How can I track myself with GPS and map my every move forever?
November 29, 2006 7:21 PM   Subscribe

How can I best track my every move with GPS and then map it for a website and my personal use?

I am a micromanager/microanalyst and I want to use a GPS all the time to track my movements and keep track of where I go and how often I go there. I don't have a tremendously huge budget AND I KNOW NEXT TO NOTHING ABOUT GPS.

Here is my best idea so far: Use a Laptop with a USB GPS like the one that comes with MS Streets and Maps to track my movements by vehicle - the bonus is that I will also have a relatively cheap (~$100) auto navigation system from this. Then, for non-auto travel, I will use a relatively cheaper handheld GPS that can track me while I'm hiking, boating, walking, etc... I can then upload that data and combine it with the vehicle data in some program that does TOPO maps of the entire USA.

I will be traveling a LOT this year, lots of stuff on backroads, dirt roads, hiking trails, canoe trails, bush-whacking, etc... and I want to track every bit of it to put together on a TOPO map of the entire country (since I will be in over 20 states). Ideally, I can also export that data into something like Google Maps and I could even have a setup where the tracks are shown with different intensities based upon amount of traffic - the path to X park will be thin, but the path to the local grocery store will be huge and wide.

So, the actual questions:

1. Is my plan above possible with consumer-level tech at an affordable price?

a. What handheld GPS devices would be best for this (especially in terms of data output for my uses)?

b. Is there good Topo software that covers the entire U.S.A. that doesn't cost a fortune?

c. Has anybody implemented this idea with Google Maps or anything else?

d. Is there software that does all this already out there?

e. Do you have a better plan than mine?
posted by crazy finger to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Check out They have maps, amazing exports to Google Earth, even a way-cool dot race.

Disclaimer: I am a longtime user and absolutely love the site.
posted by neilkod at 7:25 PM on November 29, 2006

I know just thing for you.

ThinkGeek sells a GPS data logger which is essentially a usb thumb drive. Toss it into your back pocket, backpack, whatever - then plug it into your pc and it snycs with either Google Maps or Mapquest.

The only downside is the unit is a bit pricey, $250. If it's in your price range I think this may work perfectly for what you need.
posted by ASM at 7:44 PM on November 29, 2006

Wherever I carry my GPS, it tracks where I go. (It's a Garmin eTrex Legend C.) When I plug it in and synch it, it draws a little Billy-style dotted line on a map. I think that's just something that GPSs do.
posted by waldo at 7:55 PM on November 29, 2006

ASM has it exactly right. All this work with a laptop, multiple pieces of gear, and all that seems wrong for your sort of plan. You need a GPS+datalogger, which can run forever-ish on batteries, so you can "set it and forget it" and deal with the data later.

You won't be able to do this for a hundred bucks, more like 250-300.

If you get a GPS, look for one with a SIRFstar III chipset... They're the most accurate and sensitive available at the moment.
posted by fake at 8:51 PM on November 29, 2006

Response by poster: That data logger seems neat, but I also would want to have a GPS for my hiking/boating travel. If I had a decent handheld, would I even need a data logger like that?

Also, what is a good TOPO map program I can use with my handheld?
posted by crazy finger at 9:03 PM on November 29, 2006

See also.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:07 AM on November 30, 2006

I can't believe nobody has give you the right answer: Mologogo. You just buy a cheap Boost mobile phone, link up to the website, and pay $6 per month. It will track your location, viewable on a website, at the interval you request.
posted by torpark at 6:19 AM on November 30, 2006 [2 favorites]

Cell phone GPS is only good if you have cell coverage. Might be an issue for all the backwoods stuff.
posted by smackfu at 6:37 AM on November 30, 2006

The trackstick makes perfect sense, except for the insanity of using a pair of AAAs every 5-7 days. Doesn't a device like this cry out for a built-in USB rechargeable battery?
posted by onshi at 7:54 AM on November 30, 2006

IS anything like this available for road bikes? Electronic cue sheets with directions as you cycle is something I've been hoping for for years now.
posted by Fupped Duck at 9:11 AM on November 30, 2006

I'll try to answer a few posts in this response.

1. Absolutely. Most GPS units have some kind of track logging feature. Even the basic ones.. you pay more for greater storage. Dataloggers are great.. but personally, for another $50 more.. i'd rather have a screen with maps and and interface. My Garmin etrex vista Cx does all that. And the maps are easily swapped or changed.

a. Any device with a removeable memory card for data logging storage. (My Garmin supports a 1 gig microsd card)

b. Not cheap ones anyways. Maps are the expensive part. You pay $$$ for decent GPS maps. In Australia, the basic maps are useless. I end up just letting it record then exporting to Google Earth later on and seeing it there.

c. There is a huge GPS mapping community out there.. check out google groups or gps related forums.

d. Once you have the data in GPX format (from your GPS.. you can export to pretty much every mapping program. So the data is portable and you can find new apps whenever you like. Google earth is great.

Fupped duck: Most handheld GPS units come with a bicycle mount for putting on your handlebars. Combine a decent map with a route plotter especially designed for cyclists bikely is awesome for this type of thing and you've got what you're looking for. As well as tracking, altitude, and speed recording... they just need to combine a GPS with the bike computer.

Another thing that is awesome about GPS logging, is if you combine it with photos. If the time on your camera is the same as your gps.. then all you need is the software to combine the two, like Robogeo, and you've got premapped data ready for exporting to a website, or uploading to a location aware photo site like Flickr.
posted by snarkle at 5:07 PM on November 30, 2006

In addition to data logging, any handheld GPS will also spit out standard position information (NMEA 0183, if you care). This can be read by almost any good mapping software (including streets and trips).
Caveat: Most cables that I've seen are only serial cables, which not all laptops have. You can buy serial/USB converters, but they only work in some applications (I have no experience with using them for GPS->mapping).

So basically, if you go the handheld route, you get a USB-GPS like the one with streets and trips ( although, you might have to use serial in stead of USB).

As for handheld units, you can get good ones, that can display TOPO maps for about $200. I own the Garmin GPSMAP 76s, and am happy with it, there are many other such models.

As for the TOPO maps, in the US you can find all most all of the maps you want for free. The USGS provides this. The problem is the standards. For the most part handheld units can only display maps in the proprietary format of their manufacturer (which you can buy, $$$). Fortunately for the desktop, there are many good products that can use the free data. I would take a look at NASA Worldwind (similar to google earth, but less restrictive) I think there is an addon that allows you to import GPS tracks. There are also products like oziexplorer(not free) that allow you make your own maps from images (like TOPO maps from the USGS).

One more thing to consider is that GPS devices need to "see" the sky. Throwing it in your back pocket etc. will yield intermittent tracking. Especially in urban canyons, under tree cover, in proper canyons, etc. The more sky it sees, the better. They can usually see through a few layers of cloth etc. but the less the better. Also, not all units are created equal in terms of signal reception. Read reviews before you buy.
posted by nazca at 6:24 AM on December 1, 2006

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