Sunday, February 26, 2006

BackCountry Navigator

What a nice surprise to look back at BackCountry Navigator. I tried BCN about six months ago while looking at Navio A2B and even made a mess while trying to describe which files were installed by which package.

Now in its version 1.1.4 BackCountry Navigator shows an easy of use that comes really handy with a PDA equipped with wireless connection support. BackCountry Navigator installed the .NET Compact Framework SP3, plus SQL CE 2.0 and English Error Messages from a .msi download. No .cabs are being made available. I couldn't choose where to install the packages, so they went straight into the main memory, but according to the FAQ you should be able to install it to a SD card.

The surprise comes from the fact that in its current release and since probably version 1.1, if you have a working connection to the Internet, you can download aerophotos from TerraServer and Topographical maps from USGS. You only need to obtain a fix with your GPS receiver and pull the data, BCN will fill in the latitude and longitude values, make the connection to the servers and download the corresponding files. No need to calibrate maps or transfer them to the PDA from a PC.

Setup

First select the GPS tab and choose the COM port you have your receiver connected to. BackCountry Navigator will figure out the baud rate automatically. Wait for a fix and then select the Data tab. At this point make sure you have a good working connection with the Net. If it is not strong enough you will probably get error messages saying that the server was busy, in my case it just meant that it wasn't able to connect properly to the server.

You first need to create a new document at the Data tab by hitting the New... button. Any points you want to save have to be stored in a new or existing doc file, otherwise you will hit a bug. After getting a good link, and using the current GPS location as a guide, BCN downloaded maps from both TerraServer and USGS. Make sure you update the size for download if you want more data than the one provided by default.

That is pretty handy, the only problem is that you will need to have a connection where you want to download the maps. You can also set the location in the Data tab of the location from where you want to download maps.

Now hit the Map tab and you will be offered with a zoomed view of your current location, you might need to zoom out (press the main navigation button up) until you get a good resolution of your area. Select View | Topo to switch to a topographical map of the same location.

In the Download Map Data dialog you can hit the PlaceFinder button and look for a specific place name in a state. Make sure you are connected to the Net and hit Find. After a while a list of names with the words you typed will be presented including the corresponding Quad name of the USGS map that contains it. Select the item you want, press OK and the corresponding latitude and longitude will be filled in the Download Map dialog, you only have to hit Download Data to get the corresponding maps.

Locations

An even cooler feature is that BackCountry Navigator also provides with the downloaded data, the location names for the area you just got the maps from. Look under List and hit the Places button at the top. You will be presented with all known locations in the area. Those come with the Topo maps probably based on the GNIS database and usually refer to buidings, cities, rivers, lakes and other geographical points and known places. You can add your own locations as waypoints to the list.

Later on you can reload the same data by selecting Open... in the Data tab and pointing the document you just created previously. With that you will get maps, places and waypoints.

If you want to set a given waypoint as a destination, just select it from the List page and hit Goto. An arrow from your current location will point you towards it and the Nav tab will display your bearings in relation to that waypoint. Finally, you can also import .loc and .gpx files from the Data tab, they will be added to the currently opened document.

Among the screens in the Software Tour of the product, you can see an Export button in the Data tab that I couldn't find in the current version of the product. Not sure if this is one of the features disabled during the trial period.

Another significant feature missing from this version is the ability to record a NMEA log from a track. In fact, you don't actually see your "bread crumbs" behind as in a moving map with BackCountry Navigator, but only an arrow from your current location that is constantly updated to the active point you are navigating to.

Waypoints can be also grouped under Geocaching where you can provide full descriptions. No help is included in the product so make sure you browse the Software Tour pages in the website describing its features.

Conclusion

If you are not looking for the ability to record NMEA logs and visualize tracks you might be appeased by the easy of use offered by BackCountry Navigator for obtaining maps and tracking waypoints. You can try BackCountry Navigator for 21 days. A full license costs US$30 and includes future updates to the product. I hope a new version will offer tracking but still for its easy of use, what a nice surprise.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

GeoCode Lookup

If you ever wanted to find the corresponding latitude & longitude of a given address or its geocode, now you can do it for free with geocoder.us. Running CPAN hosted Perl scripts and based on the TIGER dataset the service provides estimated coordinates for any U.S. address.

TeleAtlas owns Eagle which hosts Geocode.com, a paid service that you can evaluate for free.

This a very welcome tool and you can even include the same code base in your own work by downloading the available source.

Neat.

ZoneTag: Geolocating photos

If you own a Nokia Series 60 phone check ZoneTag, a new free service just announced by the Research arm of Yahoo for photo uploading to Flickr through a Yahoo account. If you have a Bluetooth GPS unit that works with the phone, ZoneTag will use that data to geolocate your uploaded picture.

Otherwise it will use the cell ID of the "cellular tower your phone is using to connect." Each tower has its own cell ID but it might actually be a few miles away from where you are located and calling from.

This will give you at best the city and zip code which might serve the purpose of searching for photos with those parameters. ZoneTag will "learn" from the uploaded pictures about the location of the corresponding Cell ID's as the service usage picks up.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Gmaps Pedometer: No GPS Required

Just in case you don't really want to carry any gadget while you run or exercise Gmaps Pedometer can tell you after a bit of clicking how much you exercised and how many calories you might have burned.


Find your city by filling the input box at the top and select your country and state. Move the map around like a regular Google Map and zoom as you would. Then push the Start recording button and double-click over the points in the map that correspond to your track. You can select the altitude profile and the calorie count. Hit stop when you are done. Then if you want, save the track and print it. You can also export as a .gpx file.

Track your flight

Another interesting example of a Google Maps mashup. GMaps Flight Tracker let you see the path of planes arriving at JFK, LAX and O'Hare among a few others using by default the satellite view of Google Maps.

Select a flight number on the left and you will get its whole flight plan with the time it occurred. You can also download the corresponding KML file for use with Google Earth. It gives you its altitude, speed and heading.

Some ads will popup and the drawing could be improved. But you got the idea. Data seems to be provided by FboWeb.com which has paid offers with more features but which also provides some valuable freebies.

These maps make use of TLabel, a JavaScript-based API Extension to Google Maps developed by Tom Mangan who also makes available TPhoto, another extension API that let you embbed alternate aerial photos in Google Maps.

GoCars: GPS guided tourism in SF

The GoCars have been running around San Francisco since 2004 and I remember seeing them around but I didn't know they actually use GPS to provide you directions and descriptions (in 4 languages) along the way.

It should be fun to drive this little thingy and miss a (lot of) turns to see how it would recalculate the original route. Check this blog for a recent tour.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Tracky: Measure your G-Force

Another product that would benefit from a longer running time during its trial period is Tracky, a promising new entry to the PocketPC market of GPS applications. You can use Tracky's trial version for only five minutes at a time.

Tracky, besides its catchy name offers some features not found in any other package: it calculates the G-Force that might be hitting you and can present information graphically by combining up to three measurements in a single screen.

The trial includes features only available in its Pro version: Trackalyser, the combined graph mentioned above and the Dashboard where you can visualize besides lat/long your current G-Force and bearing.

The application is visually appealing and you will need to get used to its particular way to get things done. There is no help file in the current 1.2 version so be sure to take a look at the Feature tab in the website and scroll down to the detailed descriptions of each one.

POI's & Tracks

To begin with Tracky displays a screen with a grid where each block corresponds to 100 square meters. After selecting the COM port and rate of your GPS card (Config | GPS...), you can start tracking your way by selecting Track | Record. Make sure also to select View | Follow Current Position.

Things start to get more challenging when you try to use Tracky to calibrate the map image you have loaded. Instead of taking two points to calibrate a map either in the PDA or from an application running on a PC, Tracky requires that you first record a track or save a POI. You can also see tracks by putting them in the data directory of the program and restarting it.

To use a map, drop the image you want to calibrate to /Program Files/Tracky/data and restart the program. Now when when you choose Map | Select... it will present a list of available image files in that directory. Pick the one you want and the full view of the map will be displayed. Before the maps can be zoomed in, you need to calibrate it. So if you have an image that it too big, you probably won't be able see anything with the full map image. If you have a small enough map, you can move the grid around to adjust it to the corresponding location in the map. After that you can adjust the zoom level you want by dragging the ball at the top of the screen to the right for example. This will zoom into the image.

You can make measurements by tapping at any point in a map after you first set a mark on it. (Map | Calibrate, first tap, x marked on map, next tap gives you the distance from original x). You can drag the map by tapping and holding to a point. During the five minutes of usage with the trial version no tracks or POI's will be stored. But it will save the zoom level and marks you made previously.

G-Force

If you are wondering how exactly Tracky can track G-Force here is a short but practical description from a MIT website:

"g"-forces are really a measure of acceleration, which is the rate of change of velocity of an object. If a car accelerates from zero to sixty miles/hour in 6 seconds, it has an acceleration of 4.3 meters per second per second. That is, every second, its speed is 4.3 meters per second greater.

To convert this into "g-force", we compare this acceleration to the acceleration produced by gravity, which is 9.8 meters per second per second. The car is accelerating at about 0.4 times gravity, or 0.4 G's.

Calibrating maps

Because the trial won't allow anything to be saved I decided to try a more direct approach. You can import a map image with its corresponding calibration data recorded in a .txt file in the following format described under Features | Map | Import/Export in the website:

width = 1024
height = 768
lat = 51.73585100
lon = 5.28362500
widthM = 758.610657

Where widthM is the distance in meters covered by the map image. According to data from this post, at 38 degrees a minute corresponds to 6,608 feet. Here is a calculator that you can use to convert feet to meters.

To obtain the width and height in pixels you can use Paint and check under Image | Image Attributes for its values. If you are exporting a map from Topo! for example, you can mark the exported area in such a way that it will match a specific latitude/longitude. The values provided with the .txt file need to match the top left corner of your image. Remember to convert the degrees, minutes and seconds into degrees.

Notice that your map image will have to be pointing North. But I probably did something wrong along the way because my current position was quite far to the left from the map image itself. But at that point the map was "calibrated" meaning that I could zoom into it and recalibrate it to match my current position.

Select Map | Calibrate one more time and move the grid to match the little guy showing your position. You can keep doing it while a track is being recorded so you can adjust it to match the map image.

Conclusion

Tracky is a nice entry to the dedicated GPS applications market for PocketPC applications, but it forces you into a new way of accomplishing things which might take a while to get used to it so I believe that it would benefit from a more standard approach and simpler way for things like performing map calibrations. It should also consider supporting standard file formats for logging tracks and POI's. Currently on its version 1.2, Tracky Lite sells at Handago for US$24 and Track Pro for US$36.

GpsMeter: All you can measure in 30 secs

[If you are looking for the distance covered by a degree check this post instead.]

Developers are getting a bit too grouchy with their trial periods. GpsMeter for example, is a PocketPC app developed in Germany by MASPware that will let you try it out for about 30 seconds. That's it. It has a nice look & feel and it is pretty simple to use.

After connecting to a GPS receiver, set the app to save timestamps automatically to a fixed interval. It will start displaying in two modes the distances from two or more points. You can export locations, waypoints to Google Earth through KML files. Some of the menu options are still in german. A full license costs US$12.95 at PocketGear. Time's up.

Boston Walks: Flash on the PocketPC

Boston Walks was a project promoted last year by the Boston Cyberarts Festival and developed by Invisible Ideas. The project made use of PocketPC's equipped with GPS and walks developed by artists.

The PDA's were distributed among visitors for a "GPS-enabled artwalk through the Boston Public Garden and Common". A log map would keep track of the path taken by the PDA's. You can still check a demo of three walks to have an idea of their work.

The interesting aspect of this project is that it uses a lite version of Flash that is currently available for download after Adobe/Macromedia listened to customers complain.

This article describes how the application was developed in great detail using ActionScript and a C++ library to read one of the COM ports where the GPS receiver is connected on the PDA. You can also download a demo version of the Flash app for Windows or Macintosh.

There seems to be a FlashGPS C++ module around the Net but I could only find a PDF describing it. You can try using GPS libraries like those developed by Frason and Marshall Software or develop your own with the new GPS Intermediate Driver API included with Mobile Windows 5.

Another option on the Open Source front is RoadMap, which has builds of its GPS module available for the PocketPC (you can build ARM compatible binaries with GCC 3.x).

The use of Flash-based applications in mobile devices is growing pretty fast with the major carriers jumping aboard quickly to provide Flash players on their new phones.

GPS and RC Planes

Most recent Popular Science published two articles about remote controlled planes equipped with GPS devices. Tango sells for a small fortune and the other Raven, is used by the military in Iraq. In its automonomous model, Tango like Raven can be programmed to fly to specific waypoints to take pictures or videos.

If you are up to the task this site will give you directions and tips about putting your own model together, by combining the Garmin ForeRunner 201, G7toWin and a nice Linux-based OpenSource track plotter called GPLIGC in a sailplane.

Or check this pretty serious model equipped with a Garmin Etrex and the flights made by Wingo. Eagle Tree Systems even sells a miniature Flight Data Recorder that you can monitor from the ground.

GPSWorld published an article on its February issue of a RC plane put together by USGS with telemetry featuring a Garmin receiver.

[Update Feb/24/2006: On a bigger scale, the USDA is using systems developed by Red Hen that combines a "Digital-8 video camera that produces video, audio, and images along with a GPS signal on a differentially corrected background map" to monitor vegetation of state parks.]

[Update Oct/16/2006: Red Hen now also sells Nikon cameras equipped with Garmin GPS and provides a companion software, IsWhere that you can use to see geotagged photos (those with location data on its EXIF headers) on Google Earth.]

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Mapping emotions

BioMapping is another cool project combining GPS this time with Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) and maps from Google Earth. The idea is to have people hooked up with a device that measure their emotional response during for example a traffic jam and use that data to generate maps like this one.

Check this link for a live map using Google Earth.

First seen at GearthBlog

Monday, February 20, 2006

Paul Saffo got it

In a brilliant interview given to the San Francisco Chronicle, Paul Saffo from the Institute for The Future spells it out while talking about privacy and location services:

"Most people don't realize that our Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Communications Commission have all mandated that cell phones need to have position recording built in. They want to be able to pinpoint your location with a global positioning chip in your phone or some other way of identifying your location. This costs the telephone companies money, so the bargain they made with the Feds is that we'll implement it, but then we get the right to use this for commercial purposes. You will get location-based marketing. People don't realize but their cell phone will become their personal billboard."
Welcome to the future.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

DIY: Web-based GPS Tracking

Want to build your own web-based GPS tracking system? Look no further.

OpenDMTP or Open Device Monitoring and Tracking Protocol provides a small footprint framework and low bandwidth protocol just for that.

Download the source code for the client (which also includes the code for the server and the track.htm page mentioned below), compile it under Linux or Cygwin, run it on a laptop and have a NMEA 0183 compliant GPS receiver connected to it.

The framework includes support for communication to a server through a GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) modem. After uploading the data to a backend server, you will be able to see the data on a Google Maps based interface.

The server runs a OpenDMTP sockserv binary acting as a provider, your webserver needs to be able to serve a static page, track.html also from the OpenDMTP project that uses Google Maps (API key required).

Check here for the type of data you will get from the server after having data sent by the client during a road trip. This article provides more details if you want to delve further down.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Information Overload

The RAC Foundation, a British-based body "researching and promoting issues of safety, mobility, economics and the environment" published a study about the use of navigation systems as one more distraction for British drivers already overwhelmed with too many signs to decipher along the way.

[Update Mar 3, 06] I played with this and paid dearly thanks to a distraction called cell phone, incurring material losses only thankfully. With navigation systems coming to a cell phone near you, it is time to take this advice seriously. It will be wise and cheaper if not life saving.

First seen at Stuff.

Oh my...

This one made the news, imagine the ones that didn't... [Link broke in the Kansas newspaper were the track your spouse for details showed up]

And here comes more from the tracking dept:

"[...] the staff in [the] network maintenance department at Cablevision were given cell phones that he said were equipped with GPS tracking and it had to be on when workers were on call on their off time -- so the belief was the company could monitor their whereabouts round the clock"
Oh my...

North, which north?

This might be old news, but it is resurfacing with last weeks' meeting of the American Geophysical Union where according to Joseph Stoner, a paleomagnetist at Oregon State University:

"Earth's North Magnetic Pole has moved nearly 1,100 kilometers out into the Arctic Ocean during the last century and at its present rate could move from northern Canada to Siberia within the next half-century."
If you want to check the Northern Lights in Alaska better hurry, otherwise you will have to fly a bit farther.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Spot, OGC & WMS

Spot is a GPS-enabled software developed by SkyLab originally designed for phones including the Blackberry 7250 model which has an integrated GPS receiver.

I couldn't get Spot, the GPS enabled version to work with the IBM VM J9 in the PocketPC only Spot Viewer, the non-GPS version worked. It wasn't that exciting. SkyLab also has an unsupported midlet called WMSClient that worked just fine with the Motorola i415.

WMSClient is a MIDP 2.0 midlet that can be used as a browser to OGC compliant WMS services, which translated to plain english refers to Open Geospatial Consortium compliant Web Map Servers.

The maps provided (free) by these servers include several layers describing a given area in the world layered one on top of another like those used by GIS applications.

WMSClient

After having the midlet installed to your phone start the app and select Key Setup. This will let you choose the corresponding key values for panning a map with your phone and switching between pan and zoom. Select then new OGC-WMS and type the URL of one of the servers listed on this page.

This will take a while. And you will need to do this everytime because the bookmarks only keep two entries: one for Nasa and another for the USGS server. After you have a sucessful connection to a server you will be presented with a multiple list of checkboxes with options to choose from. Those are the layers available at this particular server.

GPS Simulator

The screen of the i415 isn't that great so if you want to have a better idea about the kinds of data you can get from WMS, check another app developed by SkyLab: GPS Simulator 2 which you can run on a Windows box. You will need Java version 1.4.1 or newer to run it.

If you want to simulate GPS receivers, that is what you get from this app in several different possibilities. But my idea was to use it as a full blown WMS viewer on a PC screen.

Launch the demo version and select the Map Input tab. Hit the WMS Map box and the WMS Config button. This will cause a little dialog to get displayed, select one of the URL's from the drop-down list at the top and hit the Get Capabilities button.

That will ping the server and ask for its capabilities which means something like: "Tell me which layers you have available". Click the ones you want holding the Shift key and when you are done hit "apply". Close the dialog and wait for the download to complete. It might take a while depending on the amount of choices you made.

And you might end up getting a map that is not that useful but which looks kinda cool.


The full version of GPS Simulator costs US$99. Intergraph distributes the source code of a free WMS Viewer that you can run with IIS. You can also run it from a browser (IE 5.0 or Netscape 7.0 or higher). Other choices include the deegreeWMS viewer available at SourceForge and a standalone WMS viewer named Gaia.

DeLorme: Florida 1-meter Resolution Images

DeLorme is making available "one-meter resolution aerial imagery for the state of Florida" for its professional product line XMap. According to the article at Directions Magazine:

"Derived from Florida’s DOQQ (Digital Ortho Quarter Quadrants) data files, this imagery was captured in 2004 and 2005 and represents the most up-to-date and complete aerial imagery that is currently available for the entire state."
The area can be browsed with DeLorme's XMap Web Editor.

Source Directions Magazine

Enhanced GPS

The announcement of a new handset using something called Enhanced-GPS started to make my brain hurt. Come'on guys another type of assisted GPS? So before talking about this I decided to research a bit more about this mess.

And trying to make sense of this new technology/product offered in the Assisted-GPS arena, I ran into two great papers that help put GSM and GPS technologies in a pretty clear view. The first paper [PDF] by Craig Scott and others researchers from Sydney describes GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) and how location services can be implemented.

On a side note at the end of the document the authors discuss non-technical issues saying that:

"The most important point is that people’s locations should not be monitored without their permission or appropriate legal authority. Given that a GSM positioning system will be gathering information on people’s movements, it will be important that sites which gather this data (e.g., the location service center) are highly secure from both physical and computer-based attacks."
The second paper [PDF] by Motorola which is a bit more recent gives an overview of location technologies in 2G networks describing techniques very similar to the same one used by GPS receivers to triangulate position.

Unsynchronized Networks

The thing is that for unsynchronized networks like GSM and W-CDMA things are a bit more complicated when you want to pinpoint the location of a cell phone. Time is the basis for distance measurements and by not having precise, synchronized timing other methods are required. CDMA networks in the other hand are synchronized.

Trying to resume what these papers talk about you could say that for GSM networks you can break the Assisted-GPS camp in two big fields: one where most of the work is done in the cell phone itself and another where most of the work is done in the network. By work we mean obtaining, measuring and processing data that in the end will help pinpoint the location of the cell phone. Check this post under "Aided GPS" for more details about this.

Enhanced-GPS as developed and distributed by Cambridge Positioning Systems makes use of software in the cell phone that works with its embedded GPS receiver plus a network component (Serving Mobile Location Center) that most providers need in order to use the other methods. This paper [PDF] describes this technique in detail.

The goal is to make these technologies cheap enough for volume usage by providing a software layer in the cell phone without requiring changes to the network. This also would help manufactures avoid higher power consumption with the use of dedicated chipsets.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Who owns the GPS data from your car?

Legislators in Virginia approved bills that sought to provide better protection for car owners. From this article on PilotOnline:

"A House committee passed [Del. Joe T. May's, R-Loudoun] bill, HB816, Friday. It would specify that the information belongs to a car’s owner, except when law enforcement officers are investigating a crime or mechanics are fixing the vehicle. The bill would allow owners to sign a contract with an insurance or security company to release that information. Some consumer advocates, defense lawyers and legislators think the bill still leaves the car owner vulnerable."
The article gives a good perspective about what may lie ahead. Six other states have similar laws. According to this page from Bankrate.com:
"California settled the issue recently with new legislation that will take effect in July 2004. Under the new laws, carmakers must tell a buyer if there is an EDR (event data recorders) device in the car."
Time to act.

Drawings

Make magazine published by O'Reilly released its 5th volume. Check page 127 for some tips about using GPS for drawing. The article points out MotionBased mapping tools and GPSograph, a tool developed by Hugh Pryor and used to make most of the cool drawings and animations found at the GpsDrawing website that I'm not sure is available for general use.

If you want to delve deeper check GpsVisualizer tools and the work of the Waag Society. They had people walking, biking, driving around Amsterdam with GPS to build some cool maps. The results can be seen under Maps and on the MPEG-4 files under Cumulations. They seem to be the same group who recently worked on the Milk project.

Garmin Forerunner users can draw over Google Local or Google Earth by grabbing Google Running Logs, a set of Perl scripts written by Dave Mabe as pointed by the GPS archives of Make.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Gravity Monkey

Jason Uechi put together some J2ME apps that I ran into while looking for Java code for the i415. I found his work at his Gravity Monkey website.

Jason produced the "silly" game and has some downloads available for J2ME phones like Phapper, a GPS-based app that looks like a stripped version of Google Local but which actually uses your location fix. He also seems to be behind Mologogo which replaced Phapper (Phone-mapper) and some other projects.

Red | Blue was released quite a while ago just before the last elections, the idea is that you can figure out if you live in a red or blue state based on your location. The app uses data from fund raisers to determine your place's color. It is also supposed to use your bearing and position to figure out if you are getting into a red or blue area. In this case, just head West (or NorthEast) and you might get into some Blue if that is what you are looking for.

His site doesn't take much load so try it at some odd hours (for PST). If you can't get there you might want to try the cached version of his pages on Google. Jason is also working on Shrunq, a lightweight web browser that is currently in beta showed in another site.

A9 Maps adds BlockViews

[Update: Amazon decided to drop maps from A9]

The beta version of A9 Maps (Amazon owns A9) is being now offered covering a few American cities. The novelty to other related services is the addition of photos from the streets your are looking at on its maps. Data is provided by MapQuest.

According to PCMagazine:

"A9 [...] employs SUVs equipped with mounted digital cameras and GPS equipment to record street images and document the location where they are taken".
Check for example this map of Powell Street in San Francisco.

Look under Mapping Software for other reviews by PCMag on Local Maps from Yahoo, Google and Microsoft.

Locate Me and let everyone know

Speaking of the devil, Live Local can locate your current position after you install an ActiveX control for your browser. [Correcting original post] According to a BoingBoing article that discusses the more than obvious privacy issues, this control is similar to the "Location Finder" developed by the PlaceLab project "which listens for the MAC address and compares it to a client cache of locations of known base stations".

The idea is that if your machine has WiFi it can use it to find your current position. Somehow after reading the article I decided not to install it.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Quickies

Sandia engineers are having fun looking for benchmarks... Tracy residents will test use of GPS equipped handhelds for the next Census... Nokia is announcing the LD-3W a new version of its BlueTooth GPS for its mobile phones...You can track Steve Fossett flights on its GlobalFlyer at the Virgin Atlantic flights online...
And kids in Australia can play safe with Mum keeping tabs with iKids, a new phone with (A)GPS.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Mushrooms, windshields and a new GPS phone

People keep finding new uses for GPS receivers, like these guys who were tracking mushroom patchs with GPS to make some good money with them. And it worked for a while.

San Jose Mercury News says that you shouldn't place GPS devices on the windshield according to the law, and use an external antenna instead. This will cause some trouble.

Benefon is launching Twig, a new line of mobile phones equipped with GPS and maps provided by Navteq featuring 2D and 3D turn-by-turn navigation. These are dual-band GSM phones available in Europe.

Plus, case you haven't noticed U.S. Naval Observatory just added an extra second to the world clocks. But this doesn't affect GPS receivers as mentioned in a previous post.

Tracking a day, Meanings & OpenSource GPS

Want to record & track your whole day?
Here is a gear setup suggestion under a thousand bucks, GPS included.

MobHappy points out that if you got a Nokia Series 60 you can now hit one button to geotag your photos and upload them to Flickr using Merkitys ("meaning" in Finnish).

The PDF with the second part of the OpenSource GPS project covering the software used is now available at GPS World Magazine website.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Beeline GPS

You might have seen VisualGPS already, a free PocketPC and Windows package covered in other posts. Beeline GPS adds waypoint management features with Geocaching in mind. You can try all the features available in BeelineGPS free for 30 days.

With Beeline you get extra tabs for Trip, Analog Gauges (Panel) and Map. Not the moving kind, but a blank map where you can place icons associated to waypoints from more than a hundred available, including quite a few geared towards Geocaching. It also adds a whole set of waypoint management features where you can create, modify and annotate them. You can search nearby waypoints based in your current position within a range you determine. Notes and detailed info can be added to a given position including status for caches.

A GoTo option let you set a target and from that you will get all the necessary data at the Trip tab, including visual displays with bearings and range in the Map tab. Waypoints can be opened/saved as .GPX and .XML files and imported also from .LOC and .CSV files.

Like VisualGPS you have a tab showing the current position of the satellites in the sky, including their trails and another tab showing their signal strength and corresponding PRN's (Pseudo Random Number). BeelineGPS shows when WAAS is in use and also during a loss of a fix that 'dead reckoning' is being estimated. If you are curious about this one, Wikipedia defines Dead Reckoning as:

"the process of estimating a global position of a vehicle by advancing a known position using course, speed, time and distance to be traveled. That is, in other words, figuring out where you momentarily are or where you will be at a certain time if you hold the speed, time and course you plan to travel."
Install

Before using Beeline GPS, make sure you run its Automatic Setup under Tools | GPS | Autodetect GPS... With that you will know for sure if your card sends all the required NMEA sentences used by BeelineGPS. Somehow I only got the Holux GM 270 Ultra (XTrac 2.0 firmware) which supports the RMC sentence to provide one after a factory reset with Winfast Navigator from Leadtek (Tools | Command...).

The $GPRMC sentence gives GPS status, position, speed over ground and course plus UTC value and even magnetic variation if implemented by the chipset (see below). Beeline GPS uses these values to calculate average speed, estimate arrival times and other data. You can configure a Sirf based receiver to send RMC sentences by selecting Tools | GPS | Manufacture Specific | Setup SiRF NMEA output.

Other packages instead of counting on the presence of the RMC sentence, calculate distance and speed based on point to point intervals from the GPGGA sentence. I was also able to get speed information from the corresponding RMC sentences with the GlobalSat BC 307 which runs Sirf firmware GSW2.

A RMC sentence looks like this
$GPRMC,171004.031,A,3658.4246,N,12201.3362,W,
23.44,255.42,060206,,*2F
which translates to
171004.031 = UTC of position fix (hours, mins, secs, decimal secs)
A = GPS Status, Valid (V = invalid)
3658.4246,N = Latitude
12201.3362,W = Longitude
23.44 = Speed over ground in knots
255.42 = Course over ground, degrees, true
060206 = Day, Month, Year
In this case the magnetic declination, the missing value after the comma is not being implemented by this Sirf chipset. The last value if a checksum.

Usage

By default a track is saved while you move around and it can be seen at the map tab, you can also record NMEA logs. With Beeline you lose the status tab, but you gain an altitude profile that can be displayed in the map tab and a waypoint averaging with DOP (Dillution of Position) threshold control for better accuracy.

You can set visual and audible alarms or even sound files to be activated when you approach a waypoint. The visual displays can use analog or digital modes for any of the available metrics displayed in the Trip tab, like your current speed for example.

From one to twelve displays can be arranged in several combinations in the Trip tab and up to four analog gauges (altimeter, compass, speed and vertical speed) can cycle in the Panel tab. Finally, the developer also makes available a paper on a NMEA Parser and the corresponding source code in C++ using MFC.

Conclusion

VisualGPS and BeelineGps offer great accuracy and position information, Differential GPS status,and in Beeline's case, dead reckoning and waypoint average. This is the kind of tool you would want to use to make precise measurements. There are similar packages offering moving maps in the market for equivalent cost and the free version already includes a lot of functionality. If you are into Geocaching or want to start getting into it check the free trial. A full license costs US$30 with all future updates made available for free.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Phone-based fitness

Bones in Motion will soon start offering phone based applications to help track your physical activities. Sprint and Nextel phones with GPS capabilities (and apparently Assisted-GPS) will be first on the list. The service called Bimactive is being announced today through a Press Release and it is now [update Feb 24, 2006] available.

According to the FAQ, heart monitors won't be supported for combined use with cell phones because "the frequencies supported by popular heart monitors are incompatible with mobile phones". But users of devices like the Forerunner from Garmin can use Bimactive Online which supports blogs and RSS.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ajax + GPS = Bus schedule mashup

First seen at the Ajaxian check this cool use of Google Maps to track bus schedules in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Be aware that it will slow down your browser quite a bit, at least on Linux.

The JavaScript parses this feed. Here is a page where you can track a bus. And there is also a RSS feed available.

Milk: A GPS Narrative

Smart Mobs points out a GPS narrative where farmers carrying receivers go about their business. Their narratives can be seen here.

"[The] map follows the milk from the udder of the cow to the plate of the consumer, by means of the people involved. All those involved were given a GPS device for a day: one of the days that they were somehow occupied with the movements of this dairy."
Flash required. Check under Participants. Amazing project.

Apple GPS?

SmartHouse speculates on the announcement of a new Tablet device based on patents filed by Apple recently:

"Apple's patent filing spends quite some time on zooming and panning when using maps, which - let us speculate once more - could indicate that Apple is working on a GPS-enabled device and most likely will enable users to have more fun with Google Earth."
It also says that Apple booked Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco for a special event on February 22nd. Check this site for an animated gif based on the images from the patent filing. Start your rumors.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

GPS might be relative, maybe

A research by Alex Mayer from Stanford gets pretty interesting while trying to understand the anomalies found in GPS satellites orbits and with that present a whole new Cosmology.

Check the thread at Slashdot and the certified PDF presentations. It revolves around the idea that:

"time is not a single dimension of spacetime but rather a local geometric distinction in spacetime"
If this guy is onto something What the @#%$ do we know!? seems pretty straightforward.

GPS in Golf Balls, Fiat's driving MS

I couldn't let this one pass: with the miniaturization of GPS receivers you can expect to see some pretty new places for them.

We already mentioned a while ago the idea of fitting pigeons with a tiny backpack containing GPS + radio transmitters so air pollution could be measured in San Jose, CA. Now a new breed of uses is cropping up in the sports arena: Golf balls with GPS, or baseballs and footballs. Imagine the reams of data one would get to play some stats with.

In another news: there are some conflicting reports about Sony PSP's getting GPS receivers in a new rev. The current issue of Playstation Magazine (PSM) adds a bit more to the rumor mill. And according to GameShout, this it is a done deal.

Finally, not so cool as the Volks/Google announcement but Fiat is working with Microsoft to add a multimedia center and GPS navigation to its cars, initially Alfa Romeo's and other top-of-the-line models.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

GPS & Photography

You probably already know about geotagging your photos and images and sites where you can upload your own pictures and associate them to a set of coordinates. You can also put them in GoogleEarth or Google Maps, Flickr and a bunch of other websites.

There are also products like RoboGeo and the free ITag which can also be used to convert .GPX formatted log files to Google Earth .KML and GPSPhotoLinker that let you edit an EXIF format image (if your camera generates one) to add coordinates to it. For camera phones GEOsnapper can be used with some Motorola phone models. But what I was looking for was a camera that would let me do that. Either with a embedded-GPS or one that could be attached to it. And there are a few out there, but it just isn't that affordable right now.

[Update: I'm extending the coverage on GeoTagging in a more recent post and results.]

Ricoh has a Japanese model called Caplio Pro G3 that you can use with a CF-card based GPS receiver. [Update:Feb 28, 06, Ricoh announced a partnership with GlobalSat to distribute its camera with the CF-based BC-377 GPS Receiver and provide its resellers list]. GeoSpatial Experts sells the camera by itself or bundled with accessories and their own geotag software, GPS Photo Link. You can try the product 10 times, either the standard or its Ricoh edition.

[Update: April 3rd, 06 - Version 4.0 of GPS Photo Link now includes support for .GPX file format and exporting function to Google Earth]


A more recent model also from Ricoh, the RDC-i700 also accepts CF cards with GPS receivers.

Nikon produces some high-end models like the D2X and D2H that can be connected (through the MC-35 cable) to a GPS receiver. This adapter will let you use a RS-232C serial cable to connect the GPS receiver to the camera.

[Update: Nikon announced a new model D2Xs which includes the same GPS support from its previous model but an updated version of its Image Authentication software with ways for you to handle GPS data for your pictures. Check also the review at DPreview.com]

Larry has a site with directions on how to build your own cable to connect a Garmin receiver to a Nikon (the previous models D1X, D1H) with related information also found at Moos Peterson's website.

Here is a blog reporting the experiences about connecting a Magellan SportTrak GPS to a Nikon D200. Kodak DCS Pro line that includes digital cameras like the DCS 14n and SLR's supports use of GPS receivers as described in this page. Lupine Logic sells a PDA solution.

[Update Apr 4th, 06: Another site providing instructions and utilities about connecting a Nikon to a Garmin receiver and building maps with Google Local.]

If you can get something from Japan that will work here, try the Casio QV4000GX. You can plug a GPS receiver right into it too and get the EXIF output with the photo location coordinates.

Check this article by Ruth Happel at Microsoft's website for a good report on her personal experience with Garmin receivers and a Nikon. It obviously goes over Virtual Earth and websites like SmugSmug and Microsoft's World-Wide Media eXchange.

[Update Mar 30th, 06: Navman equipped its car navigation models with high-res cameras, according to PC Magazine it should be available in early May]

Continuos Computing brought up the need for a GPS Camera Phone a while ago.

Check also this (Mac-oriented) website for a good tutorial and resources for GeoTagging. Here is another interesting approach to it. And IrfanView is a neat freeware tool that shows EXIF and IPTC tags.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Tracking Device of the Year

This one takes the award. StarChase, a Virginia based company is announcing the availability of "a real-time tagging and tracking system". With that you can shoot a GPS device into a target and track it. That simple. The LAPD is already testing and using it. Bond, you are getting old.

RideFinder: Where is my ride?

You never get disappointed while looking at what is up at Google Labs. Today I noticed an entry that seems to be there for a while called RideFinder. It has the familiar Google Maps interface and the little colored ballons.

If you zoom over an area over let's say San Francisco, you will notice that the colored ballons belong to cabs (or limousines and shuttles) and an "Update Vehicle Location" button shows at the bottom of the image. And it works! It actually shows where a cab is in real-time. You can then call the company and catch a ride.

According the FAQ, the data might be up to 5 minutes old which in this case might be a bit too much. Google RideFinder uses data provided by companies like Mobile Knowledge, Vettro, TranWare and GT3 to build the maps. From the FAQ: "Ride Finder is a beta product which is only available in a few metro areas in the United States".

Check here for some reverse-engineering on this service.

Driving a Volks with Google Earth

During CES the German paper Die Welt published an article about the recent agreement between Google and the Volkswagen Electronics Research Laboratory to produce a navigation tool that combines Google Earth 3D images with driving directions. Try this link for a English transation of the original article (by Google).

Today a Press Release announced that: "Volkswagen, Google, and graphics chipmaker, nVidia, are working on an in-car navigation map system and display that is 3-dimensional and more real looking than anything that's available today."

AutoBlog got some more info and images.

[Full PR at PR Newswire]

Thursday, February 02, 2006

GPS Tuner 4.2

I have mixed feelings about GpsTuner. GpsTuner looks quite well finished and professional, but it does things that you wouldn't see in a well-tested product, specially when you don't follow an expected behavior.

GpsTuner by Gabor Tarnok from Megalith has been around for a while. And I finally decided to share a review about it. When product releases and version numbers had some logic, most products would become mature enough around version 3. At that point major bugs had been found and worked out, and the most important features had been added and worked just fine. The trouble starts when you add a tad bit too much to an already good product.

Version 4.2 is available for PocketPC's and Windows-based Smartphones. You can try it for 30-days in its full version. You can pick among the Basic ($24, no upgrades), Standard ($34, one-year free upgrades), or Geo ($48, includes area calculation) version. The demo includes all available features without any apparent restriction.

Map Calibrator

Gps Tuner has its own map management PC-based utility called Map Calibrator (version 1.8). You can use it to open .jpg, .gif, .png and .bmp image files. You only need to set two points to have a map image calibrated. Make sure you select under Options | Datum Format the input format for your coordinates. But after trying it a couple of times I ended up calibrating map images in the PocketPC software instead.

In fact, after I calibrated an image with Map Calibrator, I couldn't adjust it with points obtained in the field. I had to clear the existing points and start from scratch. Calibrating a map creates a .gmi file with the same name as the image with the corresponding coordinates for each pixel in the map image.

Map Calibrator shows a globe icon in its toolbar, but don't think it has anything to do with Google Earth. If you click on it you be connected to the Expedia website and have a map of Paris loaded. I don't see any obvious way to set up another place besides Paris to have an image imported.

Through an Internet connection you can download aerophotographs from TerraServer and USGS Topographical maps with GpsTuner itself. GpsTuner website has a Map Share area where users can upload and download maps and their corresponding calibration files.

GpsTuner

GpsTuner main screen divides the product in three areas: Track Analysis, Map and Manager. It also shows from its main window the current location if a fix is available and the signal strength of each locked satellite, plus DOP (dillution of position) values.

You can get there also from the menus and from the corresponding toolbar icons. To have several ways to get to the same place might be a bit annoying and confusing at first. The menus could also be simplified. What about Settings | GPS... instead.

In fact, this is my main beef with GpsTuner. This product is clamoring for a simplified user interface. Tabbed dialogs instead of a menu tree 4 levels deep with 6 or more options. This would make the user experience a lot simpler and more gratifying.

Before start using GpsTuner you need to configure your GPS receiver settings as expected (GPS | Setup | GPS Settings...) Set the corresponding COM port, its Baud Rate and uncheck the "Averaging" checkbox. You can also determine under which speed it should consider that you haven't moved (up to 2.5 mph).

A track is recorded by default if you don't turn it off, but tf you want to save a text version of its NMEA log, select GPS | Manager | NMEA | Open... to have one created.

After obtaining a fix, GpsTuner will by default save each point in a track while you have it turned on. The default setting will write a "breadcrumb" after main changes in direction which might not provide the best log. You can set it to use time or distance intervals under Gps | Setup | Tracklog...

With an Internet connection available you can download a aerial photo from Microsoft's Terraserver or USGS topographic maps for your current location. First select Map | Option | Auto Select. The setup the type of map you want to download: GPS | Setup | Terraserver. Finally select Map | TerraServer to download the actual map. You can zoom in and a better resolution image will be downloaded. Notice that you will need to have a connection available to obtain images from other areas.

You can set a target and a have a digital compass showing its direction, how far it is and how long it will take for you to reach it at your average speed. You can also use a blank map in GpsTuner and add several well designed icons along a track.

GpsTuner will keep databases of waypoints that can be grouped in tracks, routes or under geocaching with the corresponding "management functions" to create, delete, find, rename points. You can associate an image to a waypoint or a .wav file. They can be exported/imported as .gpx (Ascii or Unicode) files. You can also import .loc files used in Geocaching.

Under Tools | Find Position you will find a way to pinpoint a position through several readings within an area. This provides a visual way to observe your position and can help during geocaching.

Area and Distance Calculation

The Geo version includes distance and area calculation. To calculate distance, you need to select the arrow key (instead of the hand tool), tap the initial point and select Distance Calc | Draw. Tap the point in the map you want to start calculating the distance from and move the stylus over the map. The distance will be displayed in realtime while you move it. Pretty cool.

For area calculation things are a bit more complex. The easiest way is to choose Automatic and Start/Stop while you walk around. Otherwise because no tooltips are provide for the corresponding icons you will have to follow the directions from the user manual to figure out what you are supposed to do. You can export the points from an area into a .csv file and their UTM coordinates to .shp or .dxf file formats.

Finally, registered users can share their positions through the Internet with GPS Share.

Conclusion

I like the level of control provided by some of the features of GpsTuner and its well finished design. But I could do without the complexity of its user interface and would prefer dealing with a tabbed dialog instead of a complex menu tree. If you don't mind losing yourself around the app sometimes, go for it. You can count on the user forum for help and the user's manual will be required reading.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Tracking traffic, pigeons and wolverines

Verizon Wireless announced the availability of VZ Navigator where mobile phone users can obtain directions, find addresses in U.S. and get turn-by-turn directions. Initially offered for the the GPS-enabled Motorola V325 (which sells for $129.99, and includes 30Mbytes of storage) will cost $9.99 a month for unlimited use.

XM Satellite Radio added more citites for its GPS-based traffic reports Nav Trac with services provided by Traffic.com. Acura and GM owners can buy new models equipped with on-bard GPS and their service as an option.

Researchers will fit the elusive wolverines that live in the Glacier National Park with GPS receivers and radio transmitters to study their movements.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that as part of the events of the Inter-Society for Electronic Arts annual symposium, Beatriz da Costa from UC Irvine is planning to release pigeons equipped with GPS receivers and carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide sensors on small enough backpacks. This should happen in San Jose by August 5th. Beatriz plans to report the pigeons activity and the measured air quality at their own (not active yet) blog.