As the name suggests, Road Angel keeps "watch from above" by using a GPS-based system to alert the driver when known danger areas lie ahead. By comparing GPS positioning information with a comprehensive and constantly updated database of blackspots throughout Australia, the dash-mounted Road Angel is able to pre-warn the driver by sounding an alarm and specifying the type of danger - fixed speed camera or road works for example - plus its proximity to the vehicle.
"Blackspots" or danger zones are those designated by police, local authorities and Road Transport Authorities. They include major highway routes, school zones, country towns and fixed red-light and speed-cameras. The device stores up to 50,00 unique danger zones and can be personalised so that the user can adjust data and store new locations or delete those that are no longer relevant. Advanced software also enables the Road Angel to determine the way the speed-camera faces, so it only sounds the alert when the vehicle is travelling in the relevant direction.
Gizmo put the Road Angel to the test throughout May 2003 and found it a worthwhile - but not overly obtrusive - safety enhancement while driving. The dash-mounted unit (a little smaller than a portable CD player) is easy to install and simple to operate, with only three buttons to contend with and a basic display panel.
Road Angel uses a 12 parallel channel GPS module checks its position every second to calculate both position and speed of the vehicle. A minimum of 3 satellites are needed (4 of the 24 satellites in the GPS system are visible at any time from any given point on Earth) for an accurate position to be obtained. Because of this, the initial set-up can take up to 45 minutes, although it took less than five on our test-run, and subsequent starts take only seconds if the vehicle is used frequently - if left for a few days, the longer start-up is again required.
The general blackspot information updateable via the web is especially beneficial if driving through unfamiliar territory, but the key aspect is the customised entry function that allows the user to input their own warning data - very handy for local roadworks, small towns or open areas where speed the limit drops unexpectedly (and speed-cameras seem to congregate) or just sections of road that you have found where extra care is needed. When these areas are revisited the Road Angel alert becomes a reminder to slow down and take care and in this context the device might also be useful if you are lending your car to someone unfamiliar with the territory - or because the unit can easily be detached - it could be transferred to another car to assist in the same situation.
The GPS based provides a second check on how fast you are travelling and in both the late model cars tested, differences up to 3km were noted between the readout on the car and the Road Angel - useful given the reduced leniency on how far over the speed limit you can slide before being hit with a fine.
With all the GPS technology included it's fair to ask why more comprehensive mapping capabilities or add-ons are not included. The answer lies in the type of audience Road Angel targets - it's designed for drivers who want the safety benefits technology can bring without overdoing it, it's passive rather than obtrusive technology that's "there when you need it" without cluttering the dash.
The Road Angel kit costs AUS$995 inc. GST and is available online. Follow the links below to learn more or phone 1300 850 180 for sales information.