Thursday, December 29, 2005

Galileo 2010, Personal GPS Tracking Device & iPod with GPS?

The first Galileo satellite (from the 30 planned) was launched with success and is already sending its signals. Thanks to an agreement between U.S. and the European Community dual-frequency GPS receivers will be made available in the near future for consumers.

Navicon is announcing a GPS-based personal tracking device. Their new domain isn't up yet and the current website doesn't seem to list it as a current product, so it is sounding more like vapor for now. Some companies are already seeing the benefit of these type of devices.

What else could an iPod help you with? What about GPS?
You can already put Google Maps and Subway maps on it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Navizon: GPS without it

The concept in theory is pretty amazing. GPS where you usually can't have it. For that Navizon counts on information shared and uploaded by its own users with location data of Access Points obtained thru GPS devices with wireless capabilities.

[Update Sept 07: Navizon added cell tower location data to their database. This could be the best shot for current iPhone hackers, I mean users.]

Navizon is not the first effort to make use of GPS to map wireless hotspots Wigle has been doing it for a while and compiled a pretty large database of wireless hotspots, but Navizon is the first that tries to use them to "map the landscape".

Start by creating an account at www.navizon.com, define your local area/home by drawing a rectangle over an area on Google Maps. Make it reasonably small since you will need to download data from the whole area while syncing with the Navizon server.

Download & install the Navizon client to your PocketPC PDA (or Symbian equipped device). Then set up your username and password for your account and configure the settings for your GPS.

Yep, there is quite some work to be done to get started. If you have a GSM phone you can use it instead of a wireless-equipped PDA. You also have the choice to disable those popup's that inform when a wireless network is available, but you will need to soft reset the PDA if you decide to re-enable the popup's.

Peer-to-peer

Now for example, you turn wireless on and plug your GPS card, walk around the neighborhood and start collecting data about the existing access points in your area. If everything goes as planned, you will obtain a fix with the GPS receiver and will be able to see how many access points were found along the way.

That will cause Navizon to store the precise location data obtained thru your GPS device of those AP's. When you get a working connection to an open hotspot you can upload the session data to the Navizon server. That will also cause the download of data from their server for your selected area.


The idea here is that if you live in a metropolis like NY (from where the Navizon folks spread their goods) or downtown SF where GPS doesn't work that reliably you can use Navizon as a software-based GPS using the AP location data as geographic references. This way you can use wireless for navigation (or GSM, based on the location of cell towers). Pretty neat concept. In fact, Intel is also playing with the idea.

Navigating through Access Points

Now that you have a reasonable amount of information about a given area, you can setup Navizon to use that data instead of your GPS receiver. Check the configuration dialog in Navizon for the output port. There you can set a virtual COM port for your GPS software to read the output from Navizon data.

That's where the magic happens: instead of reading NMEA data from the COM port where your GPS receiver is usually connected to, you set Navizon with "No GPS" and its output port to an available virtual COM port, COM4 for example. Now configure your GPS software like GPSDash, PocketTopo and anything else to open the GPS receiver on that same COM4 and voila. You got GPS without it.

In practice you might run into issues where contention between the apps might freeze your PDA or some pretty erratic behavior where the location on your map might zigzag between points without much logic. According to Navizon's FAQ, the more information you obtain around a given area, the more precise its behavior will become.

POI Data

Navizon provides a search tab where you can invoke a search on Google Local with your current location. The same with the PDA-based maps from MapQuest. From the results obtained from Google Local you can zoom into the map image to check where is the closest pizza or coffee shop around. But for that you will need to be close to an open hotspot.

Back to the Navizon website you can check on a Google Map which data you have provided, the coverage in your area (green for open ap's and red ballons for closed ones) and manage a buddy list to share your location among a group of friends, similar to what Mologogo is doing with Java-based phones and PDA's.

If you don't want to share your information, you can use Navizon Solo ($19.99) but you won't have access to the information shared through their webserver either. On the other hand, if you are really into sharing you can also upload log files generated by applications like NetStumbler and WiFiFoFun.

Using it

Navizon uses Frason Virtual Com ports to simulate 4 satellites for GPS-enabled apps. It puts them 90 degrees apart and it does work but in an erratic fashion. Somehow the Toshiba e755 died after trying it for a while. My guess is that you need to have it charged above 75% to have it running smoothly. I got PocketTopo and GpsDash to pinpoint my exact location on a map but it would switch position frequently not sure exactly why. I can't say it was a smooth transition to have the Wireless Positioning converted into map coordinates. At least not visually.

Navizon also has to work some of its kinks when you try to start it up. Sometimes it will say that you don't have wireless on when in fact you do, but this might be related to the Toshiba chip itself and PPC 2003. Others times it will take quite a while to switch between Wireless navigation and GPS when you do have coordinates available for it.

But somehow I got to track more than a hundred AP's and when I was close to an open AP, able to upload them to their server. Notice that you will only be able to use its search features when a wireless connection is available, otherwise you will only be grabbing data. This is similar to the usage of A2B's Navio. If you leave in a big city it might be easy to track an open AP and a GPS fix simultaneously, otherwise it might be a tough game to follow. But the whole concept and implementation are quite amazing. Many kudos.

GPS and Leap Seconds

If you ever tried to understand how GPS works, you know that precise measurement of time to obtain distances is a big part of it. This year you will need to adjust your atomic clock by dropping a second to keep up with Earth's slow down. But you won't need to bother about adjusting your GPS receiver.

That because GPS doesn't use UTC (Universal Time Clock) for its measurements. According to this site: "GPS time, is the atomic time scale implemented by the atomic clocks in the GPS ground control stations and the GPS satellites themselves. GPS time was zero at 0h 6-Jan-1980 and since it is not perturbed by leap seconds GPS is now ahead of UTC by 13 seconds."

Monday, December 26, 2005

Digital Map Providers

A recent change in the map provider by Google Maps triggered an interesting discussion about the quality and precision of different data providers.

Because of the huge effort required to keep this data up-to-date, the free TIGER database is asking for help, private companies like Navteq (previously NavTech) used by the majority of car navigation systems and TeleAtlas are the main digital map providers in US. According to this great article DeLorme used GDT (acquired by TeleAtlas) in its products, but moved back to the TIGER database plus their own updates.

There are guys out there driving around with GPS as a full-time job to keep this map data without many holes, exploring new developments, streets and changes in traffic roads as this story describes how these street maps are compiled by NavTeq and TeleAtlas.

Telcontar develops Drill Down Server used in maps provided by Google, Yahoo, Rand McNally and AskJeeves. It supplies geocoding, routing, spatial search plus traffic data for road conditions and detours.

In its most recent issue, in an article about Stanley, the driverless Touareg that won the Darpa competiton Wired gives us a glimpse of what Intel and NavTeq are working on: NavTeq is not only checking on new streets and road directions but also slope, road width and speed limits so you can in the future let your car take you wherever you choose so you can enjoy the view.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Nuvi Review & Santa's GPS Log

[I would love for you to stick around, but if you only care about the Nuvi right now, head to the PC Mag Review, see you later.]

And for a more recent tracking of Santa check this post.

Mr. Walter S. Mossberg writes about the Nuvi from Garmin in his weekly column for the Wall Street Journal which is republished by other papers across U.S. And PR Newswire reports that S.A.N.T.A.'s trip was logged by GPS.

DeLorme Street Atlas HandHeld

Found a fair deal on eBay for a DeLorme Street Atlas USA Handheld (Program & Data CD's) and decided to give it a try. I commented a bit on it just before the PaPaGo review.

If you decide to install the whole US Data CD on a hard disk it will require 650Mbytes of space. The program itself will use about 600 MBytes. The PDA package will take about 1.5Mbytes of RAM. But you can have the map files on a SD or CF card.

DeLorme Street Atlas USA Handheld installs on a Host PC and on a PocketPC (or Palm) PDA. It has the same unconventional and not quite intuitive user interface as the Street Atlas USA without the GPS and Voice tabs (Print and Draw are also removed). There is one Service Pack available for download that provides some bug fixes on their website and a new .dat file that corrects a magnetic declication issue. I had to uninstall ActiveSync 4.1 used with Windows Mobile 5.0 and reinstall the 3.8 version after DeLorme start failing to sync its files with the device.

Street Atlas doesn't actually transfer files to the PDA directly but it uses the syncĂ­ng mechanism provided by ActiveSync to have the job done. So this is a two step process: first you prepare a file to be synced to the device, then depending you how you have ActiveSync set up you either have the files automatically transferred to the PDA when they are copied to the Pocket PC My Documents folder, or by the next time you establish a connection to it or have them manually synced.

Preparing a map

DeLorme divides a map into rectangles, you select which ones you want to transfer, saves them as a .pdb file and then prepare the files to be synced to the PDA. A map with 25 rectangles resulted in a 1.5 MBytes file, enough to cover a radius of 7 miles around downtown Santa Cruz, CA. Remember that you are also copying all the POI's info while doing it.

After syncing the files to the PDA you can have them copied to a SD card manually. In the PDA select Data | Maps... to load a new map. To have the SD card scanned for map files, hit the Directory button to add it (and any other directory you want to add) to the "Directories of Maps" list. Remember to remove them from the \My Documents directory so you don't have two entries in the list (and save the corresponding space for RAM usage).

Creating routes

You can create routes either in the Host PC package and then transfer them to the PDA or create a direct or road route in the PDA itself. To create a route in the Host program, select on the map the start location and right click the mouse. Select Create Route | Set as start. Same for the end of a route. You have the choice to transfer an active route when preparing to sync a given map. That will cause a .rte file to also be placed in the PocketPC My Documents folder.

Routes can also be created on the PDA itself on top of existing maps, notice the warning about routes that go across different maps that might give you direction errors. More on this later on.

On the PDA there is no option to create a route from your current location by using GPS, you still need to provide the start and end point of a route by selecting Tools | Create Route, tap to mark the start point, tap again to set the end point and then hit the highway icon to calculate the shortest or quickest route.

You can use the Find... option to look for POI's and then set it as an end (or start) point for a route. Remember that you'll only be able to search for locations covered by the maps you have transferred from the Host PC.

Test Drive

After you transfer the route to the PDA you need to have it loaded (Data | Routes | select desired route | Go To), turn the GPS on (GPS | Connect) and finally tell the package to track your trip (Tracking... | select route | Start Tracking). All these steps are completely automated in PaPaGo. On SAHH you are required to perform at least a dozen taps to get there. If your location matches the start of your route a voice with pre-recorded messages will start announcing the directions you should take.

Like PaPago, SAHH doesn't use a Text-to-Speach engine to read from but full sentences in this case with a male voice. You will hear once to turn or bear left or right as soon as you make a turn. For highway exits the announcements are made a bit too close. This is another change made to their newest version. At the end you realize that you have to spend a good chunk of time actually looking at the directions instead of listening to them.

The map is always aligned on its North direction, even while you are tracking a map, no option is available to change this setting. To zoom in and out of a map you need to use the main navigation button of your PDA there are no menu options or soft buttons available in the package itself.

"Unknown road"

If you deviate from a designated route, you will hear an "off route" announcement and an exclamation icon will show up on the screen. This requires that you click over the icon in order to have a new route be calculated, there isn't an option to make it happen automatically which adds quite a distraction to your driving. Every re-route track is saved under routes and you will have to delete one by one if you don't want to keep them around, which usually will be the case.
Among the features listed in the "what's new" in the 2006 version you will find that DeLorme added quite a few more roads and changed the way exits from highways are handled. Besides the extra work required to set up routes, GPS tracking and all, the real issues show up when you try to actually get where you want with the HandHeld version of Street Atlas.

This time I didn't actually know where my destination was, I had never been there. So perfect use case. I decided to test the off-route handling and things went haywire from then on. DeLorme didn't know about the recently paved road just in front of us and took us on a longer route. Coincidentally that same road was closed for construction so we had to back out and take the road unknown to DeLorme. The map finally matched reality and we were able to get there.

You can build the reverse route on the PDA and on the way back I decided to follow the originally planned route. The map was pointing the way ahead as a straight road from my current position and if I had gone thru with it I would be probably trying to get my car out of a muddy strawberry field by now. I turned right instead to get to the highway and the directions did match the road after that, what on a rainy night in an unknown area was quite a relief.

Map Quality

I had similar problems with the Windows version of DeLorme while driving in San Francisco. The route would ask me to turn left on an unexisting road or where a relatively old avenue had been built. The issue here is not a bad engine, but a bad map. PaPaGo uses TeleAtlas maps and provides a much better experience than DeLorme.

Besides the free TIGER database used by DeLorme on its map software, Navteq (previously NavTech) and TeleAtlas are the main digital map providers in US. DeLorme adds its own updates to the TIGER data and you can also submit your own map corrections.

According to the DeLorme's website you can use map data from other packages including the desktop edition of Street Atlas with the HandHeld package. You can in fact save maps and transfer .pdb and .rte files to a PDA but you will need the HandHeld package to view a map/route.

You can access the HandHeld tab from the DeLorme Street and Atlas product if you have it installed in your PC (XMap HandHeld Pro seems to have been dropped from their product line, you can use Street Atlas HandHeld to view map data generated by XMap products from their professional line).

From DeLorme's website: Street Atlas USA is compatible with maps provided with "XMap 4.5, XMap/GIS Editor, Topo USA 5.0 and Street Atlas USA 2005 and 2004 (but not previous versions of Street Atlas USA, including versions 9.0 and earlier, Street Atlas USA Deluxe, or Street Atlas USA Road Warrior Edition)."

Conclusion

[Update] One of the major drawbacks from this package is the need to interact with it when a reroute is required. If that happens the best is to stop and deal with it unless you got someone to use the PDA while you drive. And this issue hasn't been fixed in the 2006 version.

You need a lot of effort to keep maps updated and it is not an easy job to keep up-to-date all the street maps of the whole U.S. I tried a year old version of DeLorme maps and found holes right away. I might try the 2006 updates and report back but so far I'm not impressed by their precision. All the extra work required to transfer maps & routes and have them set up for GPS tracking doesn't seem necessary with competing products offering a much better experience.

The advantages include the full street map of U.S. cities for a reasonable price (if you happen to live and drive already established neighborhoods) and pretty complete and up-to-date Point-Of-Interest database. If you are interested in a updated version of Street Atlas USA 2006 (not the HandHeld version), BestBuy is selling it for $19.99 after rebates.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

GPS News

Wired reports on how GPS could provide early warning signs for Tsunamis. New York Times describes a more precise navigational system for airports.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Galileo First Launch

The first Galileo satellite, GIOVE A (Galileo In-Orbit Validation Element) is scheduled for launch from Kazakhstan on a Soyuz rocket at approximately 12:19 a.m. EST on Dec 28th. "This is the first demonstration satellite for Europe's Galileo navigation system." BBC put together a pretty informative Q&A on Galileo.

Russia also launched three satellites of their own navigation system: GLONASS. And U.S. will launch a second modernized version of a NAVSTAR (GPS 2R-M2) satellite sometime next year.

GPS tracks non-stop bird flight

In a program sponsored by the "American Bird Conservancy" researchers were able to track a Christmas Island frigate using GPS on a record 26 days non-stop 4,000 kilometers flight while looking for food for her chicks.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Tracking Geofences

AccuTracking provides a free tracking service for personal use. You can set up to 4 phones with them. I mentioned their service on a previous post about location services.

You install their midlet on a GPS-enabled phone, like the i415 for example or any other listed on their website, create an account and generate an ID for your phone. Setup the midlet on the phone with the generated ID, establish how often you want the phone to upload its position and if it should keep the GPS chip on or not (default is cold GPS, less power usage). The midlet also has a virtual compass.

After sending a position from the phone, check the account under Tracking to obtain a map, based on Google, USGS Topo and Aero photos. You can then set a geofence (in feet) around that point, and get notified if the phone gets out or inside (or both) the fence. Notifications can be sent by email or to an SMS address. If you let the midlet run in background, it will update its location continually.

If you click over the username at the website, you will be able to see a history of the most recent points on a Google Map, with information about heading, speed and coordinates.

Accutracking also offers stickers (and the corresponding HTML code) that you can place in a webpage, including current position as a link or a graphical image and the recent location history. This type of service is common among shipping services so that companies can track their deliveries or service providers.

Among personal use one can argue that this is a pretty big invasion of privacy, but someone should make sure it has the phone owner's (or user) agreement to do that. Valid cases include seniors and pets. But things might easily get out of hand.

Monday, December 19, 2005

NY Times on GPS

This one feels like: "we need one to cover this for the holidays" . Nothing really new, just an overall view on the current GPS market on this article published in Circuits last Thursday on the NY Times. The updated CNet version of the same article adds links to newly available products.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Boost Mobile i415

Just found the i415 at a sale on Target for 30$ (their regular price is $60). This is the pay-as-you-go from Nextel. Pretty much the same firmware as the i860, but without the Location API from J2ME. No camera, but you got the walk-talkie and a GPS receiver and a Java Midlet: GPS Locate that can tell in which direction you are going and how fast. You can use the same data cable of the i860. Their fanciest model the i875 also includes a Video camera, MP3 player and supports BlueTooth.

Friday, December 16, 2005

i860: GPS Enabled Nextel Phone

Some questions take a little longer for an answer. What about this one? How do you go about installing a Java App on the i860 from Nextel. That's simple enough, no? Well, not quite. Nothing that complex but we are talking about a closed platform, to say the least an annoyance after bathing oneself on OpenSource, Java and other clean waters.

i860

The Nextel i860 includes camera, GPS and support for Java, a crispy color display in a very well designed rugged clam-shell that feels pretty solid and reliable. I was pretty comfortable handling it without having the impression that it would break if not dealt with carefully. Its coverage provided a strong enough signal on my area where other providers don't quite reach.

The i860 uses custom software from Sirf to obtain location data, nothing that fancy: latitude, longitude, last time a fix was obtained and accuracy in feet. If you drill down into the Phone Info (#, *, menu, right arrow) you can obtain a bit more information on the GPS Info as altitude and Assisted GPS coordinates, velocity and heading. I was able to obtain a fix on an area covered by trees where usually I can't get one maybe because of the included SirfLoc technology which seems to combine true GPS with a mix of Assisted-GPS methods.

Nextel uses OTA as a way of providing Java applications to its users. You buy one and get it transferred into your phone "over the air". These applications are signed, meaning that they contain valid Java bytecode, no viruses and are approved for use by Nextel.


Among the GPS-enabled apps you will find TeleNav which provides a demo for its turn by turn directions application, MapQuest FindMe, Trimble Outdoors and ViaMoto. All charge a monthly subscription fee for its usage besides the required data service (data plans starting at $9.99 for 1Mbyte).

You can watch a demo with voice from MapQuest and try ViaMoto for free for two weeks. Trimble also has a demo available but it is just a sequence of slides. You can also use Trimble Outdoors with Magellan and Garmin units. Trimble Outdoors works with its PC-based companion, Trimble Adventure Planner. After planning a trip you can transfer a route and waypoints to your phone, including topographical and aerial photos.

MapQuest FindMe provides options to find POI's near your current location or by address, from the provided results you can obtain diretions, maps and call it, pretty similar to Google Local Mobile but with GPS-support.

ViaMoto does a pretty decent job providing directions and turn-by-turn voice commands. You search a directory for coffee shops, gas stations, banks, or even a downtown area of a city and after a fix is obtained you will get the total distance to the destination, overall direction and time to get there. You can choose to have guidance maps downloaded to show where you are, but that is disabled by default due to the higher data transfer cost. You don't actually need to look at it, only hear the directions thru the speakerphone.

Another way of using this phone is that you can set it up to output NMEA and connect it to a PC with its data cable to an USB port. Then you can use the phone as a GPS receiver.

Free GPS-enabled Apps

Google Local for Mobile (a free Java app as we know) isn't included among those provided by Nextel, so does that mean I can't use it? Well, here is where we start to drill down into this hole. But lets first have some motif. If you look inside the .jad file provided with Google Local Mobile you will notice the following entry:

GpsEnabled: false

GPS! Now we are talking... But someone at the GLM newsgroup mentioned something about getting only red lines displayed over a location but my guess is that the guy has access to some internal builds not available to the public yet. Well, but let's try it out.

So how do you go about installing GLM on a Nextel i860? Let's try sending a SMS with the link to the .jad file and open it with its WAP browser. Well, not quite. You will get a "406 Not Acceptable" error message that sounded a bit absurd to me.

After getting the app installed it didn't seem to do much else with the GPS enabled Nextel i860. But by then I was bit by the GPS-on-a-phone bug. So, what else is out there, free that can be used with a true GPS phone.

Mologogo

Looking around I ran into Mologogo. MAKE published an article on it describing its usage in detail. Its website uses Ruby on Rails which seems like a pretty cool and fast way to get a website up & running but you might experience some slow performance which shows that under heavy load RoR still requires some fine-tuning. So try reaching it during some odd hours.

Mologogo uses Google Maps and provides location information about your friends over the phone. You register with the website, install the .jar on your device, connect to it and after it obtains a fix, loads your friends locations and corresponding maps, it displays your current location and eventually your friends close by. Pretty cool, free app & service.

The challange here applies to the steps to get the application loaded into the i860. I might be treading some grey area here, but here is the disclaimer: no responsability is taken by the information provided here, all of it is currently available over the Web, and this blog doesn't support, validates or endorses any of these products and practices. Use it at your own risk.

Java Application Loaders

[Update:
Motorola since November 2006 made available new loaders that remove the limitations described below. This way you won't need to jump through so many hoops to get an app installed on the phone. Check this page at the Developer Site.]

After creating an account at the iden/Motorola website you can download a tool called JAL Lite to upload Java applications to your phone. But there is a little restriction to the type of application you can upload: it cannot make use of the network, so apps that use any API that requires connections to the outside world (java.net) won't be loaded by JAL Lite. Well, we are killing about half the fun here.

So, what else can we try thru the official channels: if you are a developer you can try to register with Nextel for an account explaning what your application does, the reason you are trying to obtain their approval, the market it is target for, what's the IP address of your development machine and wait 5 days or so for an answer.

If everything goes as you expect you will be given an account/pwd and then you can download WebJal. An application that will let you upload network-aware applications to your device, but also with some restrictions involved, like your application you only run for a given period, expiring after that. At this point you just wonder, what the heck is going on here. I'm already paying for data and this is my own phone, or not?

Well, because of the locks Nextel/Motorola put around their devices people came up with a patch to the WebJal, directions on how to setup your own OTA WebServer (with Apache, PHP) and some other really weird stuff. It is hard now to put so much control over a platform nowadays. It basically doesn't work.

So, now that the legalese is behind us, let's talk about MyJal ("We do because we can"). It's all on their website. You will need the data cable to connect to the phone and an USB port on a PC. Then install the Motorola USB drivers to be able to connect to the phone. MyJal will install a second set of drivers. Obtain the corresponding .jad and .jar files for a MIDP 2.0 application and keep them in the same directory. Their FAQ has straight answers for most of the issues you might possibly run into.

The i860 first verifies the content of the applications while installing it to make sure its code is valid, secure. If it runs into classes that aren't supported (like those from MIDP 1.x apps, it will fail). After going thru its validation and writing it to flash memory, you can then add the new midlet to the main menu and launch it. This is a pretty cool phone and the integration with true GPS makes it a great device. Add to it a MP3 player and you are set.

It is just a pity that you have to go thru so many hurdles and concern yourself with legal matters when you only want to make better use of your own equipment with freely available software and services.

Monday, December 12, 2005

TrafficGauge: your traffic conditions handheld

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle today, to make things even simpler and without the need to fork a thousand bucks or more, now you can check for traffic conditions with a little gadget from TrafficGauge. For about $79.95 plus a $6.99 monthly fee you can visualize the traffic conditions in the Bay Area, Seattle ($49.95) or Los Angeles. Based on data from Caltrans sensors and SpeedInfo the Palm-looking PDA without any buttons (always on) receives updates wirelessly every four minutes and will show the conditions of the main highways on a fixed-display LCD where the traffic might be a crawl (blinking, really bad; solid lines, bad) and where it is not. You can try it for free on your own computer.

Update: O'Reilly Radar capted it recently with some nice analogies.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Google Local Mobile

You can check here to see if your cell phone is among those currently supported by Google Local Mobile. But you can also use it with a PocketPC with either Mobile 2003 or Windows 5.0.

If you select Other Generic in the available options you will be able to see Advanced MIDP2 and Basic MIDP1 among the phone models. The idea is that a phone that runs a Java VM can possibly execute these midlets (Java applications).

Installing on a phone

For a phone available on their list, launch your WAP browser and open the URL: http://google.com/glm. That will download Google Local to it. If it doesn't recognize your cell phone maker and model you will need to select it among the choices in the download menu. The application should be installed automatically.

Google Local Mobile does not use GPS, either from satellites signals or assisted (based on triangulation from cell towers). It is basically the same free service provided by Google Local. But you will have to pay for data transfer from your provider [Samsung A940 in the photo].

After start up a map of the whole U.S. is displayed. Open the menu and select directions: type in your starting point, then your destination. Wait a bit and you will get a route draw in the map. Hit 3 for step-by-step directions. I wouldn't recommend reading directions while driving, it can be really distracting. Get a co-pilot to read the directions for you or go thru it before you start driving.

If you want to find a pizza place (or anything else) in the area, select search from the menu. It will show up small ballons with the seach results, you can get more information on each one of them by typing their corresponding number: how to get there and the coolest one, call in to order your pepperoni so it will be waiting for you when you get there.

"At this time, Local for mobile doesn't support BREW-enabled phones (e.g. Verizon, Alltel, U.S. Cellular), Nextel phones, Blackberry devices or Palm devices. Google is working in providing access to T-Mobile users."

Sprint 6700

If you have a PocketPC running Windows Mobile 5 you can get it up & running too but with a bit more work.

If you haven't done this yet, download and install ActiveSync 4.1 for Mobile 5 from the Microsoft website. ActiveSync 3.8 won't recognize it. They do recommend to keep 3.8 while syncing with older versions but the readme from 4.1 says that it works with previous releases too, so this will take some time to be sorted out (btw, I did have to go back to 3.8 to sync with Mobile 2003).

J9 Virtual Machine

Now you need a Java VM to run the Midlet. IBM has trial & beta versions of the usually referred as J9 Virtual Machine. You will need to register (freely) at the IBM website before downloading it. Handago also sells the IBM Virtual Machine for Windows Mobile 2003. After you had gone through these steps, search for "WebSphere Everyplace Micro Environment" at this website. You can also select the Trials & Betas tab to restrict the search results.

At the results page, look for the download entry "WebSphere Everyplace Micro Environment 6.0 - CLDC 1.1/MIDP 2.0 for Windows Mobile 5.0/ARM". Select the Windows host link. Do not select the Hi-Res version, at least it didn't seem to work with Mobile 5. IBM also provides versions of their VM for Windows Mobile 2003, Palm OS and Sharp Zaurus, besides Linux and Windows.

Install it to your host machine through its setup procedure. This will create a directory with a .zip file named weme-wm50-arm-midp20_xxx.zip at \Program Files\IBM\WEME\runtimes\60\wm50-arm-midp20 where xxx is the current version and build numbers. Unzip the file above to a new directory. This will create among others a /bin and /lib directories. Copy the contents of these two directories to the /Windows folder in the PPC device.

Now download the gmaps-midp2.jar and gmaps-midp2.jad file from the Google website.

Update 2: Keep an eye on this thread for the most current download locations.
Update: Since the original post was written Google Local Mobile got renamed to Google Mobile Maps (gmm) and the main Java class is now called GoogleNav. This seems like a major rewrite. If you are trying this use GpsEnabled: true instead. Also notice the PlatformID setting in the jad file.

Version 1.3.0: MIDP 2.0 jar, jad, MIDP 1.0 jar, jad;
Version 1.2.0: jar, jad [contents].

Original links for 1.3 version from http://4g63t.org/
Open the .jad file with a text editor like Notepad and modify the line starting with "MIDlet-Jar-URL:" by removing the URL preceding the .jar file name:
http://www.google.com/gmm/apps/v1.3.0/L1/gmaps-midp2.jar.

The resulting line should look like this:
MIDlet-Jar-URL: gmaps-midp2.jar

Now copy the .jad and .jar file to the (root) \ directory of the PPC device.

Installing the Midlet

Run File Explorer and go to \Windows\bin. From there launch emulator.exe, click Install, type in the URL input box the name of the .jad file: gmaps-Generic-Advanced_MIDP2.jad

Select / at the combo box below (or ...) and click Install. Say yes to the following questions regarding the installation of an untrusted application. When you see the Google Local 1.0 entry listed among the available midlets select it and click launch. You should now see the start screen of Google Local Mobile.

As I described in another post, you can write a .lnk file to the emulator.exe and place it in under Programs. Just type the following line and save it as a midlets.lnk file. Then transfer it to \Windows\Start Menu\Programs.

27#"\Windows\bin\emulator.exe"

Now you can search for pizza, call it to order your pepperoni and get directions to go there all at once. Not bad for a free midlet. Somehow I couldn't get the satellites pictures to show up. BTW, if you need to kill a process, in Mobile Windows 5 you can manage (stop, activate) running processes by selecting Settings System Memory Running Programs.

Key points from this post are based in posts to the Google Local for Mobile newsgroup.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Yahoo, Google & MS Beta Maps

Now if you want to figure out how to get from A2B by bus, Google Transit can help you. Neat interface, following on Google Maps plus schedule for buses, subways and public transit links.


Yahoo is putting together its own interactive map (using Flash) for driving directions, live traffic info, extensive search features, navigation pane with visual directions and easy ways to select business in a given area. By placing the mouse over the section of the route in the navigation pane on the left, the corresponding stretch is highlighted in the actual map. Lots of cool features (and bugs) to explore.


Finally, Microsoft is pushing the envelope with bird-eye views with Local Live fighting with Google Earth. Pretty impressive photo quality and clear interface.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

GPS for Dogs

There, if you want to keep track of your loved one PetsMobility will give you just that in 2006. PetsCell a "water-proof GPS cell phone [will act as] a tracking device for pets [...] with 2-way communication ability".

Smartly the company is also building communities for pet owners and content. All vaporware for now and too early for an April 1st joke.

Monday, December 05, 2005

TomTom History

Looking for TomTom trials available on the Web you might run across three of the old packages distributed by them: TomTom On-Line Maps, TomTom CityMaps and TomTom Route Planner. You might find maps of Europe for use with these packages. But they are covered here mostly for historic reasons.

OLM requires a working connection to the Internet and according to its documentation it only covers Western Europe. After installing & running it a first time, it tries to connect to a server to obtain a service directory but without much success. It doesn't seem to have a server operating currently. Here is a review by PocketGpsWorld and here another by UnWired.

CityMaps and Route Planner 3.0 look pretty similar, you can download a demo version of Koblenz in Germany and another from Luxembourg from Tucows.

Tap and hold the location of the map where you want to set the start of your trip, do the same for your destination and stopovers. Select the A to B icon at the toolbar and you will be presented with a route. You can select the details from the drop-down menu at the top of the screen.

RoutePlanner has a pretty cool way to show how the route is being draw and you can use the same location tool to be taken to a specific point on your route. But that is all history now.

Garmin GPS 18

Popular Science published an article on its December issue about the Garmin GPS 18. The package includes "unlocked MapSource City Select CD's" with maps for the whole United States, Canada and Porto Rico, a GPS receiver (OEM versions also available) and an adapter for notebooks and/or laptops. You can find it for about 90US$.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Traffic update for GPS

And talking about TomTom, the LA Times ran an article a while ago about TomTom Go (the hardware) under the nice driving conditions of the area. Sounds like the product isn't quite there yet.

PocketGPSWorld published a review of TomTom Go last year.

But if you want to check the traffic in the Bay Area, here you can get up-to-date traffic conditions and speed average on the major highways.

Open Tom

A curious aspect about TomTom is that it runs Linux and to comply with the GPL rules it makes its source code available. There is even an Open Source project, Open Tom that is providing builds for use with the device.

Palm E2 with TomTom

[Update: The deal below is over but for current stuff check this blog on Treo's].

If you are looking into getting TomTom Navigator (the software package), check the bundle offered by Palm with its Tungsten E2 model. The software itself can be purchased by $145 dollars. It runs on PocketPC and Palm.

The bundle includes the Palm itself with a car charger, Bluetooth GPS receiver, TomTom Navigator 5 with all U.S. maps on 9 CD's, a 64MByte card and a cradle. Great package for $399 available at Palm online store. Check it out but be aware about offers below this price: it is probably only the software without the PDA.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

PaPaGo & Mapopolis TestDrive

I decided to take both PaPago and Mapopolis for a test drive to San Francisco. My setup includes a holder for the PDA from Arkon and a battery car adapter for the Toshiba. After having some trouble listening to the directions I decided to connect a cassete tape adapter to the PDA's earphones output. (That same setup can be used for an iPod).


With PaPago you can set your destination on a single map and as soon as the GPS gets a fix you hear the announcement from a female voice. PaPaGo keeps full .wav files with specific sentences recorded with good sound quality and volume.

It won't give you street names but generic directions like "turn left on the intersection" or "exit the highway in 600 feet". There are two settings that you need to change from their default values right away or you might get really annoyed when you start hearing "please slow down" while going past 60 miles per hour. The default setting (2nd warning sound) is made using kilometers (100 km/h) so convert the corresponding mileage you consider safe for your car and driving style and use it to change the original value.

Lost

Most of the time I knew where exactly I had to go and when I had the "attention, deviation from planned route" message announced it was either because the GPS was a bit off from the curves on the road, or because I had decided to take my own way instead of the fastest, shortest route proposed. On the way back I decided to follow the directions as planned and put myself in PaPaGo hands after really getting lost around Campbell. It planned a new route and took me thru streets that I would probably take as dead ends within residential neighborhoods with curvy blocks and small alleys. When I finally start driving east on Hamilton Ave. I still had my internal compass going North. That was a nice surprise to find yourself again with the help of a nice package like PaPago.

Mapopolis

[Update Jan/07: Mapopolis is going out of business.] From an Ohio based company, another package that provides free trials is Mapopolis. It runs on the PocketPC and it is also available for Palm OS 3/4, 5 and Windows Mobile Smartphones. You can try it with its free Map Viewer currently in its version 4. You can download demo maps (two a day, pick them wisely) of the Navigator type. Mapopolis MapPacks are sold in two flavors: Platinum ($34 each), without GPS capabilities and Navigator ($99 each), with. These maps use NavTech data and cover a full region instead of a single city or area.

From the main menu with quick options to select you load a map for the area of interest. Find addresses with number and street name. Set them as the starting point and another for your destination. Pick the options for the route, hit ok and it gets draw in the map.

Mapopolis will provide turn-by-turn directions with visual and audio instructions, a large number of POI's and a pretty cool way of zooming in and out on its maps. While installing pSpeak, its text to speach engine, you can select the language for the voice directions. I picked the default setting: English text to speech, female voice. You can also select Male, and British Female which I choose imagining their "luvely accent". You can also choose among Francais (French), Dansk (Danish), Deutsch (German), Espanol (Spanish), Nederlands and Italiano (Italian). But don't try to install it to a CF/SD Card. It couldn't install pSpeak and locked up after launching on the first time.

Well, as soon as the female fragments started coming out as any primary text-to-speech engine would give you I was off the game. I know it is not an easy task to get a good engine going on a PDA, but in this case I would just choose from a good .wav file with generic directions as provided by PaPaGo instead.

The one thing about the map that really turns me off is the way the names of the streets are laid around their shape. So instead of vertical and horizontal alignments you have any sort of placement which gives it a pretty weird look. Couldn't find a way to turn that off besides turning the display of the street names itself. On the plus side, Mapopolis offers quite a bit of information of restaurants, hotels, ATM's and other POI location with its maps. But I didn't quite get how the map of San Francisco was only 1 Mbytes in size while the one from Santa Clara was 3.5Mbytes.

Mapopolis is a full-featured product with probably all you'll ever want from this type of software, if you can get past the voice engine and the chaotic visual it might be a good choice.

Free version of MS Pocket Streets

Not that I would recommend a product from Microsoft (looking forward to the day Linux and OpenSource takes over the desktop). But the 2001 is a free version of Pocket Streets and it is available for download. You can use it with maps for its current version by converting it with PSConvert.exe (a free utility that basically changes the 3rd byte of a map file from 9 to 6 according to the description of its main window). The whole process is also explained here.

You can search for POI's and addresses, move around, zoom in & out, add pushpin's (waypoints) and that's it. No turn-by-turn directions and GPS support only to pinpoint you current location. Don't look for better GPS support in the current version either.

MapQuest

If you got wireless MapQuest has Directions and Maps formatted for PDA's. Remember to set the Fit to Screen setting on IE. If you use AvantGo to synchronize data you can also use it to sync maps with directions from a query.

Maporama is another provider of maps and directions for PDA's that can be used with AvantGo.

Find Me

MapQuest also offers for those with Motorola phones (and Blackberries) with GPS enabled and Nextel data plans Find Me, a location-based service, that includes turn by turn directions, "the largest" POI (point-of-interest) database based on your current location or a US address. You can share you location with family and friends thru SMS and/or a secure, private website. POI's can be stored on your own address book and sync'ed it to a phone.

The following Motorola iDen Java phones are supported: i265, i275, i710, i730/i733/i736, i830, i860, i930 and the BlackBerry 7520 and 7100i.

Two plans are offered: $5.99 a month includes 300 Kilobytes of data consumption, while for $3.99 you have to pay for data access separately (they also seem to use different map data if you can figure out the difference between the crypt references PDSMAPQ1 and PDSMAPQ2).

Friday, November 25, 2005

Street Map Software

So far I have been avoiding to cover street maps software. But I guess the time has come. Yesterday going to a friend's house I realized that I didn't remember how to get there. My wife asks then, why don't you use your GPS to go there? Don't you love those questions?

Well, for that trip to Fremont I grabbed the AAA map for the area, found their street name and refreshed my memory about the way to get there. But it was obvious that after looking to all the topographic related packages for the PocketPC I had to start getting down to the vector-based, street map packages.

PC Pro, a UK-based magazine published a review of several hardware/software solutions on its October '05 issue. Most of these products were packaged with maps geared towards the European market including the Mitac Mio 168, Navman, Garmin iQue models, and PDA's from Acer and HP.

I started this blog looking at DeLorme Street Atlas USA 2005 for Windows. DeLorme also produces a PocketPC version that can be used with the Windows counterpart (but is in fact a standalone product which includes a CD with maps of the whole U.S.). It currently sells for about $35 US$. You can download a small Flash demo that shows how you can select an area from a map on the PC and transfer it to the PDA.

That's one thing I would like to avoid: to have to prepare a map for a given route beforehand. Microsoft Streets & Trips also works in a similar fashion, but according to reviews from users that got it at Amazon, the PocketPC version is a joke. But for 25$ after rebates with free shipping (both PC and PocketPC versions) the price is almost worth just to take a look at it.

PaPaGo USA 5

Browsing at GPS related packages at PocketGear I had made a note to myself about PaPaGo. My guess it that they probably use this name mostly for its onomatopoeic characteristics than any real meaning. But in any case here is a link to the Papago Tribe that used to live in Southern Arizona.

HiNav lists as the company behind the develoment of this product. Maction shows up in the splash screen, but there are also quite a few other brands involved, including MatlasTech and Mobuy. Check this link for a description of the product in English.

PaPaGo 5 USA includes a Windows PC product, the PocketPC version and one map. Follow the directions from PocketGear which basically tell you to download the PocketPC installer, the Windows Installer and a map from http://www.matlastech.com/USA/download.htm. While there get also the PDF of a good User's Guide in English.


The installer for the Windows version is a self-executable RAR file and will display a dialog in Mandarin Chinese. Just hit Enter to select OK.

You can try their product for 3-days (and not 15 days as mentioned in the installer dialog). You can get a registration code for US$ 29.95. That's for one map. For extra maps you will need to fork another 30 bucks. The actual name of the installed product is KingMap 2 USA (Version 2.2, Build 217).

As you already noticed the one drawback about this product is that you have to buy maps per region in order to use it. The map for Northern California [60MBytes] covers from Monterey (35 degrees 47 minutes North) to San Francisco Bay Area, all the way up to Eureka (42 degrees North) including Sacramento and Central Valley. It is all there. Its map data is provided by TeleAtlas with layers covering roads, streets, points-of-interst (POI's) and landmarks.

Usage

In my case that would suffice for the trip to my friend's house. You can start by finding your location by street name, position (lat/long), area or place. After finding it you can hit the Go button to have the area on the map for that location displayed. Right click the point, select Route | Start Route.

Now do the same for the destination point. Find it in the list, hit the Go button, right-click it on the map and select Route | End Route. You are done. Connect your GPS card, select GPS | Enable GPS and you will starting hearing the directions from a female voice in perfect English. You can also add stops along the way.

Both versions also provide a simulation mode where you review a track. Hit the play button on the Track Bar on the PocketPC (or the play button on the Windows version) and you will see a little green car driving along the desired route.

You select between miles and kilometers in the PocketPC version, but the Windows version only shows distances in kilometers. At least I couldn't find a way to select miles.

If you happen to miss a turn, it will let you know that you are off the originally planned route and offer the newly designed turns to go back to it. The volume from the PDA isn't that loud so you will need to check the screen often times to make sure you are taking the right turns.

You can also plan a route by GPS, which will take your current location as a starting point and you then only need to provide the destination for the route. After a trip you can save a log (in binary format) and/or track (in text format) and replay it later with the PC or PocketPC version. You can also import waypoints into a My Places database for use with the Route Planner.

What I like about PaPaGo/KingMap is its simplicity. No overload of features, easy to grasp menus, install & go. Plus, it just looks nice.

3D & more

The latest version of PaPaGo 9 (not available in English at this time) offers vector-based maps in 3D, like TomTom Navigator 5. In fact, TomTom includes maps for the whole country and you can find it for about US$129.

Here you can read a feature comparison of some of the packages mentioned on this post and PocketGPSWorld covered PaPaGo in a lengthy review a little more than a year ago.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Early April of 2010

With fear spreading like asian flu it is not surprising that ideas like these from Jakob Boeskov would touch a nerve. His Empire North enterprise promotes a Sniper ID software and its hardware counterpart to solve the safety issues of the 21st Century.

Don't forget to check the review of his work by Neural.it.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Mobile phones: Location service x GPS

I borrowed a Sprint PocketPC 6600 to try JGUI's PI & W.A.I.T. (We Are In Touch). The Sprint 6600 comes with a sliding keyboard, runs Pocket PC 2003 Phone Edition, and includes BlueTooth, a camera and 128Mbytes of RAM. The newer version Sprint 6700 is currently for sale.

After a hard reset due to battery power loss, the initial setup included several installs of pre-packaged applications. Among them a "Location On" item displayed at the Today screen. The PC 6600 also includes a SD card slot through which I run the .cab files to install trial versions of both packages (available at PocketGear).

JGUI products call GPS Rx a connection to the GPS receiver. I selected each available COM port looking for the receiver. COM6 launched the BlueTooth Manager, but no device was available. Then I started to wonder, how is this location obtained then? Is there a GPS chip somewhere in this phone? Didn't I know that these questions would take a while to get an answer.

AGPS: Assisted GPS

The Sprint 6600 doesn't include a GPS receiver. To have one it would require something like the DeLorme BlueLogger to make it work, but I'm not getting one right now.

So how exactly can JGUI obtain NMEA 0183 data from this phone? Short answer is: it can't. The position from a cell phone like this is not obtained thru signals from GPS satellites but from triangulation of the cell signal by the closest towers.

What this and other phones have is a chip that will help implement the FCC mandate to offer the E911 emergency location services where available. According to Sprint: "Sprint employs multiple location technologies such as Global Positioning System (GPS), Advanced Forward Link Triangulation (AFLT), Cell Sector, Aided GPS, and a blend of AFLT and Assisted GPS technologies to determine location. Each technology has its own strengths."

A PDF from OpenWave helps understand the technologies involved here. And then you realize that things got a bit more complicated. So the location data isn't readily available to applications like JGUI PI/WAIT to use.

True GPS Phones

Motorola produces phones with true GPS receivers. Check the i88s for example. Phones like this one depend on GPS satellites to obtain location information and require a clear view of the sky to do so, unlike those with provider location data. In that case, you depend on the availability of signal from your phone service.

These phones also run Java (J2ME) and support the J2ME Location API which gives you access to:

  • latitude
  • longitude
  • altitude
  • time stamp
  • travel direction
  • speed
  • altitude uncertainty and
  • speed uncertainty
At the Motorola Developer site you can find a White Paper describing the recommended use of this API (registration required).

Location Services

What you can make use of are tracking services that use a mix of these technologies. But for that you will have to pay extra for data service from your provider.

For example, AccuTracking which used to provide free location services, is now a fee-based tracking service. You also pay for data usage to Nextel (or other provider). Its midlets uses the GPS data from the embedded receiver of the Motorola models. Xora supports similar models to make use of their Java-based apps in a Motorola/Nextel phone. TeleNav offers directions with turn-by-turn information based on true GPS positioning, not from an assisted type technology. In fact, Motorola has its own service ViaMoto to provide turn-by-turn directions.

For WAP-based phones you can try the free, Open Source project Mobile GMaps "that displays Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps and MSN Virtual Earth maps and satellite imagery on Java J2ME-enabled mobile phones, PDAs and other devices."

Where are you

The interesting feature provided by both JGUI PI and W.A.I.T. is the ability to send SMS (Short Message Service) messages to someone's phone with your location information. This is also the main idea behind Needle GPS (which looks like a defection from the company that produces and distributes Loc8 NMEA Listener, the product after which Needle is modeled).

Needle says that it can only be installed in PDA's with ARM 1100 processors, but I was able to run it on the Toshiba e755 which has the Intel StrongArm processor without a hitch.

The demo doesn't allow you to do much else besides connecting to a GPS receiver, but the full product will act as a moving map and allow you to send SMS messages with your current and stored locations. Needle also produces an add-on module Neddle Plus 1.0 (US$ 49.95) but there is no demo or trial version available.

Maybe instead of a Garmin unit I could try one of these Motorola phones, that would save the money for the BlueTooth receiver but add on the service subscription fee. Or maybe just wait a couple of years to see how these things will end up.

PS: What do you want to read about? Let me know (ascardoso at yahoo dot com).

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Maps: topographical, historical, free

It doesn't take much to realize that maps are the bread and butter behind the GPS adventure. Products usually lock customers behind proprietary formats to get a regular supply of sales. Nothing new there.

Most of these maps are based on the work of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) which either makes them available for download for free or charge a fee for large size requests.

There you can obtain topographical maps in paper, or their scanned counterparts in Digital Raster Graphics (DRG) format. Digital Elevation Models (DEM) can be used with DRG's to produce 3D maps as described in this great tutorial (check the toolbox and the list of freeware tools available to do this job).

In the vector based domain you can find Digital Line Graphs (DLG's), plus Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) gives you access to names of locations covered by these maps.

You can use public available tools to visualize maps with these type of data, like DLGV32 Pro which is a limited version of the commercially available Global Mapper.

Satellite Photos

USAPhotoMaps provides a fast and easy way to access satellite photos as Digital Ortho Quarter Quadrants (DOQQ) from USGS and the Microsoft TerraServer. It requires the download of a client software that runs on Windows. With it you can save .jpg image files and then transfer to a PDA. But be sure to push the contrast of these images, otherwise they won't look sharp enough in the small screen.


If you have a dedicated GPS like the Garmin models, you can upload data directly to it. Digital Data is another provider of satellite photos and BLM maps.

Not so free maps

But there are also companies that provide maps compatible with formats required by specific applications. That is the case of Chartiff, which sells maps for Fugawi, Memory Map and MapTrails among others.

In fact, the Bureau of Public Lands sells maps produced and distributed by Chartiff, including South California with its MapTrails software package.

TopoZone is another provider that will charge for shaded relief, satellite and street maps. Their service is built on top of the OpenSource MapServer project.

Historical Maps

MapTech which provides maps for OutdoorNavigator also hosts a series of historical maps from the turn of the 1900's mostly of areas in the East Coast. These maps seem to cover the same quadrants of today's topographical maps (at least that's the case for the Central Park map in New York City). You can select maps by cities, counties or an interactive map.

MapTech doesn't sell printed copies of these maps but refer you to Map Express which also sells printed copied of custom versions of topographical maps.


Books on Mapping and Maps

O'Reilly published two map related books that provide a great deal of tips and information about how to access, create and produce maps from freely available resources. If you use Linux both "Mapping Hacks" and "Web Mapping Illustrated" which covers MapServer usage in particular will give you lots to explore.

Pocket Earth 3.4

Pocket Earth from Blue Point Studio's is exactly that. A geography lesson in your PDA. Grab the demo at PocketGear and notice that you can try it 15 times, not days. So, get it when you feel like taking a Geography class.

The package is extremely well done and carefully designed. You can use it with a GPS card in their latest version, but that doesn't really make it any better than it already is. With a GPS connection you get a compass that you can place anywhere in the screen with your velocity, bearing and your location is marked in a shaded 3D map of the Earth.

You can choose between a handle tool to position the Earth (and the Moon, Sun) and a Point tool that let you connect two or more cities. Doing that you will know how far apart those places are and their bearing.

You can also select a flat Earth map, remove the shadow from the Earth, add grids, make the Earth move or not, zoom in and out and so on, lots of control over what and how things get displayed. If you have a wireless connection you can download weather information for selected cities.

A search tool allows you to find cities by country, name or population. After you make a selection the Earth moves gradually to take you to the chosen location. Really neat. For $19.95 it is definitely worth the price.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

PathAway 3

PathAway is developed by Muskoka Tech based in Ontario, Canada. Originally developed for Palm the PocketPC release is about a year old. Specially while transferring files you might see some error messages still referring to HotSync, the Palm way of synching files. It also seems that there are quite a few more Palm users in the recently created message forums on its website.

After installing the package on Windows you will get a set of quite good manuals (with Palm references here and there) and a MapManager utility. If you want to try it out, be sure to get a good hang of the map calibration step and go fast, the trial only lasts 10-days. After that you will need to purchase a $49.95 license.

You can load a .jpeg image with the map utility or load pre-calibrated files in JPR calibration file format developed by Fugawi, or PathAway’s PWM and CAL formats. For me the map calibration required the use of d mm.mm even though I had degrees, minutes and seconds selected.

After some struggle I finally got a moving map working. But I could not transfer maps thru MapManager I had to copy files manually from its temporary location. The utility would give me an error message or go away after starting a transfer. I didn't compare the saved .prc file and the one from the temporary storage to see if they were the same, but I only got the PPC package to work with the version from the temporary storage (/Documents and Settings/[username]/Local Settings/temp on XP) plus a .pwp text file with empty coordinates.

Precise

The moving map shows a pretty good precision after all. Default screen provides bearing, coordinates, average, max and current speed and is highly configurable as most aspects of this package. The user interface shows its Palm origins.

You mark (way) points along a trail, track and PA3 will display the distance from the closest point you have stored, including the trigger of an audible alarm. You can save track, points and split the display with a moving map and a list of saved points or tracks.

You can download a command-line tool to convert database entries to text format and vice-versa. There you will also find a library for batch map conversions, and a DLL with its published API for use from within your own application.

Touratech QV

PA3 supports map files generated with Touratech QV, a PC desktop tool developed in Europe, in this case you won't need to use PathAway tools. Some of their website is translated to English but if you know German you will feel home.

Pocketnow.com published a pretty extensive "review" of PathAway by the time of its release.

Vito SmartMap 3.16 Freeware Version

Vito Technologies offers quite a broad range of PocketPC based apps including some GPS Navigation titles. Among them AstroNavigator mentioned in an earlier post.

If you look at the website you won't realize that there is a freeware version of SmartMap available. Vito gives away for free the PC application, MapManager required to create maps in the .vtm format used by their PocketPC charting product: SmartMap version 3.21.4. The full version of SmartMap can be tried for 15-days before purchasing a license for US$29.95.

To obtain the freeware version, go to PocketGear and download version 3.16. According to the nag screen you can track up to 500 points, have GPS positioning only with tracking map and up to 10 pushpins (waypoints).

After downloading and installing MapManager you can create a new map by selecting Layer | Add layer. You can select raster images in .jpeg format or vector-based ESRI Shapefiles. You can overlay shapefiles, but I'm not sure if you can combine different types like place a .shp file on top of a .jpeg. I got a a warning message while trying that.

Then you add up to 3 entries in a foothold list (Tools | Foothold List). Notice that you need to provide coordinates in dd mm.mm format. Also make sure you click the E button to indicate West if that's the case. After that you 'snap' the image (Tools | Snap) probably with the idea that if you have several layers, they would all be snapped together to form a single georeferenced image.

BTW, if you reopen the saved map, don't expect to see the marks in the map for the reference points or the "foothold" list with their corresponding positions. After a map is saved, those points are gone. You can move the mouse over the image and verify their coordinates in the status bar. After that, copy the .vtm file to the PDA and you are done. This page describes the process of map creation with MapManager.

SmartMap

During installation SmartMap replaces some of the original .wav files which looked intriguing but harmless. SmartMap requires a live connection to the GPS receiver. Only after it obtains one, the main screen you come up. Load your map by selecting Map | Load Map.

A green arrow indicates a fix. You can notice that the image is redraw in sync with the GPS receiver blinking led. You can't zoom on a raster image, but that is enabled on a vector-based one. You can save points and tracks and export them as .shp files. It would be interesting to overlay them on top of the .jpeg images in the MapManager utility, but I'm not sure that's doable in the freeware version (or fully licensed one).

For a freeware package you get the basics, but I wasn't particularly impressed by it. It doesn't hurt, but doesn't heal either.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

MemoryMap Navigator

From all the packages that I've been looking at recently MemoryMap Navigator 5.02 seems like the most promising. Beware that Google will list its British website first mainly because they are based in UK, partnering in the United States with MapTech, maker of OutdoorNavigator. So, most of what is covered in this post refers to their American website.

To start, download and install Memory Map 10-day trial which includes a free PC Host map utility and the PocketPC package. With the map utility you can import DRG's (Digital Raster Graphics).

For California you can download DRG's and their corresponding .tif and .tfw files with NAD83 or NAD27 georeference at UC Davis. Please notice the flashing link on the download page to a survey. Make sure to respond. This way you can prove the need for this service and help obtain support to keep this service online.

To import a DRG, download the corresponding .tif and .tfw files, select Map | Map List and hit the Refresh Map List... button. There select the directory where you saved the files by hitting Add Folder. Press Ok, and you now should be able to see the DRG listed in the Map List dialog. The same dialog allows you to send the map to the PDA.

DRG name details

DRG names have a funny look. They start with a "o" for Ohio-code. In my case I had the file o36121h8 where 36 corresponds to the latitude, 121 to the longitude, h which corresponds to 8th row within that latitude/longitude square or the one on top (a in the southmost row) and 8 is the column in the lat/lon square where columns are numbered from 1 to 8 from east to west).


But back to the map utility, with that you just created a .qct file (QuickChart) compressing the original 8Mbyte file down to five. For more on importing, scanning and calibrating maps check the PowerPoint presentation on MapCalibration in the install directory (viewer included).

It is quite impressive the speed with which MemoryMap displays images, zooming in and out in a snap. That's quite an accomplishiment considering the original image size and the processing power of a PDA.

If you interested in obtain maps of Canada, you can also purchase eTopo digital maps compatible with MM at www.maptown.com. MM also supports MrSid file format which stands for "Multi Resolution Seamless Image Database". These files can be converted into .tiff format with utilities available at LizardTech, the creator and owner of the MrSid format.

Transfering the map to the PDA can be accomplished from the same map utility. Somehow the utility informs that the version of the PDA package just installed is outdated. Just choose to re-install/update it. You can pick where you want the map copied to, like Main memory or SD/CF card storage. But be aware that MM trial won't plot your position with a GPS connection, for that you will need a full license ($99).

MemoryMap 3D

Another feature available in the map utility is MemoryMap 3D, which also requires a full license and from the looks of the videos available on their website, it seems quite a ways better than what is offered by Topo! Streets & 3-D Views from National Geographic. In order to display a 3D map you need to obtain the corresponding QuickChart Elevation Data (.qed). For that you can fork another $120: $95 for the California State Memory Map Discover DVD (or any other state) and $25 for the corresponding elevation data.

But you can try it with an old map with elevation data from Mountain Desert Island (.qct & .qed). Probably the least populated area in the planet. And quite flat. Not that exciting. But the fact that you can control the intensity and positioning of the light is pretty cool. You can also sync both views either vertically or horizontally. The free viewer also lacks printing, GPS programming, real time plotting and all Pro features.

Map Server


If you select the menu option "Web | Download Maps from the Internet" it will load your default browser (Mozilla Firefox in my case) and you might get a "requires Internet Explorer 5.5 or greater" message but even if you use IE 6.0 it will still complain about it.

So, open your IE browser and go to http://www.charttiff.com/memory-map/memory-map-start.htm
there you will be able to buy DRG's directly from MemoryMap for $1 buck a piece.

Memory Map website also points you to http://seamless.usgs.gov/ a USGS website where you can download aerial photos [DOQQ] and to USA Photo Maps at http://www.jdmcox.com/ which "downloads USGS aerial photo and topo map data from Microsoft's free TerraServer Web site, saves it on your hard drive, and creates maps with GPS accuracy."

NOAA Marine raster navigation charters can be downloaded for free from MapTech's website. Everything else requires you to fork some cash.

Bottom line


Memory Map Navigator costs 99$ including the PC version and the PocketPC package. In the professional version ($225) you can import ERSI Shape files for overlays, use night colors in the PocketPC and perform large-format map printing plus remote tracking thru the MemoryTrack addon that connects to a proprietary server to provide information on multiple parties.

MemoryMap offers a compreensive set of features that require a good chunk of exploration for someone make full use of it. To me so far this might be the most significant competition offered to the Topo! packages from National Geographic.