GPS Tech - Common GPS issues

Discussion in 'Equipment' started by John Erwin, Mar 21, 2011.

  1. John Erwin

    Joined:
    Apr 8, 2005
    Messages:
    609
    Likes Received:
    6
    GPS issues must rank in the top 5 subjects in the Equipment sub-forum at Stormtrack. Accordingly, I thought it would be a good idea to have a "one-stop shop" that could answer most of the common questions people would have.

    I know that we have several GPS-savvy folks on here (Mark Blue comes to mind), and I invite anyone to add anything of value to the thread. Let's get started!

    Why do I need a GPS?

    1. Mapping purposes - Many chasers carry a laptop with them and run apps like Delorme Street Atlas or Microsoft Streets & Trips. Using a GPS receiver with these apps allows for you to determine your position on a map, along with being able to keep track of route/distance travelled, current direction/speed, distance to waypoints etc.

    2. Weather Apps - Popular applications like GRLevel3, StormLab and others can ingest GPS data to allow the user to see their position in relationship to weather features on a map. Other specialized apps can use GPS data too: SpotterNetwork for instance can take your GPS data and use it to indicate your position to the NWS or other interested persons.


    What kind of GPS do I need to buy?

    This is one of the most confusing aspects, mostly because GPS technology is being incorporated into many devices. Be aware that only certain GPS devices are suitable for a broad-range of chaser/spotter applications.

    Specifically, the device needs to be able to output GPS data in a useful format; most often this will be NMEA 0183. Most GPS-enabled software applications will be looking for GPS data in this format. Here's a breakdown of GPS units you are likely to encounter, and their suitability:

    "Car Navigation" GPS units - Not suitable. Most of these units do not output GPS data of any kind; they are intended to be used as standalone units only. In some cases they can be "hacked" to provide data, however this appears to be quirky and/or risky in the least. Accordingly I do not recommend them for anything other than standalone use.

    Handheld "hiking" units - Possibly suitable. Many of these units will output NMEA format data, however this is often only via a serial-port which can be problematic to deal with.

    GPS "Pucks" - Most suitable, especially the USB versions. These are easy to connect and use for most applications. Please ensure the version you select can output NMEA 0183 data; see the next message in this thread for some recommendations.


    How do I connect the GPS to my computer?

    Serial-Port - GPS data was traditionally communicated via a serial-port (R2-232), however Laptop manufacturers in particular have removed this connector to save money. Most older GPS units will use this type of connection on them (some current GPS units on the market still do).

    In order to use a GPS unit with a serial-port type connection, you will need a Serial-USB type adaptor. Be aware that these are getting scarce to find, and can be troublesome to setup. Best advice is to avoid any GPS unit that only uses a serial-port unless you have a working solution for it.

    USB - Newer GPS devices will generally use USB. Be aware that just because a GPS device has a USB connector on it, doesn't mean it can output GPS data (i.e. Tom Tom's etc). It's interesting to note that in most cases, NMEA formatted data that is sent via a USB connection will usually be converted to a "virtual serial port" using software that comes with the device. Please note that most USB connected GPS receivers will require a specific driver to be installed; please consult documention prior to connecting the device to your computer.

    Bluetooth - this technology can also be used for the connection. A few GPS "pucks" use this feature, which can be handy since you can have a completely cordless solution for your GPS and keep things tidy. Once again, specific drivers are often needed and the setup can be somewhat complex initially (experiences vary on this).

    Once again I would personally recommend a USB-connected "GPS Puck" for most applications since it's the easiest and most economical method to get GPS data into your computer. Recommended models are included in the follow-on message.


    Can I use a single GPS receiver for multiple applications?

    Yes! You will need additional software for this however. The initial problem is that the GPS data is normally being interfaced into a single "virtual serial port". Normally only one application/device can use a serial-port at a time.

    Luckilly, "GPS-splitting" software has been around for a number of years now. These appplications will create additional "virtual serial ports" and will permit your GPS receiver to be shared among several applications. The two main applications for doing this are:

    GPSGate - Appears to be used by the bulk of chasers. 14-Day trial, $39.95 for "Standard Version". Includes many features, including ability to convert "Garmin" format data into NMEA 0183. Also works very well for some Bluetooth type GPS units.

    XPort - Freeware (donations glady accepted). Used succesfully by several chasers (including myself). Currently only works reliably on 32-bit Windows platforms.


    Can I connect my GPS to my <insert device here>?

    There's all kinds of new scenarios coming up for GPS technology, including unconventional ways to use the data. I would suggest that if you have a specific question on GPS connectivity that you ask it here; perhaps somebody who's done this already can chime in and help out.

    Some immediate examples of this could include how to connect a GPS unit to an iPad or Android-based tablet.

    In the next message I list a number of GPS units that I've researched, and their applicability for chasing.

    Good luck!
     
    #1 John Erwin, Mar 21, 2011
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 22, 2011
  2. John Erwin

    Joined:
    Apr 8, 2005
    Messages:
    609
    Likes Received:
    6
    GPS Receivers

    Here is a list of GPS units that I've researched, with applicable notes. In all cases you are advised to consult the specifications to ensure the device will work for your application. In virtually every case I found that Car Navigation type units are not suitable for providing data to other applications. The USB port on those devices is normally only used to update the unit or upload media files.


    GARMIN

    Car Navigation GPS units (Nuvi, Zumo)

    It appears that virtually none of the current Garmin standalone "Car Navigation" GPS units will output NMEA 0183 data (or data of any kind) under normal circumstances. Some enterprising hardware-tinkerer types have found ways to circumvent this on some models, but an overall reliable solution does not appear to exist. Accordingly, these models are not recommended for anything other than standalone use.

    Hiking Models

    Many of the Garmin Handheld hiking type GPS units will output GPS data. Be aware that not all of them have a USB connection on them, or are capable of outputting NMEA 0183 via USB. In those cases you should be able to use software like GPSGate to convert Garmin proprietary data into NMEA 0183.

    Dakota (all models) - do not appear to be able out output GPS data - not recommended

    Etrex
    - some models (HCx, H) can output data; HCx via USB, H model only via serial port.

    GPS60 (all variants) - NMEA 0183 via serial port. USB connection only used for Garmin-format data.

    GPS72H - can output NMEA 0183; unclear if this is via Serial only or through the USB connector as well.

    GPSMAP60,70 and 90 series - NMEA 0183 via serial port. USB connection only used for Garmin-format data.

    Oregon (all variants) - NMEA 0183 via serial port. USB connection only used for Garmin-format data.

    Marine units (various)

    Many of these units appear to be able to output NMEA 0183 via a serial interface. These units are normally quite expensive.


    MAGELLAN

    Car Navigation GPS (Roadmate, Maestro)

    Once again, these devices simply are not designed to provide data to other applications. I've heard that some people have been able to circumvent this with "tricks", however it appears these are not reliable solutions. These are not recommended for anything other than standalone use.

    Hiking Models

    eXplorist (all models) - can output NMEA 0183 GPS data via a USB connection

    Triton (all models) - can output NMEA 0183 GPS data via a USB connection


    Tom Tom

    I could not find a single model produced by Tom Tom that would output GPS data of any kind for use elsewhere. The USB connector on these units is used to update the receiver or upload other data. Some enterprising "tinkerer" types have found ways to upload custom firmware on some of these models to circumvent this shortfall; not advised unless you can afford to "brick" your unit if things go wrong. Like before, these units are not recommended for anything other than standalone purposes.


    OTHERS

    "Puck" GPS receivers

    Pharos GPS-500 - NMEA 0183 data via USB connector. This model has been included in Microsoft's "Streets & Trips w/ GPS locator" package. Can be purchased alone via e-bay etc. for around $20. Versions also available w/ Bluetooth. USB Version Highly recommended
    ** Recent experience has shown this unit to be problematic on Windows 10 owing to lack of driver support **

    Globalsat BU-353 - NMEA0183 data via USB connector. Very popular; often found on e-bay or other online vendors for around $30. Highly recommended.

    Delorme Earthmate series - i.e. LT-20 - currently not recommended. At one time in the past these were rock-solid units, however they appear to be problematic with a newer OS like Win7 (especially 64-bit). Experiences vary, some people report success with these. Perhaps Delorme will eventually release a new model?

    Others - various models with unknown manufacturer names periodically appear on e-bay or other locations. Be aware that some of these models have been problematic for some users due to various issues (incompatibilities, drivers, data format etc.). You're strongly advised to avoid any model that you cannot verify details regarding suitability.


    Bluetooth receivers

    Some chasers have successfully been using Bluetooth-based GPS receivers. Globalsat in particular appears to have supplied models that have worked well for some. Be aware that some units out there are designed for specific applications and may not be suitable for chasing use - as per usual research is advised.
     
    #2 John Erwin, Mar 21, 2011
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 22, 2011
  3. David Wolfson

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2004
    Messages:
    2,098
    Likes Received:
    0
    Apple iPad
    Built-in GPS (some models) is somewhat limited by design, according to reports. Bad Elf (yes, this the name!) makes an Apple-sanctioned GPS about the size of a CF card that plugs into the 30-pin connector and allows charging pipe-through via USB. Unlike the device GPS the Bad Elf can be placed for better sky view connected by a USB extension cord. The Bad Elf is a high-function unit a bit pricey at $100.

    It works well with a number of apps, several of which pre-download maps, and thus don't need an active internet connection. IMO nothing yet compares to Delorme SA in functionality, but it provides a very adequate moving-map display and bread-crumb trail mounted as a heads-up on the visor, e.g., that doesn't need a power-sucking notebook computer running MSW. Because apps communicate with the OS through core routines rather than latched to ports virtual or otherwise, GPS output can be shared by multiple active apps.
     
  4. Bryan_Knitter

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2010
    Messages:
    85
    Likes Received:
    1
    Hmm...My Etrex Legend HCx outputs data through USB. GR3 had no problem showing my location.
     
  5. Mark Blue

    Staff Member

    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2007
    Messages:
    2,582
    Likes Received:
    232
    This is an excellent idea John and I must say that what you have here is an excellent start as well as thorough right from the start. I am humbled that you complimented me in such a public manner. I actually enjoy helping chasers solve their GPS woes and don't expect anything from it other than to make some friends along the way. I hope I never let anyone down if they do need help and I'm glad you took the initiative to put something like this together to help the folks who need it most at this time of the year. I think in order to keep this from getting too lengthy and spread out perhaps we can just add additional notes or ideas at the end and then you can edit your original posts until we have something that could become a sticky at the top.

    There are some other seasoned GPS experts here on the forum that I've talked to in the past and Wes Carter is the first name that comes to mind. Hopefully he'll see this and chime in with his thoughts on the matter. He actually knows of a couple of websites that seem to be buried in my Bookmarks right now that would be good additions to this discussion. Last but not least you seem to know your stuff pretty well John, so a public acknowledgment is in order for you as well!

    Other thoughts that came to mind when reading your notes are a brief description of the mapping software programs that are used, as well as links to support sites where folks can download drivers if they simply purchase a puck sans any software, and where to find support for both hardware and software (GPSGate, Delorme, etc.). You've done a great job thus far and I hope we can collaborate on this to nail down a FAQ of sorts that members can reference should they need help. I'll be thinking of material to add over the next few days, but like I said this is a very good start even by itself.
     
  6. John Erwin

    Joined:
    Apr 8, 2005
    Messages:
    609
    Likes Received:
    6
    Hi Bryan, thanks for the update on that. The user manual was sketchy on data output; can you confirm that the data format is NMEA 0183 or just Garmin? I'll update the list above accordingly.

    Thank you!
     
    #6 John Erwin, Mar 22, 2011
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 22, 2011
  7. John Erwin

    Joined:
    Apr 8, 2005
    Messages:
    609
    Likes Received:
    6
    Hi Mark; thanks for your comments and for acknowledging the other learned folks out there. You've made some excellent suggestions; I'll make some adjustments to my original post and hopefully we'll see others contributing as well.

    Cheers!
     
  8. Bryan_Knitter

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2010
    Messages:
    85
    Likes Received:
    1
    I think you're right, it only outputs garmin. BUT I found garmins translator program: http://www8.garmin.com/support/download_details.jsp?id=1627

    Actually, GPSgate will translate Garmin to NMEA, so if you have that, the garmin app is not needed.
     
    #8 Bryan_Knitter, Mar 22, 2011
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 22, 2011
  9. John Erwin

    Joined:
    Apr 8, 2005
    Messages:
    609
    Likes Received:
    6
    Thanks for this additional information David; I'm certain we'll be seeing more of a demand for this type of setup in the coming months/years as tablets become more popular... I'm considering a setup like that myself.

    Anybody have similar info on an Android based setup?
     
  10. David Wolfson

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2004
    Messages:
    2,098
    Likes Received:
    0
    Continuing report on IOS (iPad, iPhone, i.e.) device functionality....

    I and many, I think, use Delorme to keep an archival track log. The problem is that it's necessary to properly name the log file and shut down the program, or the log file gets lost/corrupted. A number of IOS apps work with GPS logging. Particularly an almost free IOS app called GPX Master+, starts and keeps a log in standard GPX format, works in background or foreground with or without an internet connection, and automatically saves to Dropbox a recognizably named log file on shutdown.

    Dropbox automatically backs up to a central server and syncs with your other linked devices, e.g. home and mobile computers, when an internet connection is available. All recent versions of Delorme import GPX as a draw layer, including all the point info. It all seems on initial testing to work quite well.
     
  11. Matt Tottle

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2011
    Messages:
    421
    Likes Received:
    25
    Just a quick heads up for the thread, Franson is now offering an 'Express' version of GPSGate for free. The only limitation is that it will only let you share the GPS between TWO programs. But seeing as most of us only use two programs at once anyway (like SpotterNetwork and GRLevelX), it's a nice freebie. However, if you need to share with three or more programs, you will still need to shell out the $35 for the full version.
     
  12. Richard Dickson

    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2008
    Messages:
    163
    Likes Received:
    1
    Matt,

    Thanks for the great information as I'm one of the ninety percent of the folks that would just use two programs simultaneously. I'll be getting this installed this afternoon. I'll also see if they have a donation link as I sure wouldn't mind sending a few bucks for this.
     
  13. Will Campbell

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Messages:
    117
    Likes Received:
    30
    Matt,

    I use the express license (which when I got it was a pay-ware! :mad: ) You can use SpotterNetwork along with two other actual applications, given that you just upload your GPS location to the SpotterNetwork server. For instance, I split the GPS location between GR and iMap tracker, and on occassion Google Earth if need be, but also upload or send the info to the server which shows my location on SpotterNetwork. So I guess uploading to SN doesn't actually count as an application using the location information.
     
  14. Adam Simone

    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2011
    Messages:
    70
    Likes Received:
    0
    Will thanks for that post that really answers my questions. I use GPS for GR3, SN and eventually the iMap so I wasn't sure if I would need to buy the Standard or if the express would work. Also for the Stnadard is that price a yearly price or just a 1 time fee?
     
  15. Matt Tottle

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2011
    Messages:
    421
    Likes Received:
    25
    The express version only allows you to create two virtual COM ports. Each COM port can only be used by one program at a time. The SpotterNetwork client uses one port, and GRLevelX uses one. I don't use it so I may be wrong, but from what I understand iMap has its own location mapping system, which SpotterNetwork tracking can link with if you choose to do so. Therefore, you aren't actually using three programs on one GPS you just have one of your programs reporting to two sites.

    And I feel you on paying.. I paid for mine too. But at least it's good for new users.. :)

    Adam, it's a one time fee. You're buying the software license, not a subscription. I'd have to look, but I think incremental updates (like v2.6 to 2.7) are free, but major updates (v2.7 to 3.0) are not. And like I said, I'm not 100% positive, but I believe iMap would replace your SN client as far as reporting to SN.
     
  16. Will Campbell

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Messages:
    117
    Likes Received:
    30
    My streaming setup through iMap is as stated above. iMap uses a com port, GR uses a com port, but SN gets my position by me uploading to the buddy tracker server. I'm sure there's different ways to get it all set up, this is merely the way I have it. I wouldn't allocate a full com to SN anyways, as it usually gets back seated to cell phones and HAM. Just my $0.02 :)
     
  17. Matt Tottle

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2011
    Messages:
    421
    Likes Received:
    25
    Exactly, what works for you isn't what's going to be best for me. I don't use iMap, but I do stream with SevereStudios, which runs their maps off SN, so I need to run their client. My ham radio does have APRS (which SN can also track), but I don't want to tie up one side of the radio for that unless I'm in a data dead zone. The only other thing I run is GR3, so I could use Express no problem.. Except I already bought the standard version, so the point is moot - I can use however many programs I need to.. :D

    (And I think you're misunderstanding the COM port.. In today's computing, you aren't using it for actual communication over the internet - that's what your data card is for. The COM port in this case is just the virtual connection between the program and the GPS antenna. You don't report over the SN client, all it does is take your GPS coordinates and relay it to SN so you show up on the map. In your case, iMap is already doing that and reporting to WDT, and since your SN and WDT accounts are linked, running the SN client is just redundant because SN already has your location. Any reports you make via SN go out over the web via your data card and have nothing to do with the COM ports..)
     
  18. Will Campbell

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Messages:
    117
    Likes Received:
    30
    Right, misworded my statement perhaps. I'm aware of the virtual com ports. I meant I don't want to tie my 2 up with SN app for reports, because it is done through other means. Meaning I disable SN and leave my virtual coms for GR and iMap. But then I always forget that I can submit reports through iMap...hah. I just hate fumbling with my laptop in the heat of battle. Phone/Ham wins.
     
  19. David Wolfson

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2004
    Messages:
    2,098
    Likes Received:
    0
    ... Continuing update on in-vehicle GPS with the iPad.... The Bad Elf GPS (CF-flash sized plug in) is history and I don't recommend it for mobile use. I accidentally parked leaving it exposed to the Arizona sun and the protective shell came unglued and then apart when unplugged. I replaced it with the Dual XGPS150 Bluetooth GPS (~$90 at Amazon.com) which has stood up to a certain amount of Arizona cooking and continued to work quite well. The XGPS150 has an internal Li-ion battery good for many hours or indefinitely if hooked up to a USB supply. The Bluetooth pairs and holds the connection flawlessly in my experience.
     
  20. Marcus Diaz

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2009
    Messages:
    809
    Likes Received:
    532
    Old thread but didn't want to open a new one for my question. Just wondering if anyone has a good GPS tracking app for Android?
     
  21. Mark Eslick

    Mark Eslick Guest

    @Marcus Diaz, I tried an app for my Note 4, but it was completely glitchy. So I got my money back.

    As for GPSGate, it is bugging out on my Windows 8.1 laptop. I never had to buy it when using Windows 7, I assume it has to do with the new version of the software as well. XPort looked interesting, but it is not available for Windows 8, so I am in a bind. I need to use my BU-353 on at least 2 programs, if not more. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know. Thanks.
     
  22. Ben Holcomb

    Ben Holcomb Digital Janitor
    Staff Member

    Joined:
    Mar 30, 2008
    Messages:
    1,098
    Likes Received:
    650
    GPSGate works great on my Windows 8.1 laptop
     
    • Agree Agree x 2
    • Like Like x 1
  23. Mark Blue

    Staff Member

    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2007
    Messages:
    2,582
    Likes Received:
    232
    @Mark Eslick - can you define "bugging out" and what symptoms you're experiencing on your laptop, so we can hopefully provide you with some meaningful assistance?
     
  24. James Conrad

    Joined:
    Apr 14, 2004
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    1
    I'm getting the same issues starting end of March on Windows 8.1 and Paid/Free GPS Gate. However laptops that have NOT done a Microsoft Update since the end of March running 8.1 are just fine. I can only see my BU-353 and not ThreatNet units. I think MS released a "com port" change in one of their updates. Rolling back the drivers hasn't been a fix..
     
    • Like Like x 1
  25. Tony Gilbert

    Joined:
    Mar 24, 2013
    Messages:
    82
    Likes Received:
    7
    Just wanted to praise the advice from John Erwin a while back;
    Just purchased the Globalsat BU-353 . So I install the driver OK and then plug in the receiver. NOT SEEN. Hmm then I realise I hadn't taken in any windows updates for a while. Anyway once I did that it all kicked in perfectly. In fact I was sorting this lot out late sitting up in bed and it got all sat signals within 30 seconds through the obstruction of my roof? WOW!
    Anyway thumbs up for this GPS receiver.

    PS. My past life has been a misery every year with GPS tech issues whilst chasing in the USA. In fact just accidently putting another USB gadget in the wrong USB port would throw everything out and need several re starts and even a system restore to get things going again ????....What a bummer!
     
    • Like Like x 1

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice