The Great Big SPOT Thread

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

  1. emerson.biguns

    emerson.biguns All idiot, no savant

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    I apologize for the incorrect speculation. I had just wandered across the thread and was familiar with some of the technology. I was too lazy to read 359 posts. What concerned me was the limited and sometimes unpredictable coverage (continental, typically) of a 'life safety' device. I would imagine that the market would be larger for the device if it had global coverage? I understand that it can marketed for 'landlocked' use... but just wondering. I also read a little about the reasons for LEO and that kind of explains the 'spotty' coverage.

    (No, I don't work for Iridium... I don't own any stock, etc. I was just fookin' amazed at being able to talk to the mother ship through my friggin' roof!)

    Emerson
  2. bananaman

    bananaman transcontimental

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    Earlier in this thread I reported my concerns and got royally flamed. Now there are more users reporting unsatisfactory results. I hope they don't get flamed also.

    My unit works perfectly in my truck, but isn't worth carrying on the bike. As I review my equipment, I am most disapointed in my SPOT. I consider it a total waste of money. It is the only thing I brought that I wish I had not. I will not recomend it to anyone- not for motorcycle use, not for backpacking, not even for keeping in a car. I do not trust it. I especially do not trust it in a life-or-death emergency.

    If you need a PLB, buy a PLB. For out-of-cell range, buy or rent a Sat phone.

    SPOT is like a cheap parachute. If you need a parachute, do you want a cheap one?
  3. SpotMaker

    SpotMaker Been here awhile

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    For the record, what Bananaman got "flamed" for was recommending that I be banned from this forum because he felt that it was inappropriate that someone who works for the company that makes a piece of gear be participating in the discussion about it.

    When he recommend I be banned, I suggested that if this was the sentiment of the members of this forum, I'd be happy to leave voluntarily.

    Several other members asked me both publicly and in PMs not to leave and admonished ("flamed") Bananaman for suggesting I do so.

    It all started when I attempted to give Bananaman a few tips on things that he might try to get more satisfactory results out of his SPoT. To which he responded "Spotmakler: your posts are defective" and proceeded into the aforementioned rant about how I should be banned.

    I'm quite certain no one has been "flamed" for reporting disappointing results with their SPoT.

    Question the accuracy of what I've posted here? Scroll a few pages back. (Assuming Bananaman doesn't edit his posts.)
  4. Lost Rider

    Lost Rider Roadie

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    Awe, don't worry about one cheesehead jackass who's comments directly conflict with his signature.
    I find your participation in the ongoing "discussion" to be very informative... Maybe if he wouldn't have been wrong about something as obvious as the color of the LED's people would have taken his "concern's" a little more seriously...
  5. John E Davies

    John E Davies Runs at Mouth Adventurer

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    This is directed right at SpotMaker:

    Why is there a belt clip on this device if it doesn't function optimally when worn in that position?

    If the device _is_ intended to be clipped to the waist, why wasn't the antenna positioned 90 degrees to the current position, or made omni-directional (if that is possible)?

    Do you care to comment on my post one page back about disappointing tracking? 8 trackpoints over 5 hours is not good.

    BTW, I greatly appreciate your participation and patience here. And I also agree the manual is lacking.... there should be a more detailed Technical Manual available for download for those like us who want to get the utmost from the system.

    Thanks.
  6. bananaman

    bananaman transcontimental

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    Hi Spotmaker.

    Your product didn't work for me the way you advertised it.

    I'm not editing anything. I stand my by opinions.

    I don't know you personally so I don't have anything personal to say about you. I don't even know if you ride.

    I ride.
  7. SpotMaker

    SpotMaker Been here awhile

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    Good question. I wish I knew the answer. Obviously, lots of people at both SPoT Inc. and Axonn had input to the overall design. I could get into trouble for critiquing those aspects of the design I may or may not have had critical questions about personally. (And I'm at risk saying as much as I've said in this paragraph.) Ultimately it was a large team effort, and not everyone on the team necessarily fully understands the rationale for each individual design decision.

    This isn't a "company line". Quite the opposite, actually. I'm trying to hint at what an answer might be without getting myself fired.

    SPoT doesn't work very well hanging on a belt. I agree with you that the presence of the belt clip is misleading.

    Same answer as above.

    Assuming that the "face" of the unit was pretty well facing the sky, I don't know why your result was so poor. I can only assume that there may be variables at play that I would likely never fully grasp unless I was physically with you during the test.

    The only comment I might make is this: Other track mode tests I, and others, some who work for SPoT, some for Axonn, and some for neither have done have generally been better.

    If I put my SPoT inside the glove compartment of my Dodge Durango (I have a way of wedging it in there so that the face points toward the sky, through the airbag assembly and dashboard) I get an average of 2 - 3 Track Mode reports per hour. This is not as crazy as it seems. I've examined the construction of the Durango's dash and there's damn little metal in it. It's all plastic composites - even the structural "frame" of the dash assembly. Those composites must be fairly RF transparent (an assumption, based on my results).

    If I put it on top of the dash, just under the windshield, I get about 4 - 5 reports per hour. This seems to be typical of track mode in my experience.

    As to why your results were much worse than this? I have no idea. I can only say it seems odd.
  8. SpotMaker

    SpotMaker Been here awhile

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    I have occasionally, but not regularly.

    My boss at Axonn does regularly.
  9. bananaman

    bananaman transcontimental

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    This is not directed at spotmaker:

    I just finished a ride from Wisconsin to Ushuaia. (Ushuaia is the southernmost town in South America.) I carried a lot of gear. I used everything. I was extremely demanding of my equipment. SPOT does not meet my criteria for adventure-grade. There are a lot of things that go into being adventure grade vs not adventure grade. For example, a product has to be foolproof. If I'm tired, hungry, or just whatever, I need a thing to work. If a product is supposed to save my life, and I can't get it to work 100% of the time, then it has failed me.

    In Alaska I purchased bear spray. Later, in Canada, some experienced outdoor people said, ¨It usually works.¨ I was, like, what? Usually?! What if I need it! For $20, and the slim chance of a bear attack, I think bear spray is a good investment. (I used it against 3 muggers in Argentina and it worked perfectly.)

    I have less-than-stellar opinions of some of my other equipment, but nothing failed as spectacularly as my SPOT.

    I have other equipment that is more complicated than SPOT. For example, my camera. I operate if fine. Not every photo is perfect. But I don't depend on the camera to save my life.
  10. SpotMaker

    SpotMaker Been here awhile

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    Here's a hypothetical:

    In track mode, the SPoT sends out a waypoint every 10 minutes for 24 hours.

    In 911 mode, it sends out a point every 5 minutes (twice as often as in track mode) until the batteries die (more than a week, if the batteries were fresh when you started) or until you cancel or shut it off.

    Now, suppose the typical performance of the SPoT was that one in every 12 messages gets through (worse than the performance that Bananaman describes as a "failure"). And, BTW, much worse than I've ever observed from my SPoT, even wearing it on my belt, that I readily admit is not at all optimal.

    That means, in 911 mode, at this really low performance level, one message per hour would get through.

    I submit that, THAT would, in fact, save your life. (At least, it would get your location though to the GEOS center, assuming you trust them to notify the correct S&R people.)

    Why wouldn't that performance level save your life?
  11. TomW

    TomW Long timer

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    We all have different requirements for equipment. If something doesn't meet your expectations, you're under no obligation to use it. Very simple.

    SPoT's 911 function seems like it should be pretty reliable as long as everyone understands it's not going to be instantaneous (i.e., the first 911 message may not go through, or even the 5th one). In today's culture, at least in the USA, everything is expected to happen 'right now', but SPoT may not provide that level of performance. For that, you'll need an Iridium satellite phone and the cognitive capacity to operate it. Most of us can't afford the phone, and, at the worst of times, may not be physically able to operate it. (PLBs, depending on their configuration, your latitude and satellite tracks, may also take a significant amount to time to calculate and report your position.)

    As for the belt clip, I agree that its inclusion could be misleading becuase it orients the antennas incorrectly during use. Perhaps the belt clip is meant to provide a convenient way to carry the device between uses -- it's rather big to put in a pocket, right? As an alternative, I'd suggest big letters molded into the top of the unit that say 'This side up during use' and, rather than a belt clip, provide a pouch with a belt clip (implying that it should be removed from the pouch during use). An alternative that would require some retooling would be to have the unit look more like a golf tee or inverted L, with the antenna molded into the top so that it's oriented more correctly when clipped to a belt.

    My $0.02.
  12. Jonasolof

    Jonasolof Adventurer

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  13. SpotMaker

    SpotMaker Been here awhile

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    The data is "stored" forever.

    It's just that ephemeris data is of little value after 0.5 - 1 hour and of absolutely no value after 3 - 4 hours. (So, it's "there" but of no use, and the unit needs to accumulate the newer data.)

    Almanac data is of great value for a day or two and can be of some value for up to a month.

    The storage and use of the almanac and ephemeris data is a function of the GPS chipset and is fairly typical of recent generations of GPS devices.

    In the GPS world:

    "Hot start" = GPS system has been in standby for 30 minutes or less. Ephemeris data is of great value. Most GPS chipsets usually hot start in 1 - 5 seconds with good signal levels.

    "Warm start" = GPS system has been in standby for only a few hours (definition varies, but certainly less than 2 or 3 days). Ephemeris data is rather useless but almanac data is of great value. Most GPS chipsets typically warm start in 15 - 25 seconds under good signal levels.

    "Cold start" = GPS system has been in standby for several days. Ephemeris data is utterly useless and almanac data is of little or no value. Also, real time clock may have drifted enough to throw things off. Most GPS chipsets cold start in 35 - 45 seconds with excellent signal levels. Longer with less than excellent signal levels.
  14. Jonasolof

    Jonasolof Adventurer

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    Thanks for the update on ephemeris and almanac. So it's important to run the test cycle even if you can't get feedback on it since you'r beyond cell phone coverage.

    Instead of going into details on alternative ways of mounting the patch antenna of a handheld emergency and tracking transmitter, I wonder if quadrifilar antennas (often used in 1-2 GHz equipment) are suitable for transmission. For not familiar with the term, it's the kind of antenna horn you see on GPS receivers like the Garmin 60-series.

    Maybe the loss of directional gain due to the wider cardioide radioation pattern would be too detrimental. What about nearfield effects from hands and body when transmitting?

    if the SPoT sells well, it could be interesting for third party manufacturers like http://www.andres-industries.de/ to make a housing which doesn't float but adapts better to the 10 mm height of the printed circuit board including components. A flatter and less bulky housing could be easier to place in certain situations.
  15. HogWild

    HogWild Scott Whitney

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    The SPOT device does what it's advertised to do better than anything I'm aware of in its price range, or even 5 times its price. And it’s smaller and lighter than other related devices that have fewer features. For me it has worked great. I attribute that mostly to the fact that I read the user’s manual carefully, I understand its strengths and weaknesses, and when I need it I make sure it’s correctly facing the sky, as has been abundantly made clear in this thread. And I’m glad there’s a “belt clip” because that helps in the way I mount it (not on my belt).

    For those on bikes, or even hikers, what’s the chance of it facing the sky just after a serious incident? Somewhat low I think, no matter where you mount it. So, just like a sat phone or PLB, you have to be able to get it into your hands to get an emergency message out. But the SPOT has an advantage over the sat phone and PLB in that case because if you’re unable to move (knocked out), at least your previously transmitted positions will give evidence where you are. No chance of that with a sat phone or manually triggered PLB. So, depending on your usage and circumstances, the SPOT may be quite helpful (save your life), while a sat phone and PLB could be 100% failures.

    A few bits from the manual that I think some people ignore (resulting in disappointing performance):
    “To work, the SPOT logo (which is directly above the transmitter) needs to have an unobstructed view of the sky”
    “To make sure SPOT has enough time to repeat your messages, leave the SPOT messenger on and with a clear view of the sky for 20 minutes.”


    Bananaman has little credibility in my view because he has repeatedly shown he does not know how to operate the SPOT, and expects it to do things that are not listed in the device descriptions. He also continually ignores the advantages of the SPOT, and the disadvantages of the related devices. He’s clearly out to slam it every chance he gets. If he hates it so much, why doesn’t he just sell it?

    I bought my SPOT in part because of this thread, and because I saw it work perfectly as I tracked two bike competitors in the Baja 1000. Thanks SpotMaker for your inputs here!
  16. bananaman

    bananaman transcontimental

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    I'll sell you my SPOT. If anyone wants it, PM me. I'll give anyone a good deal.

    Clearly you haven't read my posts about how it doesn't work for me. My 1100GS is a wonderful machine, but without knobby tires, it would have been the wrong bike for much of my route. Is that an analogy you can understand? SPOT needs a good set of knobbies. Until then, don't buy one.

    Here's an idea for you, Hogwild- pack a bunch of gear and go ride around North, Central, and South America. Get busy dealing with crazy latin america drivers, muggers, corrupt cops. Ride through the Atacama Desert- unsupported. Try to figure out how to use SPOT to make your trip safer. I bet you can't.

    Do you also sell SPOT trackers? If you do, shouldn't you identify yourself as a vendor?
  17. aciurczak

    aciurczak Been here awhile

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    Amen.

    A shining example of why vBulletin has the ignore feature.

    Carry on.
  18. HogWild

    HogWild Scott Whitney

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    Actually, I did read your posts, and I do believe it did not perform well for you all the time. But from those same posts, I read that you did not always give it an unobstructed view of the sky. Hanging from your belt does NOT provide a clear view of the sky. I agree SPOT should make it clear it may not perform well while on your belt, but they repeat over and over that it needs a clear view of the sky. And they say the label must point up. Neither the belt position, nor a tank bag position give a clear view of the sky, as your body can get in the way, and on the belt, the antenna isn't even pointing up. And that's not even considering trees and other potential obstructions. So, even if I had not read your posts, I would expect spotty results if used in the way you used it. It's like complaining that your sat phone doesn't work well when you leave the antenna down.

    Nice analogy, but I would have put it differently. You've got the right tires, but you didn't put air in them.

    I don't sell SPOT trackers, or any such equipment. I do design satellites though, but for a company that is in competition with Loral (Globalstar builder), so it's probably in my best interest NOT to support the SPOT device. Nice try though!
  19. bananaman

    bananaman transcontimental

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    I have never used my SPOT on a belt. (Obviously you have not read my posts. Maybe you're confusing me with someone else.) My SPOT was on top of my tank bag during the USA and Central America ride, and in my camel back pocket during the South America ride.

    I thought you had me on ignore?

    I wasn't sure if you sold SPOT, but I was sure you had something to do with the industry. I wasn't trying to denegrate you, just keep you honest.

    I have absolutely no financial interest in any SPOT competitors. I have a rental Iridium phone, from a company that will give me 10 free minutes if I refer a customer. I'll only have the phone for another week. 10 free minutes won't make much difference in my life.
  20. Lucky_Devil

    Lucky_Devil Master Lurker

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    Good grief bananaman, give it up already... the tiny bit of credibility you had remaining was completely obliterated by the whole "amber LED" episode.

    ...and yes, I've read every post in the entire 26 pages of this thread.