The Great Big SPOT Thread

Discussion in 'Mapping & Navigation' started by John E Davies, Nov 6, 2007.

  1. John E Davies

    John E Davies Runs at Mouth Adventurer

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    They are now available, and I would bet we will start to see "testimonials" and user reviews in a while. Any links would be greatly appreciated.

    Has the company ever answered reviewer concerns about 911 calls from non-subscribers, and also what happens if you are trapped with no gps signal?

    And yes, I am aware there was a thread here a few months back.

    Website:
    http://www.findmespot.com/

    User Manual:
    http://www.findmespot.com/downloads/SPOT_UsersGuide_2007_10_16.pdf

    Thanks.
    #1
  2. offroute

    offroute Been here awhile

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    Am being provided with a demo unit tomorrow and will be testing extensively next week. Will report back then.
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  3. John E Davies

    John E Davies Runs at Mouth Adventurer

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    Cool. Please try it out in a non-911 mode under tree cover where the unit can't get a fix. I am curious about what it will do. Does it report the last known good fix or just stall out?

    Thanks.

    John
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  4. GPS_Jon

    GPS_Jon The Global Pucker

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    The web page says this:

    Even if SPOT cannot acquire its location from the GPS network it will still attempt to send a distress signal – without exact location – to the Emergency Response Center, which will still notify your contacts of the signal and continue to monitor the network for further messages.

    -
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  5. offroute

    offroute Been here awhile

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    Spent considerable time with a demo unit yesterday. Nice and small. Setup is easy. Operation is not very intuitive. LEDs and button operation can be confusing unless you commit some stuff to memory. Biggest concern is reliability and on this point a lot more testing needs to be done. So far in testing around Reno/Tahoe I'm finding that the unit definately needs a reasonably clear view of the southern horizon to get its message out. With a clear view the messages are delivered promptly. However, my concern is crashing alone in a heavily timbered or easy-west facing canyon and not being able to walk the unit up so it can communicate with the GS satellite. Getting a GPS fix appears easier than sending the message out successfully. When it works it's great! Being able to send check-ins or non-catastrophic helps is an adventurer's dream come true. Looks like for two or more riders it may be just the ticket, but when riding solo I'm still a bit concerned that certain situations might keep the user from getting his message out - in which case a real PLB is still the much safer solution.

    I'm reserving judgement until after more real world testing over the next 10 days. I'll be riding in several narrow east-west canyons next week and will do a number of test messages with those back home to get a better sense of how much I can count on it. I'll report back then.
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  6. John E Davies

    John E Davies Runs at Mouth Adventurer

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    offroute - do you currently have the "real time tracking" or whatever they call it? If so that would be a great way to see how sensitive and accurate the unit is under cover.

    John
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  7. TomW

    TomW Long timer

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    Hmmm...I read their material and although they never say so, Spot does not use geostationary satellites. They use a constellation of some 40 satellites in low earth orbit, thus they can be anywhere above the horizon -- not just in the southern sky. Spot is owned by Globalstar, operator of the somewhat popular consumer sat phone system, so I'm sure they use the same satellites (the coverage map on Spot's website is the same map Globalstar uses).

    Regarding reliability of uplink sat comms, here's an excerpt from Globalstar's web site:

    "...Technology / Path Diversity
    Path Diversity is a patented method of signal reception that permits the combining of multiple signals of varying power strengths into a single, coherent signal. Subscriber terminals [i.e., Spot units] will be able to operate with a single satellite in view, though typically two to four satellites will be overhead."

    So, that's good news for a rider down in an east-west canyon (a view of the southern sky is not required); however, since a line-of-sight path to the satellite is still required, a canyon will reduce the time a satellite is in view as it passes overhead. (That window of time may not correspond with the Spot unit's once-every-5-minute transmit schedule.) Logic dictates that sooner or later a satellite will be in view when the unit transmits, but the narrower the canyon, the longer that wait might be. Hey, nothing's perfect, and at a cost that's a fraction of a PLB (which has the same technical limitation re: line of sight path to the satellite), Spot sounds pretty attractive to me.

    It would be more attractive if it had an external power jack (with the internal battery for backup) and provision for external antennae (so it could be kept in a secure location when used for tracking).

    I'm interested to hear your real-world findings as I'm thinking about getting one myself.

    Cheers.
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  8. offroute

    offroute Been here awhile

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    Yes I do. I've been using it to test today since it tries to send a message every 10 minutes. Same results - fairly clear view of the southern sky seems necessary. 10 yards behind my house where the southern sky is blocked I get no messages out. Further behind the house in a fairly low density pine forest I was able to only have one message go out in a 2 hour period. Give the thing a view of the southern sky and it seems to reliably get messages out.

    Four days riding in Death Valley next week and I'll have the thing SPOTcasting all day, each of the days. I should then be able to come back and see where the trouble spots are on the ride. I'll also be sending Check In messages when I come across what looks like challenging areas.

    As I said earlier, I think it's already proven to me that when riding with a buddy it may be the perfect device. But at this point I'm thinking I want a 100% reliable PLB for my solo rides when I can't always count on getting a message out without moving the unit for a clearer view of the sky. Sitting somewhere by myself somewhere with a broken leg while looking at the device and heavy tree cover or high canyon walls might be a little worrying.

    The thing costs as much as a regular PLB over a 5 year period. $150 plus at least $100 each year... Still with its advantages of Check In, Help and Tracking it's a pretty compelling device. It's great to have choices and there is certainly a huge market for this new device.

    Edit - BTW a external power adapter is in the works as well as RAM cradles so it can be mounted on bars. Rentals should be available by end of November, so anyone on the fence can evaluate on their own without investing $300 and apply a portion of their rental towards purchase if that's what they decide to do.
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  9. TomW

    TomW Long timer

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    Point taken re: the cost of Spot (initial purchase plus subscription) over a 5-year period.

    Is there a public web site where folks can see your track if they have the proper info?

    100% reliable? PLBs are subject to the same issues as Spot. They need a pretty unobstructed view of the sky, although they ought to tolorate more foliage due to the lower frequency and substantially higher power. The position accuracy of PLBs without GPS data is about a 5-mile diameter circle using doppler data from the low earth orbit satellite system. Approximately one hour is needed to get enough data to determine a position with the LEO satellites. Only the geostationary satellites will process received GPS data, so a view of the southern sky is required for a more accurate fix and quicker response.

    Cheers.
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  10. offroute

    offroute Been here awhile

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    No. Unfortunately the SPOTcasting mode is only viewable via a private website. I can do a screen shot and post here once I return. Only Check Ins and Help messages are sent with a link that gives designated users access to the Google Map.

    In regards to PLBs - 100% reliable may have been an overstatement, but everything I've read indicates that whether or not a GPS equipped PLB acquires a GPS fix, the 406mhz and 121.5 transmissions almost always get out in the same kind of conditions where SPOT seems to be challenged, and the coverage is worldwide. Yes, without GPS coords the PLB search area is larger, but at least it's a search area. My understanding is that without GPS, a SPOT message may get out, but it is not searchable. I have yet to see that SPOT has been unable to acquire a GPS lock - even in challenging conditions where I simply cannot get a message out.

    Wish I could test GPS equipped PLBs, but for that data I guess we'll have to rely on others. And from everything I've been able to glean, they are pretty darn reliable...

    I am definately not trying to dismiss SPOT in any way shape or form. I'm going to own one for sure. I'm just trying to share my experience and offer up my opinion on what I see as some limitations.
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  11. DRTBYK

    DRTBYK All Things GPS

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    How many "designated users" can you give access to the Google Map tracking site?
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  12. TomW

    TomW Long timer

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    Well that's good 'cause I want a unbiased test under real world conditions. I want it to work since I want one too -- if it works well enough to be practical. I have a GPS-enabled PLB that I take with me pretty much everywhere. (I'm not overly concerned about needing it in an ATGATT sense; it's mounted inside one of the bike's panniers and easiest just to leave it there.) So Spot's reliability doesn't need to be a life-or-death thing.

    I'm curious -- how do you carry it on a motorcycle so that it functions in track mode (where both antennas can see the sky)?

    Cheers.
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  13. offroute

    offroute Been here awhile

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    Check Ins and Helps get sent to your list via SMS or emails. If email, the person on your list simply clicks on the link and they see that location in Google Maps.

    Tracking is a different story. For now it is only accessible through the main user account. You have to login to select the Tracking points you want to view and unfortunately this login interface gives access to all the rest of your account information - so its not shareable unless you really trust who you give the login to.
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  14. offroute

    offroute Been here awhile

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    So far most of the results I've been relaying have been walking around with the unit held flat and away from my body. On the motorcycle I plan to put the thing in my tank bag under the clear vinyl of the map pocket or if better in the top pocket of my CamelBak in the same flat orientation.

    BTW - 40 minute walk this morning in an open pine forest along double track. Not a single Tracking mode point was successfully relayed, although I watched it transmit 4 times. I walked to more "open" areas of the forest and was able to have two different Check Ins get out.

    Also not sure where the satellites are, but it seems pretty consistent that the southern sky is what this thing wants. They're obviously in different positions at different times, but at least for me there does seem to be a pattern...
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  15. TomW

    TomW Long timer

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    So...ummm...you're the only one who can see your track on Google Earth, but...but...you're on the bike, right?

    I'll find out what orbits Globalstar's satellites are in. I suspect they're in some sort of polar orbits that should have them all over the place (i.e., not restricted to some range of latitudes). My brother's some sort of rocket scientist and works in the business -- he can find out.

    Hmmm...keep us posted on the testing.

    Cheers.
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  16. DRTBYK

    DRTBYK All Things GPS

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    Bummer about the Tracking access. I'm not sure what good the SPOT group think that service would be for anyone given the current access restrictions.

    The Globalstar sat's are in geosynchronous orbits and if you look on their coverage map you will see that they certainly don't cover the globe. I believe I read somewhere that they are launching new sat's over the next two years that should help reliability and coverage. They are almost giving their phones and service plans away if you buy now with the expectation that it will work better three or four years from now.

    As for the ability to send a message, I expect you will need "open sky" to get a good message out since they use the sideband services which I think are rather low power - although somewhat more reliable then their voice services.

    I also have a concern about the GPS chip set being used in the SPOT. If it isn't one of the newer more sensitive variety like the SiRF StarIII, I think it will have the same issues with location lock as with the poor message transmission - SPOTty at best ...couldn't resist :lol3
    #16
  17. TomW

    TomW Long timer

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    No, their satellites are in low earth orbit (see below from the Globalstar website: http://www.globalstarusa.com/en/content.php?cid=601). They are launching new satellites -- four in May with another four scheduled 'later this year' -- which is a good thing, and their rates are very low at the moment ($50/mo for unlimited talk time in 2007, reduced to $20/mo in 2009). Pretty good deal although they indicate that service will be degraded until they get a new second generation 48-satellite system up beginning in 2009.

    Although their coverage map looks like spotbeam coverage by a geosynchronous satellite, I think it their spotty coverage is dependent on the locations of their gateways (gound stations).

    Here's the info from Globalstar (feel free not to read :norton):

    "Our Technology
    [​IMG]
    Here is a brief overview of some elements that contribute to the exceptional service and coverage of Globalstar:

    Technology / LEO Satellites
    A Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is any Earth orbit up to approximately 1,500 kilometers in altitude. Low-Earth-Orbit satellite systems offer significant advantages over Geosynchronous (GEO) systems for the delivery of mobile satellite services (MSSs). These advantages result from an orbit selection that enhances the quality of services to low-power mobile hand-held and vehicle-mounted user equipment. GEO satellite systems, located at an altitude of 35,800 kilometers above the Earth, are best suited for their missions of high-speed data, television transmission, and other wideband applications.

    Mobile users, however, need systems that are specifically tailored to their needs. The true mobile user requires hand-held and vehicle-mounted telephone devices with omnidirectional antennas that are easily portable and can provide instant access to a global communication system. Furthermore, telephone users desire and require "telephone quality" transmissions. These users do not want long propagation delays inherent in GEO systems that produce the echo effect and also use bulky, expensive, directional antennas which must point or must be pointed at a satellite.

    Also, technical limitations of current GEO satellite systems severely limit the capacity of such systems to service mobile users. The scarce spectrum available for MSSs communications requires deployment of systems that will provide services to the users in a manner that maximizes the use of spectrum while encouraging a multiplicity of systems to share the spectrum. GEO systems, as presently configured with frequency division multiple access-frequency modulation (FDMA-FM), require inefficient band segmentation to share the spectrum.

    Compared with a Geostationary system, Globalstar will provide capacity even when a satellite fails. A GEO system, by contrast, would suffer an entire regional system outage if an operational satellite were to fail. Also, current and planned GEO systems cannot service the personal communications market due to the expense of supplying adequate satellite power and practical deployable antenna sizes...."
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  18. offroute

    offroute Been here awhile

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    Opening the web access to SPOTcasting (tracking) is something they are working to change very soon. Remember, that Check Ins and Helps are sent with links to Google Maps now.

    Regarding getting messages out - I am purposefully trying to see the device limitations. I have good luck with SPOTcasting points being transmitted when I'm not in the forest or amongst other obstacles that greatly reduce my view to the horizon. Leaving a trail of SPOTcasts would be very helpful in a rescue, even if the actual location of an incident challenged getting your distress message out. Your friends or family back at home would at least have a "trail" of points to use if they decided time had gone by and you needed help. To me, that's probably a good strategy for using the thing in challenging areas when you are by yourself. When you're with another, I think it's pretty likely the uninjured person could move to more open area quickly and get the distress signal out quickly.

    GPS signal - the LEDs flash out of unison when the GPS is not getting lock. I have rarely seen this occur. I'd have to say that GPS lock is less of an issue than getting messages out - at least from what I am seeing so far.

    TomW - the SPOT rep tells me that the view to the horizon should not be biased towards the southern unless I am at more northern latitudes - I am at Lake Tahoe now. Nevertheless, so far, it sure seems south is more important than the other cardinal directions.
    #18
  19. DRTBYK

    DRTBYK All Things GPS

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    Thanks for the correction TomW. Had I thought about it for more than five seconds I would have known that .... :D :baldy
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  20. GoFar

    GoFar My butt hurts.

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    I just got one last Thursday as a gift from my wife. For what I do (mainly black top/all over the place riding) this should prove to be a very good solution for checking in at all hours of the day and night without the need for a cell signal, plus she can see where the heck I am.

    No test yet, but I'll be playing with it soon. Should be "interesting" to say the least.
    #20