The Great Big SPOT Thread

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

  1. FakeName

    FakeName Wile E Coyote SuperGenius

    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    1,927
    Location:
    San Diego
    I used mine this weekend with varied success. Driving in the truck for 100 miles to and from the ride, I had the unit up on the dashboard and it did just fine. But on the trail I had it in the outside lower pocket of my Camelbak, and only got about 3 tracking messages during the 5 hour ride. Then, on the ride home, all was good.

    I suspect it will work fine for sending messages when off the bike, holding it with a wide view of the sky, but not so great in the backpack using the tracking feature.

    fn
    #81
  2. TomW

    TomW Long timer

    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,013
    Location:
    Ft. Payne, AL
    I suspect that it'll work better on the bike if you can put it in a tank bag or handlebar bag with the logo (transmit antenna) facing up rather than in your backpack.

    Got mine today, activated and checked it by sending one OK message (went through fine). Will check it out in tracking mode on 750 mile trip in the cage tomorrow. All is well.

    Cheers.
    #82
  3. SpotMaker

    SpotMaker Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2007
    Oddometer:
    140
    Good advice. It works best with the logo facing up. ...by far...

    Interesting tidbit:

    I use mine in the glove compartment of my Dodge Durango! Works great! I get almost all my track messages. This, even though there's an airbag assembly right above it.

    It seems that there is very little metal inside the Durango's dashboard, and the windshield is right above it, after all.

    YMMV, of course, using the SPoT in the glove compartment of a vehicle, some vehicles do have an extensive metal frame inside the dashboard.

    But, logo facing up, and shooting through non-metallic materials is the way to go.
    #83
  4. FakeName

    FakeName Wile E Coyote SuperGenius

    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    1,927
    Location:
    San Diego
    I'll try that, thanks. I figured as much, but can't really figure out where that would be on my dirt bike. Maybe I could gaffer tape it to the top of my helmet.

    fn
    #84
  5. elgreen

    elgreen Crotchety Contrarian

    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2005
    Oddometer:
    436
    Location:
    Northern California
    I did a little fact-checking on this thing. First, SPOT doesn't use the PLB satellite network (which uses a variety of satellites run by government entities), it uses the Globalstar satellite network, which is currently in financial meltdown and may get shut down if Globalstar takes Chapter 13. That would render your SPOT an expensive paperweight. Then there's the operation under canopy. PLB's have 5 watts of power. SPOT has 400mw. PLB's can punch a signal through most canopy. PLB's can't get a GPS fix through canopy to send a GPS location along with your "HELP!" message, of course, but the PLB satellite network can use doppler shift to narrow down your location to within a two mile radius and SAR has beacon location equipment to find your exact location once on location within that 2 mile radius, so even if you're at the bottom of a canyon under trees and can't move out to open ground it's likely that the PLB will eventually punch a signal through to a satellite and get help to you. Meanwhile, SPOT doesn't operate on the normal emergency beacon frequencies and Globalstar's satellite network has no ability to triangulate via doppler shift, so if SPOT can't get a GPS fix, you're SOL.

    Finally, all "true" certified PLB's must meet some fairly rigorous standards in a testing lab in order to be certified as a PLB. They must transmit for a minimum of 24 hours even at -20F, etc. No pass, no cert. SPOT... well, it doesn't meet any PLB standards and indeed is not sold as a PLB, it's sold as a "personal messenger". The fact that one message that can be sent is to an outfit in Austin that can then call 911 on your behalf doesn't make it a PLB.

    In short, SPOT is a substitute for a satellite phone in situations where you want to send canned messages and don't need 2-way communications, but is not a PLB, and doesn't work as well as a PLB. Its only advantage if you have an emergency is that it is significantly cheaper than a PLB and roughly the same cost (with 1 year of service) as a couple week's rental of a satellite phone. But if you want the best possible chance to be rescued under absolute emergency conditions, you want a certified PLB, because that's the gold standard of emergency beacons. SPOT... well, it's not.
    #85
  6. jonz

    jonz Miles are my mantra

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2004
    Oddometer:
    2,533
    Location:
    CA dez (it's a dry heat)/West Yellowstone,MT
    A huge advantage for me is the tracking feature. I ride by myself a fair amount and always tell someone when I'll be home. If I crash and knock myself unconscious or hurt myself bad enough that I can't send a message, at least they'll know where to look. That was the major selling point to me.
    #86
  7. aciurczak

    aciurczak Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Dec 12, 2005
    Oddometer:
    163
    Location:
    Bay Area
    In a true emergency where you find yourself in the middle of a canyon under tremendous tree cover, with no cell service, a PLB may have a somewhat greater chance of summoning help. In all other cases, the SPOT has capabilities that are more useful to me than any 1-time use / emergency only PLB. Nobody is trying to convince adventurers to replace their PLB's with SPOT for all applications. But for long-distance motorcycling, the tracking feature and continuous 1-way messaging that does not rely on cell phone technology make it a damn useful gadget. Think of it like a satellite phone with GPS onboard that can send unlimited (but canned) messages for $150/year. There really is nothing else comparable right now, and it certainly fits a niche that appealed to me (and I'd venture some others). It's basically an improvement on several areas of the Star-traxx system, for a fraction of the cost.

    (edited after reading up more on Star-traxx)
    #87
  8. SpotMaker

    SpotMaker Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2007
    Oddometer:
    140
    Apples to oranges.

    A PLB is sending a narrow-band (TDMA) signal to GEO-synchronous satellites (about 20,000 miles up).

    The SPOT is sending a DSSS (Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum) signal -the DSSS modulation gives you about an order of magnitude of process gain over narrow band, so 0.4 watt DSSS is about equivalent to 5 watt narrow band- and the satellites are LEO (Low Earth Orbit), about 400 miles up.

    The functional signal gain of the SPoT and PLB's are comparable. Their ability to get a signal through canopy are comparable. Also, in 911 mode it tries every 5 minutes forever to get a GPS fix and send a message (a fresh battery will last more than a week in continuous 911 mode). It may take awhile, but in all but the most extraordinary circumstances, it will get a GPS fix and get a signal out eventually. You won't get all your messages out under deep canopy, but if you get one per hour, or even one per six hours, you still get rescued.

    Also, your information about Globalstar's liquidity is about 2.5 years out of date. Globalstar's financial situation is dramatically better today than it was a couple of years ago. The threat of them going belly up is essentially past. About the only way they'd go bankrupt at this point is if a lot of the new satellites they plan to launch over the next few years blow up on the launch pad. Don't think that's all that likely.
    #88
  9. KenR

    KenR Long timer

    Joined:
    Jun 28, 2004
    Oddometer:
    1,679
    Location:
    Park City, UT
    Hey SpotMaker,

    Thanks for your valuable insight into this product. I've got one and love it.

    Does the Company plan on changing access to the tracking feature on the website to where it can be viewed without seeing all the personal billing data of the subscriber? This is the only negative I've found to the system - if I want to give somone access to my tracking, they can see and alter stuff they shouldn't.
    #89
  10. SpotMaker

    SpotMaker Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2007
    Oddometer:
    140
    I've heard that they plan to implement a "guest login". But, the info I have about this is sketchy. It could even be wrong.

    The "guest login", wherein you'd set up a guest userid and password, would give your "guests" access to your tracking, and nothing else.
    #90
  11. TomW

    TomW Long timer

    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,013
    Location:
    Ft. Payne, AL
    Ditto request for 'guest' login to view tracking data. I already know where I am and where I've been, and when I'm out and about I have no way of looking at my track data anyway. Making tracking data available to others (without viewing my financial and buddylist info) is where all the utility in the tracking feature lies IMHO.

    I just finished an 805 mile, 12.5 hour trip from NE Alabama to Houston with SPOT (in tracking mode) on the dashboard of the car. The system received 65 of 75 messages -- pretty decent performance as a good portion of the sky is obstructed by the roof of the car when it's sitting on the dash.

    In addition to a guest feature I'd like to see velocity and track direction reported as well. I know that requires at least two position fixes to compute, but, hey....

    On the SPOT v. PLB issue, for me the utility of SPOT is tracking and not so much emergency SAR. At $150 for SPOT hardware and $150 for a year's service I'll get a lot more use out of my investment than the $700 PLB that's Velcro'd to my pannier lid. (At least I hope that's the case.)

    Cheers.
    #91
  12. apratt

    apratt n00b

    Joined:
    Dec 20, 2007
    Oddometer:
    2
    I bought a SPOT device a little while ago and I've written up a web page about the unit based on my experiences: I'll give away the ending: it works.

    I've been burned before by phone-based, satellite-based, and even ham-radio-based systems that had bad coverage and finicky performance, but the SPOT just sits there and does its thing.

    I wrote to the company and they said they're working on guest access to your account. I'm not sure they quite "get it" though... They talked about a two-tier login (one for full control and one for limited access to your track data), but I want more: I want a URL that goes straight to a map, no login or extra clicks required, in cases where I want to make my track fully public. I hope they'll continue to improve the web site.
    #92
  13. Lucky_Devil

    Lucky_Devil Master Lurker

    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2007
    Oddometer:
    253
    Location:
    San Francisco, CA
    Hey apratt, I read your review and had some thoughts about a statement you made:

    I can see a use for the "Help" button... what if you have mechanical problems that you're unable to repair yourself roadside, like a severely bent rim... or experience a minor get off that didn't injure you, but left your bike unrideable. Now lets add lack of cell phone coverage into the mix. If you send a Help message to your ground crew, they can call MoTow, AAA, or whoever and tell them where you are and send, well... "Help" :D

    Not every time you may need help will be a 911 emergency... and if you need non-emergency help and can't use your cell phone to call for aid, I think you would be glad to have the Help button on the SPoT.
    #93
  14. FakeName

    FakeName Wile E Coyote SuperGenius

    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    1,927
    Location:
    San Diego
    Yes, I agree. My "help" call will activate my dear wife. She'll call my riding buddies (the ones I'm not with that day) to come get me with a truck or their bikes to tow me out of wherever I am. But I don't want to send an air ambulance if I've only stuffed my transmission.

    fn
    #94
  15. John E Davies

    John E Davies Runs at Mouth Adventurer

    Joined:
    Dec 12, 2004
    Oddometer:
    1,223
    Location:
    Spokane, WA USA
    Apratt - that was one very well done and compete review. Thank you.

    One comment: the emergency response contract will pay US$100K per member, per year (I think) but limits it to $50K "per incident".

    What I have not seen specified is if it pays _all_ associated costs (up to the limit) after you have been found, such as helicopter medivac fees, which can be really steep. $50K sounds like a lot but I suspect it would get used up pretty fast in a real world SAR scenario. Have you read an actual contract or description of the terms? Can you summarize the important parts or provide a link?

    I expect to have a SPOT under my tree on Christmas day.
    #95
  16. NordieBoy

    NordieBoy Armature speller

    Joined:
    Dec 2, 2006
    Oddometer:
    7,159
    Location:
    Kiwiland
    Mr SpotMaker, did you recover AirBorn_Andy's tracker he used at the Baja 1000?
    We know where he lost it and where it went from there...

    :D
    #96
  17. jonz

    jonz Miles are my mantra

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2004
    Oddometer:
    2,533
    Location:
    CA dez (it's a dry heat)/West Yellowstone,MT
    Did a mountain bike ride in the desert just north of Indio, CA. The ride was in some shallow but narrow canyons and up on ridgelines. I carried Spot in an outside pocket of my Camelbak, just like when I'm riding the m/c in Baja. I tried to position it so the emblem was pointing out but it slipped down to the bottom and the emblem ended up pointing down. But every tracking signal made it out. I'm happy with its performance.

    I ended up sending an email to customercare@findmespot.com requesting the guest login feature to view the tracking data only. I didn't understand that something like that wasn't available when I purchased the Spot and that deficency may have been enough to have delayed my purchase or even made me choose to rent instead of buy. Now that I understand the system better, I'll be sending out a lot more "I'm ok" messages.

    But it's still a pretty cool toy, er, tool.
    #97
  18. Lucky_Devil

    Lucky_Devil Master Lurker

    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2007
    Oddometer:
    253
    Location:
    San Francisco, CA
    Yeah, this is a MAJOR oversight if you ask me... I've purchased one, but I'll be refraining from buying/adding the tracking service to it until there's guest login capabilities. I have no need to track myself... I already know where I've been :lol3
    #98
  19. jonz

    jonz Miles are my mantra

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2004
    Oddometer:
    2,533
    Location:
    CA dez (it's a dry heat)/West Yellowstone,MT
    I'll still be able to have the wife/son check on my status. Hmmm, although I haven't mentioned to her that I bought one yet.:augie

    Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't. :freaky
    #99
  20. FakeName

    FakeName Wile E Coyote SuperGenius

    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    1,927
    Location:
    San Diego
    I lost mine today.

    I went riding on a fairly small trail system- got to the end of my ride and the spot was missing. I had clipped and taped it to my headlight bracket.

    It was in tracking mode, but I didn't have a gps with me, and the site does not work, even if I had wireless service, on my palmtop device. It was kind of frustrating, knowing it was somewhere on the 40 miles of trail I had covered, sending signals as to it's specific location, calling out from the wilderness.

    Finally, I retraced my route to a spot where I had fallen, sure enough, it was a few yards up the trail.

    Whew.

    fn