Monday, April 30, 2007

ShoZu: Geotagging on the Fly

Great post by Dr Andrew Hudson-Smith at Digital Urban about using the N95, the new object of desire from Nokia with a freely available geotagger and photo uploader called ShoZu.

ShoZu in fact supports a lot of models so you don't need to throw away your current one just yet.

The idea is to use its Share-It feature to upload pictures with embedded location information to sites like Flickr, Blogger and lots of others.

The post explains in great detail how to get up and running with the product. In fact, Digital Urban has some pretty amazing stuff, check it out.

Via OgleEarth.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

MTBGuru: Nisene Marks, Old San Jose Road Loop

Today I marked down another item from my someday I will do list. Nisene Marks Forest is a beautiful park and the weather was perfect. Friends of Santa Cruz Parks has good info on Nisene Marks and does good work to keep its trails.

I wanted to have data to use with MTBGuru and today was the day. I rode my bike for about 20 miles within the forest and then out of it through the Old San Jose Road.

The map below uses JavaScript code generated by MTBGuru (modified to adjust the size of the blog post) after I had the trip data uploaded.

MTBGuru has a pretty clean interface. You upload your .gpx file, pictures, grade it in someway, add a description and you are done.

The pictures don't require geocoding information on their Exif headers. You can synchronize the GPS data with the time the pictures were taken by adjusting them in the trip page itself.

The whole process took me less than 5 minutes, not counting the time I took to crop the photos. From the trip page you can download its corresponding .gpx file, or a KML version to load in Google Earth.

Kudos for MTBGuru and its use of Ajax for creating a nice experience with its easy of use and clean interface. You can get out of Beta now (in fact, real beta apps now have to be named something else at this point...).

Baby Blues: Mute the GPS?

This cartoon from Baby Blues became available today, published two weekends ago. Still funny.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Windows Mobile 5.0 and GPS-based development

Microsoft is killing the PPC 2003, obviously. I explain: to use GPS on a PPC now running WM 5.0 it is easier to use the API provided by them.

But, no access through a serial port no more. So, if someone develops code with this API, no way to run it on a PPC 2003. In fact, you might try if you find the gpsapi.dll around. And also bypass the install checks for OS requirements.

Or you find a way to extend this library to add serial port support (which is used by Bluetooth anyways).

Guess either you have a way to emulate it, which in the case of serial access is a bit hard or you move up to Mobile 5, or 6 (video on it available at MSDN/Channel 9), now that it is out anyway like in the just released Xda Terra. But in Germany, by O2.

BTW, all this triggered by the release of EveryTrail GPS Connector for Windows Mobile 5 users.

Friday, April 27, 2007

GPS News Week

MapQuest and OnStar are now working together to let you send driving directions straight to your car. Via TruckTrends.

Want to make some money testing your carrier wireless network performance? Then check InCode (a Verisign company) and its Wireless Barometer. You need a Symbian S60 or Windows Mobile (2003 or 5.0) phone with GPS. You will need to install software to help track the network throughput based on your location.

Tele Atlas announced the finalists of its LBS Innovators Series including among them 509 Inc, InterCasting, Locatrix, plazes.com and Spark Parking.

Presentations by Kanwar Chada from Sirf (who also gave an interview to GPS World) and Frazier Miller from Yahoo's Local Search given at the Location Intelligence 2007 Conference are available at AllPointsBlog.

PNDs (Personal Navigation Devices) are now banned in Switzerland. Via TechnoRide, from PC Magazine.

Gizmodo interviewed Bill Plummer, Nokia's VP of Sales for Americas with questions about their GPS strategy and offers. Nothing really new there.

CNet tried Delphi Nav200 with traffic updates. And lots of talk on a SIM card by BlueSky that can provide A-GPS for old GSM phones. Not sure why all this buzz around it...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Keep your maps around

Before you put your trust on some gadget, here are some ways technology can let you down from recent news and how they can interfere with location-based technology including GPS satellites and its signals:

Solar Flares

CNet reported on a study by NOAA on the effect of solar eruptions occurred last December and its accompanying radio bursts had on GPS signals.

[Update: And today NOAA released a study pointing out that a new cycle of sun spots is likely to start around March 2008 peaking up in 2011. Via CNET.]

DARPA's Backup System

Boeing is developing for DARPA the concept of a non-GPS based system named Robust Surface Navigation (RSN). From the PR:

"[the] program is to develop technologies that can exploit various "signals of opportunity" -- electronic waves emanating from satellites, cell phone towers and even television transmission towers -- to provide precise location and navigation information to ground troops when GPS signals are being electronically jammed or blocked by natural or man-made obstacles, such as foliage or buildings."
[Update: Rosum will be working with Boeing on this project, providing its GPS over TV signals technology. Via NewsFactor]

Frequency Interference

Today Tech.co.uk pointed out a study from the Swedish Defence Research Agency saying that CPU's running at close range to a GPS receiver can interfere with its accuracy.

Unreliable Location-based 911

And the San Jose Mercury News published an article on the study being developed by APCO on the reliability of location-based information provided by 911 services over cell phones.

GSM networks are known to provide poor resolution while CDMA provides a much better accuracy by the nature of its own network (time-based signals).

Shirt with GPSOverIP

But that won't stop someone to dress for the occasion with a shirt that transmits your current location using GPSOverIP and comes with its own data plan from Vodafone.

Keep your maps around, you might need them.

Kaywa Reader: Mobile-based Feeds

If you noticed the QR-code (Quick Response code) on the right pane you might be wondering what is it about.

Instead of entering data through thumbing, you point the phone to a code and reads it.

Recently URL's are being coded this way to make it simpler for mobile phone users to enter them.

The idea now is that certain phones can read these codes as a way to subscribe to mobile feeds.

The Kaywa reader is one of these packages that allows Java-based and Symbian S60 models make use of this functionality.

Geotagging: Sony got competition from GisTeq

GisTeq announced Photo Trackr, product similar to the Sony GPS-CS1 which allows photos taken with any digital camera (and not only Sony models) to be sync'ed up via USB with the corresponding GPS coordinates of the location where they were originally taken.

It includes a clock synchronization function, a tag button to remember waypoints, re-chargeable Li-ion battery and according to the specs [pdf] its software provides integration with Flickr, Google Maps with history and playback display functions of recorded routes.

Windows only. MSRP $129.00 (not for sale online yet).

Check review at GPSPassion.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

USGS EarthNow! Ride with Landsat 5 & 7

This is just awesome...

USGS made available EarthNow! A real-time viewer of the images collected by the Landsat satellites 5 and 7 (Java required).

These birds circle the Earth at 705 km of altitude (exosphere) and according to the FAQ they provide images with resolution of 30 meters (each image pixel corresponds to an area of about 250 square meters).

Replay of past flights are broadcasted to fill in for real-time data acquisition.

But chances are now that their servers will be handling out numbers for a waiting list so meanwhile go check the Earth As Art Collections and the Relief Maps of US States also made by them.

Amazing. Riding above the Earth during your lunch break. And for free. Guess Simonyi could've saved some of his money with it...

USGS... You rock!

First at AllPointsBlog.

Monday, April 23, 2007

RDS-TMC Hacks: Don't follow those directions

Inverse Path hacked into European-based RDS-TMC (Radio Data System - Traffic Message Channel) used by GPS Navigation devices that display traffic updates provided over the air.

They were able to inject false alerts that could be broadcasted through FM to GPS devices on the road. Showing how much risk there is today in depending on these systems.

In US and Canada products like the Garmin nuvi 680 and Garmin StreetPilot c580 make use of Microsoft's DirectBand through MSN Direct services (one year free service).

But Clear Channel stations make use of TMC while XM Satellite Radio uses XM NavTraffic from NavTeq.

Microsoft DirectBand is strongly encrypted which isn't the case with the European system.

The idea of the group is to show the vulnerability of the current system. New standards with stronger security are being developed and/or available but not yet in use by manufacturers.

Among them TPEG (Transport Protocol Experts Group) where according to Inverse Path encryption is optional and GST (Global System for Telematics).

Via Slashdot, Yahoo News

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tracking You Down

As you probably already know, cell phones are always communicating through radio signals with the cell towers in range so by triangulating someone's signals you could find out its current location.

If you don't believe it yet, check out this site that a friend pointed out recently. But no need to freak out just yet...

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

MTBGuru: Ride, Track & Share

Just ran into MTBGuru, a site dedicated to Mountain Bike riders that use GPS receivers to track their rides and want to share them with pictures over the web. It can also be used for Hikes, Runs and other activities.

Win CE 6.0 SDK: FakeGPS

MS makes available with its new SDK for Windows CE a way to simulate a NMEA data stream for GPS development on the Mobile PC. Check this blog, which says that:

"FakeGPS will set the GPS Intermediate Driver to read the NMEA strings from a text file instead of using a real GPS device."
[Update: Windows Mobile 6 SDK to be exact, which is based on Win CE 5. Just helping to mess it a bit more.]

Larry Magid explains LBS to Congress

Larry Magid announced today on his column at The San Jose Mercury News [free registration required] that he will present at the NetCaucus in Washington, D.C. on April 25th his views on LBS (location-based services) and privacy related issues.

Ed Parsons: Walking the Data

Ed Parsons Blog, ex-Ordnance Survey, now Google has three posts that caught my attention:

  • Google Search now looks inside public .kml files (filetype:kml "St. Joseph's Hill");
  • another that confirms my suspicion that the new Nokia N95 uses in fact Assisted-GPS for navigation (and not true, standalone GPS receiver);
  • and search of RSS feeds that use GeoRSS tags through Google Maps.
Space data walk, hum...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

MyOutdoors.net: St. Joseph's Hill Trail

I don't know how many times I drove past Lexington Reservoir. The big lake you see alongside Hwy 17 in Los Gatos. Recently I decided it was time to explore it a bit.

And I'm glad I did. I saw nature that I haven't seen yet at such close and vital range. Red winged black birds, a garden snake, quick to go away turtles, a full breed of wilderness right by Hwy 17th.

It is like going by the side of a piece of network fiber and watch it from a totally different frame of time. Like being outside seeing these bits going upstream now, alongway ducks, birds and turtles.


Getting there

Exit at the Alma Bridge Road overpass, take the Alma Bridge Road South and park on the left side of the road. Kinda empty and without much movement so an ugly car wouldn't call much attention by itself up there.

Otherwise, if you want the official Parking spot and probably safer place to park you need to exit just by the top of the last hill before the Santa Cruz Ave Exit.

You can make your own trail along the borders of the water right from the Parking lot or use the trails starting at the gates. You can loop around the lake so it has trails at both sides.

It is a weird place to walk by, reminds you of leftovers from the time the highway was built, pieces of black tarp holding the change in the original terrain. And walk at the grass is like entering in a world that is so apart from the fast rhythm of the asphalt.

Check the trail at MyOutdoors.net (and here is the link to the actual maps.) The for-sale webservice I have to say has a pretty clean interface. Lots of Ajax probably going on behind the scenes.

But on a bit of UI Design the dot in the toolbar could instead be a hand so one can see right away which one is the selection tool, if that is really it (or an arrow). The Upload .gpx link should be in a more visible spot. And I couldn't figure out why the URL for the corresponding Flickr photo wasn't taken.

So I guess the fate of a web service lives on its easy of use and quality of response. At this point easy as 1-2-3 fits pretty well.

[Like the way GpsTagr works for example. A webservice that doesn't get in the way. GpsTagr converts Location info (GPS data) from embedded Exif headers of .jpg images into GeoURL Tags.]

A tool at its best shouldn't get in the way of what you are trying to accomplish.

Geotagged photos

Some other photos from the trail are available at Flickr, imported also into Panoramio and EveryTrail.

And as you grew to expect, you can also download the corresponding .kml file from MyOutdoors.net and open it in Google Earth and its virtual reality. Panoramio will even provide a tour with your uploaded and geotagged photos that is still buggy on the Mac.

By bits, by feet. So close by and so far away.
It was nice to stop, by it.

LBS Challenge: ComVu

The 2007 edition of Navteq's LBS Challenge included some interesting new ideas. The best for Jeepx was PocketCaster from Comvu. Their idea is to add position information to a video stream. Use InternetExplorer for the demo they got showing a drive around Stanley Park in Vancouver.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Trimble share trails through Google Earth

If you launch Google Earth and check under Featured Content on the Primary Database you will notice a new entry for Trimble Outdoors Trips.

In California, a nice one to look for is the Pacific Crest Trail as shown in the picture below. The content was generated by Premium users of Trimble Outdoors packages and Backpack Magazine readers.

If you click in the View More Online option in the detailed picture you will get a list of waypoints with the corresponding GPS location on the trail. At the top of the page click on Trip Summary and you will see options to download the track in .GPX format.

But you will need to subscribe to a (free) membership of Trimble Outdoors for that. Nice move.

Original post at Google Earth Blog and page at Trimble.

Dash in Beta, LBS with Socialight, MyOutdoors.net

. Dash.net is looking for beta testers for its navigation device that promises to revolutionize the market.

. One other place to look for trails and GPS data is MyOutdoors.net which is up for sale. Got cash? Price here now.

. Socialight according to this interview by Dan Melinger its Co-Founder published by InformationWeek "is a location-based content platform that lets anyone create, share, and discover virtual Sticky Notes tied to real-world places."

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Geotagging on MacOSX

This other post already covered a way for Windows users to go about geotagging photos. The idea is to write your position data to the JPEG header of a given photo. This is done by updating its EXIF header with dedicated packages. I first covered Geotagging and Exif headers here.

Until cameras equipped with GPS become affordable you can get the job done by combining the track log from a GPS receiver with software that can write the GPS coordinates (latitude, longitude, altitude) to the photos themselves.

For MacOS (something that I could've been using for a much longer time now if somehow one could just know better) there is GPSPhotoLinker and the useful port of GPSBabel+.

Hike Away

In the example below, I tracked a hike at Castle Rock State Park off Hwy 35, through Skyline Blvd (or from Hwy 9 up from Boulder Creek). You can see part of the trail at this page of EveryTrail. Notice that if you go there during weekdays chances are that you will hear shots (more like explosions) from a close by gun range for most of the day.

But if you got your day-off bring an iPod or something else to cover the noise and its echo rolling through the mountain range. I wish these guys could be forced into using silencers but for kids that didn't outgrow their love for guns that seems to be the sole reason to play this game.

Tracking

But I digress... I forgot to turn the tracking on (but I did sync the camera and GPS receiver clocks this time) so the log only started from Goat Rock onwards. With the Magellan Explorer you only need to connect its USB cable and the storage area shows up as a removable drive.

Notice that you will first need to save the Active Track in the Magellan. Also after making a copy delete it from the receiver, it takes a really long time to load the existing tracks after you have half a dozen of them laying around.

GPSBabel+ let you select from a whole range of devices (that you can have connected) or actual log files to a full set of output formats including .gpx (GPX XML) which I chose in this case. At this point you can grab the photos you took at the same time you had the GPS tracklog being recorded.

Exif Headers

With GPSPhotoLinker you can perform a batch processing of photos by having it reading data from the .gpx file and matching the timestamp of the photo with the closest position you had at or around that same time. You can also remove the GPS data from photos.

You can adjust the time of the photos in case they didn't quite sync up as expected. In this case pay attention to the date/time format used in the .gpx file:

<trkpt lat="37.228266667" lon="-122.108016667"></trkpt>
<ele><trkpt lat="37.228266667" lon="-122.108016667">
<ele>898.000000</ele>
<time>2007-03-29T19:41:53.910Z</time>
</trkpt>
</ele>

Notice the Z at the end of the timestamp: 19:41:53.910Z

That indicates that this is UTC time or Greenwich based so you need to adjust it based on your timezone. For PDT or Pacific Daylight Savings this means subtract 7 from it which matches the 14:41 pm time in the camera.

In fact, the current version of iPhoto shows (under Show Info) the latitude and longitude data (but altitude didn't match what I had set to with GPSPhotoLinker, it always shows 1).

Panoramio & Google Earth

After loading the .gpx file, the photos you want to tag and adjusting or not the time in the photos you can choose Batch mode to have all photos processed at once.

Now you need to pick a site to upload your pictures and show them off. Panoramio has a snappy interface that allows you to write descriptions while pictures are being uploaded in background. Later you will be able to see the geotagged photos right at Google Earth.

Geotagging Made Easy

NXT Software, a Philips company announced the availability of chipsets including GPS receivers with geotagging capabilities for digital cameras. I posted about the cameras available currently in the market but they are a bit too expensive at this point. In a couple of quarters they will sure come down in price and the manual tagging of photos hopefully won't be necessary anymore.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

USGS creates 3D Map of San Andreas Fault

Geophysicists might not tell us exactly when the Big One will hit. But they will make sure we know what happened after it comes by.

Using a technique known as Airborne Laser Swatch Mapping, USGS with help from several research groups as the Scripps Institute and State Universities has been working on what is known as the B4 Project to build a 3D map of the whole San Andreas Fault (from the border with Mexico all the way to the where it reaches the Atlantic Ocean). Yes, you will be able to see all of it in Google Earth too.

Eric Hendrick from Ohio State University explained that ground measurements are taken at the same time an airplane equipped with its own GPS system (inertial navigation with Real-time Kinematic [RTK] positioning) flies over the area. The errors introduced by changes in the atmosphere affect both equipments.

The ground station should always read a fixed, known location as a county benchmark for example (photo). By removing the errors from both datasets, a precision of centimeters can be obtained from the measurements made from the airplane.

As described by this page at the University of Florida website, the plane while flying

"at 150 to 200 kilometers per hour and an altitude of 500 to 1000 meters, with a scan angle of 10 to 20 degrees and a laser repetition rate of 2000 to 5000 pulses per second, an area of several hundred meters in width and hundreds of kilometers in length can be mapped in just a few hours."
If you are trying to figure out how the laser works, read on:
"The round trip travel times of the laser pulses, from the aircraft to the ground, are measured and recorded along with the position and orientation of the aircraft at the time of transmission of each pulse. After the flight the vectors from the aircraft to the ground are combined with the aircraft position at the time of each range measurement and the three dimensional coordinates of each ground point are computed."
B4 and After

An "After Project" will come by to collect data in the same way after the quake(s) occur with the same level of detail which means billions of datapoints. All this data will be made available for the scientific community and general public for study and to try to understand what the heck happened with all that shaking.

At the end when you got your electricity, Internet and roof back you might flyover the 3D maps in Google Earth to find out where now is your backyard.

GPS in the Press

Wired (with a whole new L&F still in Beta) published an article on ShotSpotter, a company that is helping counties to track down criminals by combining a network of microphones, thermometers and GPS receivers. When a shot is fired, sensors will help track its location.

Remember SkyScout from Celestron? That cool gadget you can point to a star and know exactly what it is? Or take a guided tour around the sky. EE Times is showing what is inside it on a new TearDown now with its own title: Under The Hood. According to the article, SkyScout uses

"a PG4200 from Freescale [which] contains the GPS receiver (and an associated 256-kbyte Samsung SRAM memory) to receive coordinate information and a time stamp."

TruePosition which is known for its implementation of A-GPS services for GSM based phones has now a partnership with GPShopper offering companies a way to reach your cellphone with location-based ads. USA Today reported on teens being targeted by location-based SMS .GPShopper also offers Slifter, a search engine for mobile phones.

Political waters and not sure which one can be trusted but according to this blog, the GPS coordinates provided by the British MO were off. Just apologize, guys and take it easy. And there is obviously a lot more behind this story.

GPS-Enabled Robot?

Not in the press but at the Embedded Conference in San Jose if you are looking into kits that you could use to build your own location-aware robot, check the Parallax GPS Module which sells for $79.95 and can be used with Basic Stamp, SX and Propellers microcontrollers also distributed by Parallax.

And GigaOm reports that Helio the not a phone company MVNO, might be in trouble even with the new release of its Ocean device. That would be a pity, they got some pretty interesting GPS based apps, including Google Maps.

My Maps by Google

And talking about Google Maps check the new "My Maps" tab at maps.google.com. You can now create your own maps and publish them by providing links to it. Check the steps here. With the new offer you can add placemarks, draw lines, and polygons.

Photos and video can also be added to placemarks as the use of HTML and Rich Text. You can also open the corresponding KML file if you have Google Earth installed.

First at GigaOm.