The Great Big SPOT Thread

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

  1. mars

    mars Starbucks anyone?

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    yesterday I received the first 20 Spot locators, our local search and rescue folks have been training with them for some time.
    We immediately activated one and it seems to be working as advertised.
  2. SpotMaker

    SpotMaker Been here awhile

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    My "99% comment" was, of course, a joke.

    That web site, like every site on the web, will be a work in progress forever. Several of the things you mention are on the way. It is my understanding that the first two on your list are definitely coming. (Guest login and conversion to local time.)
  3. Harrington

    Harrington Been here awhile

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    Great that's a start. Keep us posted.
  4. jonz

    jonz Miles are my mantra

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    I tried this out today. Did my normal dirt bike loop with Spot. Got back, opened my account, clicked "select all," and then clicked on the kml tab.

    What was kind of cool vs. just a gps was that each track point has the time embedded which you can read in the google earth page. I'm taking a group of adv'ers on this loop (or part of it) in a couple of weeks and wondered how long it would take to finish it under the best of circumstances. The image is below (if it works).

    Attached Files:

  5. TomW

    TomW Long timer

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    If you take both SPoT and GPS and display the GPS track in Google Earth, when you upload your SPoT's kml file to GE, your SPoT points will be superimposed on the track. This gives some feeling for the time dimension.

    Cheers.
  6. Lost Rider

    Lost Rider Roadie

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    Here's a track from a 9 day, 3500 mile trip I just took. The Spot worked great, and I haven't completely gone through every track (480 of them) since I just got home last night, but it seems that it didn't miss a track. I tried mounting it in various places, including inside a pelican box, keeping the SPOT logo facing upward. Granted, this trip didn't take me in heavily wooded area's or canyons, but I did have it in the ocean while snorkeling, and rode over 800 miles below 32ºF, with the last 400 under 15ºF. All of my OK messages came through too. It just works.
    My friends and family followed me the whole way, and really like me having it. I gave out my log in info to them so they could track me, it'll be nice when they upgrade the site...

    [​IMG]

    Attached Files:

  7. aciurczak

    aciurczak Been here awhile

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    Looking at the GPX file, it missed quite a few trackpoints. If you look at the timestamp there should be a new trackpoint about every 10 minutes. But in a number cases there is a gap of 20 minutes, and in a few other rare cases there is a gap of 30 minutes. One example of a 30 minute gap was on 1/14 from 5:11 GMT to 5:41 GMT. But, like you, I think it works great and missing a trackpoint from time to time isn't much of an issue, as long as the OK / Help / 911 messages are more reliable (which they are, due to the methods which they are repeated).
  8. Lost Rider

    Lost Rider Roadie

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    \

    I guess I should have said not too many track points. But there's times when I was under a roof at a gas station for more than 10 minutes, or when I reset it to send a OK message there could have been a gap in time. Either way it did send every OK message, and like you I think it works great and did remarkably well.
    I'm also impressed with the battery life considering how cold it was for most of this trip. My lithium batteries in my camera only took about 180 pictures before dying (usually I get at least 500) due to the extreme cold.
  9. pckopp

    pckopp Aged Adventurer

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    Reviews here in Layin' down tracks by actual users are probably better and more complete, but here's another.

    Spot Review by GPS Magazine
  10. Lucky_Devil

    Lucky_Devil Master Lurker

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    Interesting that the article lists a monthly subscription fee of $9.99 as being an option. I was under the impression that it was yearly only....
  11. markgsnw

    markgsnw WTF?

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    not an very deep review, but I do agree with a couple of their points: the function LED's could be clearer as to what they're trying to say, and the reception is spotty (moan) at times (I went for an urban hike with the unit on my belt, I had zero tracking points sent). I'd like to see an external antenna option a la Garmin / Gilsson.
  12. TomW

    TomW Long timer

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    Jack(s) for external antennas (GlobalStar and GPS) and an external power jack would be nice in a unit designed for vehicular service. I'm just guessing that the SPoT people wanted to simplify their waterproofing/floating scheme by minimizing the number of holes in the case. Remember, this unit is very reasonably priced at $150.

    Also, someone -- probably SPoTmaker -- said earlier that one drawback for remote antennas is feedline loss in the 0.4 watt UHF satellite uplink system. Losses in the feedline at this frequency (1.6 gHz) might negate any advantage of an external antenna. I'd like to see another unit come out that has some external jacks and more transmitter power (when connected to an external DC supply).

    For what it's worth, I'm of the opinion that the GPS receiver is usually working just fine, but the failure to post position messages is probably due to the uplink to the commercial satellite system not getting through. This is more noticible in tracking mode since each message is only sent once.

    Notice that SPoT's adverts usually show people out in the wide open spaces, and their message is "Works where cell phones don't." I think that this is a subtle(?) hint that you might be better off with something else for summoning help in an urban environment -- say, a...cell phone? I also guess that SPoT was primarily intended to send dedicated messages (the OK, Help and 911 functions), and the tracking feature was an add-on. The fact that the dedicated messages are transmitted numerous times implies that they don't expect every one to go through.

    Mostly speculation on my part. Your opinions may reasonably vary.

    Cheers.
  13. Hotspice

    Hotspice Satellites not acquired

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    The only option I see when you register is the annual fee..

    Attached Files:

    • spot.jpg
      spot.jpg
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  14. SpotMaker

    SpotMaker Been here awhile

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    Yep, that was me.

    We've had a nightmare on industrial products offering an external antenna option for the uplink. People solder up their own cable made out of about 50 feet of speaker wire, that gives them about 60 dB loss (when they had 15 dB of margin to play with in the first place) and then bitch about how bad our transmitter sucks. :pissed (I'm not even exaggerating! :eek1 ) Hence, no external antenna jack!

    I and all of us at Axonn concur. You hit the nail on the head. Our entire engineering staff is convinced that when the guy who wrote that review complained about the "lack of sensitivity of the GPS" what was really happening was that he was giving the unit no path to transmit. He was interpreting the lack of tracking points on the map at findmespot.com as lack of GPS reception. He was forgetting that the transmitter has to get through too.

    Insider hint about belt clip use: (Take notes :D ).

    I did some tests myself with the SPoT clipped on my belt at my side. I got almost no tracking points at all!!

    Then, I realized what was wrong. My arm was blocking the antenna!

    Solution, clipped it on in back, right above my butt crack. In the open, that gets me about 60% of my track points!

    I walked around for the better part of a day in Lugano Switzerland with the SPoT clipped on my belt at the back. These are narrow streets lined by buildings that average 6 - 10 stories. Got about 40% of my track points under those conditions. I tried about 5 "check in" messages with it on my belt like this in Lugano and got all of them.

    Later, I walked around for several hours in Milan Italy. Similar narrow streets but the buildings average around 12 stories. Same results. (About 40% track.)

    Obviously, you don't get as good a results with the thing on your belt as you do with the SPoT logo facing the sky. The antenna aim is not optimal, and there's a body absorption issue.

    I'll leave it to those people who've been reading all the SPoT related press releases to guess what I was doing in Lugano and Milan.
  15. SpotMaker

    SpotMaker Been here awhile

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    Right. No monthly option.

    Far from the only thing that reviewer got wrong, IMSHO.
  16. markgsnw

    markgsnw WTF?

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    Sorry, I don't get the logic. Garmin has an external antenna jack that is waterproof, and I'm not aware of a rash of Garmin owners doing dumbass things like making antennas out of coathangers. I can buy an excellent Gilsson antenna (and have done so) for $20 that greatly enhances the functionality of my GPS unit. Please don't patronize your customers by assuming that they are all morons and need to be protected from themselves.


    I own the product and like it, the price is very reasonable, I think it has some operational and design issues that could be worked out. I'd pay $50 more for an antenna jack so that I could use the unit in my truck without having to duct tape it to the dash. I'd pay more for a display that made sense to me, or maybe that could just be worked out a bit better.
  17. markgsnw

    markgsnw WTF?

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    I walked around an urban setting for three hours with the unit clipped above my sacrum (sounds better than butt crack, don't you think) and got zero tracking points. Hmm, maybe I should have duct taped the unit to my head with the logo pointed skyward. :norton



    I think the reviewer missed the entire point of the unit, it's not designed for urban use. It would be fun to have the tracking feature work in an urban environment, but clearly this is not what the product was engineered for.
  18. John E Davies

    John E Davies Runs at Mouth Adventurer

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    If you plan on carrying SPOT on a hydropack , consider a padded zip pouch designed for vertical strap mounting like this one from Aerostitch:

    http://www.aerostich.com/catalog/US/Deuter-Strap-on-Pouches-p-17487.html

    The P/N 9100 pouch (4.5 in x 2.7 in x 1.6 in) works great, either with or without the plastic SPOT belt clip in place. Removing the clip makes the package a little thinner, but would make it impossible to remove and clip SPOT onto your belt.

    [​IMG]

    I plan to use this pouch exclusively when motorcycling, since I am concerned about whacking SPOT with a branch and ending my ride only to discover that it's lying on the trail 20 miles back beeping at the sky.

    It also hides the unit from prying fingers and gives additional protection from the elements. With the pouch mounted up high in front of your armpit, the antenna placement is as ideal as you could get without taping it to the top of your helmet.
  19. aciurczak

    aciurczak Been here awhile

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    I don't think the GPS portion of the antenna is the hard part. At this point in the technology curve, gps receivers are almost microscopic, and the necessary antennas are tiny and quite effective. Including the one on the SPOT, which picks up a GPS signal easily while inside the garage.

    It's the transmission back to the satellite network that is the engineering problem. With a GPS antenna plugged into a garmin, it's easy for a user to see if the signal strength went up, are there less drop-outs, etc; right from the display. With the SPOT's communication back to the satellite, it is sent blind with no confirmation available (until you check online to see if one awhile back got through). And getting that antenna right evidently has much less room for error. And are there even available external satphone antennas for such devices (perhaps there are, but I haven't searched yet). As in spotmakers post, how would one know if the add-on antenna was helping, hurting, or indifferent; other than just noting that the transmitter wasn't working as well as they expected.

    Personally I'd like the additional functionality if it could be put into a v2 or v3 unit, but I wouldn't categorize its removal as being patronizing to customers; getting that antenna exactly right for a reasonably high success rate transmitting back to the satellites is evidently a key engineering point for the gadget.
  20. SpotMaker

    SpotMaker Been here awhile

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    The decision of "no external antenna" was primarily made by SPoT Inc. (Globalstar) as they were 100% in charge of specifying the user interface, feature set, appearance, etc. We at Axonn were primarily in charge implementing what they wanted.

    However, we did not protest the decision of no external antenna all that loudly.

    You are absolutely correct. Making an external antenna work on the GPS is not all that hard. Getting the transmitter to work with an external antenna involves a lot more complexity, and not all of that complexity is technical. A lot of it is regulatory.

    Every transmitter and every antenna that transmits on the Globalstar network has to be approved and certified by Globlastar as well as by the FCC.

    Do you know how many antennas Globalstar has certified for their simplex network? Two. And it was a looonnggggggg process to get those certified!

    The radiation pattern and power are held to an extremely tight envelope.

    I've heard stuff like "why don't you just jack up the power a bit?"

    The power output on the SPoT is riding right at Globalstar's maximum allowable.

    Let users fiddle with antenna gains, radiation patterns, or power and all kinds of hell is going to break loose, Globalstar is going to be pissed, and the FCC is going to issue fines. This is a licensed transmitter (license held by SPoT Inc). It's not just a receiver.

    Since the SPoT uses a combination transmit/receive antenna, allowing the connection of just an external antenna for GPS would open a technical can of worms.

    Those of you who would like to design a transmit antenna, are you willing to go through the Globalstar and FCC certification process?