DeLorme and SPOT—Handheld GPS Meets Satellite Communication
Since word of our upcoming announcement is already trickling out, I thought I’d share a few details along with the press release that will be available at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
As you may have heard, DeLorme has partnered with SPOT to release a new PN-Series GPS device that will use the SPOT satellite system to communicate text messages from remote locations where cell phones don’t have coverage. The PN-60w will connect wirelessly to the SPOT Communicator and be able to send free form text messages to friends and family as well as to websites like Twitter and Facebook. We’re also working closely with the folks at Groundspeak to deliver some very exciting geocaching features, including the ability to log finds directly from the field!
Both companies have been hearing from users looking for a GPS with great maps and the ability to share location information with others and we’re thrilled to be making this request a reality. Users will be able to create text messages and send them to e-mail or cell phone addresses. They will also be able to update social networking sites or use the SPOT Adventures page to share their messages. Along with text messaging, users will have access to standard SPOT features like Tracking and SOS Emergency Assistance. I have been testing the SPOT devices for a while now and have been very impressed with the ability to send a pre-canned “All Okay” message to my family while in the woods or let my friends track my progress on a multi-day cycling trip. During the Trek Across Maine I sent Check In messages at each rest stop and also used the Track Progress option to send my location to our SPOT Adventure page every ten minutes while on the ride. Fortunately, I haven’t had to test the SOS feature, but the “Peace of Mind Wherever You Go” slogan has really held true when I’m in the North Maine Woods, well outside of cell phone coverage. We’ll be taking the current SPOT messages to the next level by allowing users to type in their own free form messages from the field.
Along with the great satellite communication capabilities provided by the SPOT Communicator, there are additional hardware improvements coming with the PN-60w. The new device will have significantly improved battery performance using an ambient light sensor to control backlight intensity along with other measures as part of our redesigned power management system. The PN-60w also provides 3.5 GB of internal memory available for storing maps, waypoints, geocaches, tracks, and routes.
There are several new and exciting software features coming with the Earthmate PN-60w too. We’ll be releasing a new interface that gives the PN-60w a stylish look and improves menu navigation. The icon based main menu will provide easy access to each page on the device while streamlining the sub menus used to access individual page details.
There will be a new Profile page for viewing elevation data from tracks, showing where you’ve been and where you’re going. The active track can be profiled to show an elevation graph of the ground you’ve covered so far on your trip. Profiling a saved track while you’re traveling along that same path will show your GPS location on the graph—letting you know how far you’ve traveled and how far you have to go before the next summit. I was able to use the Profile page quite a bit before the end of the cycling season and actually got to demo it for George Hincapie and David Zabriskie during the Dempsey Challenge, a Maine cycling event for Patrick Dempsey’s Center for Cancer Hope and Healing. It was very exciting to see the enthusiasm for the feature and to know exactly when those hills would be over during the 100 mile ride!
SD Card Storage
The PN-60w will read GPX files from the SD card as well as internal memory, allowing virtually unlimited waypoints, tracks, and maps. Users will be able to create waypoint, geocache, and track layers to better organize their GPS data on the device. I’ve loaded all of my waypoints for my different activities and am able to quickly change between waypoint collections when I need to see locations or mark a new coordinate. It’s been a great improvement in organization alone—I’m now able to view only the waypoints around camp rather than every point I’ve ever created. I’ve also been able to organize all of my geocache pocket queries. I have four pocket queries with 500 geocaches in each list; that’s 2,000 geocaches. I switch pocket queries based on where I’m located and who I’m caching with. It’s great to be able to pull up the “Kid friendly caches” list when I’m out with my nieces but go back to the “Caches with travel bugs” list when I’m looking to trade a Team DeLorme coin!
Worldwide Aerial Imagery, World Vector Base Map, and Canadian Topographic Maps
While I’m talking about the new hardware and firmware features I also need to mention some very exciting data features that will be appearing at the same time as the PN-60w and SPOT release. DeLorme will be creating a new map subscription level through NetLink offering aerial imagery for the world along with the ability to purchase sections of our new world vector base map. This will allow subscribers to download high detail aerial imagery like that used by Google and Microsoft for anywhere in the world and then combine that imagery with 1:250K worldwide vector map data.
For those interested in Canadian data, we’ve already released our 1:50K Canadian Topo Sheets dataset that provides topographic maps to go along with the street level detail found in Topo USA. Adding the worldwide aerial imagery subscription will provide a great variety of maps for those looking to explore in Canada.
Wireless PN-60w Networks
The last feature that I’d like to share will be delivered to PN-60w users through a firmware update in the fall. The “w” in PN-60w stands for wireless, as illustrated by the wireless connection to the SPOT Communicator. It also stands for wireless because users are going to be able to create wireless networks with other PN-60w owners and see everyone’s locations on their device. Current testing has shown an average range of around half a mile with results varying by terrain and line of sight. We are very excited to do more testing with this new functionality as it will be a great way to keep track of friends while fly-fishing or teammates while cycling! Friends will be able to see each other in real-time while skiing or snowmobiling. We hope that anyone with the need to see the location of others in their group will take notice of this new feature when it becomes available. Along with being able to see the location of other PN-60w users, it will be possible to exchange waypoints, tracks, and routes through the wireless network—allowing users to share geocache locations or a mountain bike trail with friends at the trailhead.
My apologies for writing such a long post but there was a lot to share! This is the biggest project I’ve worked on in my 12 years at DeLorme and it’s been hard for all of us to keep things quiet this long! There will be a lot more information shared as we approach the May release date of the PN-60w and SPOT Communicator. Feel free to post any questions you might have here or on the DeLorme forum. You’ll find details on our CES Press Release as well. Thank you for taking the time to learn more about our upcoming release!