times, June 10, 2004; GoCar Rentals