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Voluntarily cast upon the waves of outrageous fortune, this lowly geek flops from peak to peak of the technological ocean. Linux, Windows, C, Ruby, Python and embedded systems all attempt to pull our stalwart hero down. Will he survive alone or will the lifeboat of corporate servitude be too tempting.

GPS on Mobile Phones

Posted by Diarmuid on March 9, 2007

The marriage of GPS and Phones seems like a perfect combination. Personal GPS technology has been arround for at least 10 years but never took off in areas other that outdoor pursuits (walking, geocaching, etc). As a long time user of a hefty Garmin 12XL I can see why. The screens were tiny, grey scale colors, inty-bitty icons and negligable features other than waypoints, back track etc. To use the unit with a pc requires a special (and expensive cable) , software like Microsoft mappoint (or a roll your own ) and allot of time. And after all that you got to confirm that you were where to knew you were, or that indeed that road is full of bends. Hardly inspiring stuff.

That is all changing. While the units are still pretty mundane, there is a different path and it’s blue. Bluetooth enable GPS units have been around for over 2 years and have changed personal GPS technology as well as the automotive sector. These are small (2″*1″*.5″) battery powered GPS receivers whose only job is to broadcast their position to anything within 5 meters (technically 10 but that never happens). Then another bluetooth enabled device can pick up this data and use it for its own nefarious purposes … like showing your position on a map. Amazing!! The advantage of course is that the little bluetooth yoke can be out where it can see the sky ( satellites if you want to get technical) while the display component can be viewed where it is handy (given the 5 meter limit).

OK, so what sort of display devices are out there. 2006 has been a good year for this sort of tech and Christmas was a pumper season for GPS. 3GSM was big on GPS phones.  Very functional GPS devices are for sale for $300. These have a color screen and a memory card to store map data. The processing power of this little devices is impressive. They have 300Mhz chips and 256MB memory. That’s like the Dell you bought new in 1998. However, most of these devices will be left in cars except every now and then when they will be stolen off the dash. Impressive for those runs from O’Hare to wherever, but hardly something that the average Joe programmer is going to make any money from.

GPS software for PDA’s have been arround since the Psion 5 and is as popular now as it was then, i.e. not. It basically is the same problem. The device tells you where you are or how fast you are going but so what. It might have a database of Points Of Interest (POI), so might tell you that there is an ATM 2 miles away but that sort of data gets old fast and systems that you can subscribe to are expensive.

Arguably the only area where small companies have prospered in the GPS market is in Tracking. Fleet management systems allow a business owner to see where his vehicles are. This is done by combining GPS modules with GPRS modules into a single package that periodically sends its position to a central system. the on board processor can also identify when a device is moving or moving above a speed limit and can broadcast it’s position. This data is then displayed on a map in the company office. This market is getting very big, so much so that a manufacturer of GSM/GPRS modules is making one with a GPS built in. This decreases the bill of materials and should make these devices cheaper.

However, nearly everyone has a mobile phone, and if that phone has bluetooth and java (generally if it can run games , it is java enabled) it can work as a GPS. If it has a GPRS connection (data enabled , not wap) it can send its position back to a server and receive data).

Part 2

Personal tracking devices have been arround for a while and have had limited success. There is a market for tracking alziemers sufferers but other areas are more problematic ethically. Tracking your kids? your spouse? Unless they agree up front, there are significant issues and even if they agree does it really solve a problem. You end up knowing where that person is, but you could just as easily ring them. If you can’t trust them the you have bigger problems.

… I’ll finish this soon

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