In May of 2000, then-President Bill Clinton signed a directive that would improve the accuracy of GPS for anyone. Before this switch was flipped, this ability was only available to the military. What followed was an onslaught of GPS devices most noticeable in everyday navigation systems. The large amount of new devices on the market also drove the price down to the point where almost anyone can build their own GPS tracking device from scratch.
The GPS tracker that [Vadim] created makes use not just of GPS, but of the GSM network as well. He uses a Neoway M590 GSM module for access to the cellular network and a NEO-6 GPS module. The cell network is used to send SMS messages that detail the location of the unit itself. Everything is controlled with an ATmega328P, and a lithium-ion battery and some capacitors round out the fully integrated build.
[Vadim] goes into great detail about how all of the modules operate, and has step-by-step instructions on their use that go beyond what one would typically find in a mundane datasheet. The pairing of the GSM and GPS modules seems to go match up well together, much like we have seen GPS and APRS pair for a similar purpose: tracking weather balloons.
High-altitude ballooning is becoming a popular activity for many universities, schools and hacker spaces. The balloons, which can climb up to 40 km in the stratosphere, usually have recovery parachutes to help get the payload, with its precious data, back to solid ground safely. But when you live in areas where the balloon is likely to be flying over the sea most of the time, recovery of the payload becomes tricky business. [Paul Clark] and his team from Durham University’s Centre for Advanced Instrumentation are working on building a small, autonomous glider – essentially a flying hard drive – to navigate from 30 km up in the stratosphere to a drop zone somewhere near a major road. An important element of such a system is the locator beacon to help find it. They have now shared their design for an “Iridium 9603 Beacon” — a small Arduino-compatible unit which can transmit its location and other data from anywhere via the Iridium satellite network.
The beacon uses the Short Burst Data service which sends email to a designated mail box with its date, time, location, altitude, speed, heading, temperature, pressure and battery voltage. To do all of this, it incorporates a SAMD21G18 M0 processor; FGPMMOPA6H GPS module; MPL3115A2 altitude sensor; Iridium 9603 Short Burst Data module + antenna and an LTC3225 supercapacitor charger. Including the batteries and antenna, the whole thing weighs in at 72.6 g, making it perfectly suited for high altitude ballooning. The whole package is powered by three ‘AAA’ Energizer Ultimate Lithium batteries which ought to be able to withstand the -56° C encountered during the flight. The supercapacitors are required to provide the high current needed when the beacon transmits data.
The team have tested individual components up to 35 km on a balloon flight from NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility and the first production unit will be flown on a much smaller balloon, launched from the UK around Christmas. The GitHub repository contains detailed information about the project along with the EagleCAD hardware files and the Arduino code. Now, if only Santa carried this on his Sleigh, it would be easy for NORAD to track his progress in real time.
A conventional compass points north (well, to magnetic north, anyway). [Videoschmideo] wanted to make a compass that pointed somewhere specific. In particular, the compass — a wedding gift — was to point to a park where the newlywed couple got engaged. Like waking up in a fresh new Minecraft world, this is their spawn point and now they can always find their way back from the wilderness.
The device uses an Arduino, a GPS module, a compass, and a servo motor. Being a wedding gift, it also needs to meet certain aesthetic sensibilities. The device is in an attractive wooden box and uses stylish brass gears. The gears allow the servo motor to turn more than 360 degrees (and the software limits the rotation to 360 degrees). You can see a video of the device in operation, below.
The compass module may be hard to find, but you should be able to modify it to work with more readily available boards. Since you may not be able to find the exact gears used, your build will probably be a little different anyway.
The brass and wood are decidedly steampunk looking. It reminded us of this GPS project. If you have too much street cred to buy an off-the-shelf GPS, you could always roll your own.
The “Navigation Thing“ was designed and built by [Jan Mrázek] as part of a night game activity for high school students during week-long seminar. A night-time path through a forest had stations with simple tasks, and the Navigation Thing used GPS, digital compass, a beeper, and a ring of RGB LEDs to provide a bit of “Wow factor” while guiding a group of students from one station to the next. The devices had a clear design direction:
“I wanted to build a device which a participant would find, insert batteries, and follow the beeping to find the next stop. Imagine the strong feeling of straying in the middle of the night in an unknown terrain far away from civilization trusting only a beeping thing you found. That was the feeling I wanted to achieve.”
The Navigation Things (there are six in total) guide users to fixed waypoints with GPS, a digital compass, and a ring of WS2812 LEDs — but the primary means of feedback to the user is a beeping that gets faster as you approach the destination. [Jan] had only four days to make all six units, which was doable. But as most of us know, delivering on a tight deadline is often less about doing the work you know about, and more about effectively handling the unexpected obstacles that inevitably pop up in the process.
The first real problem to solve was the beeping itself. “Beep faster as you get closer to the destination” seems like a simple task, but due to the way humans perceive things it’s more complex than it sounds. We perceive large changes easier than small incremental ones, so a straight linear change in beep frequency based on distance doesn’t work very well. Similar problems (and their solutions) exist whether you’re controlling volume, brightness, or just about anything else that humans perceive. Instead of encoding distance as a beep frequency, it’s much more effective to simply use beeps to signal overall changes: beep noticeably slower as you move away, but beep much faster as you get close.
The other interesting problems were less straightforward and were related to the digital compass, or magnetometer. The first problem was that the piezo buzzers [Jan] sourced contained no actual piezo elements. They contained magnets – which interfered with the operation of the digital compass. After solving that, still more compass problems arose. When testing the final units in the field, the compass readings were not as expected and [Jan] had no idea why.
After careful troubleshooting, the culprit was found: the AA cells on the other side of the circuit board. Every AA cell has a faint (and slightly different) magnetic field, and the proximity and placement of the cells with respect to the magnetometer was causing the deviation. Happily, the fix was simple once the problem was understood: calibrate the compass every time new batteries are inserted.
While getting geared up for geocaching [Folkert van Heusden] decided he didn’t want to get one of those run of the mill GPS modules, and being inspired by steam punk set out and made his own.
Starting with an antique wooden box, and adding an Arduino, GPS module, and LiPo battery to make the brains. The user interface consists of good ‘ole toggle switches and a pair of quad seven segment displays to enter, and check longitude and latitude.
To top off the retro vibe of the machine two analog current meters were repurposed to indicate not only direction, but also distance, which we think is pretty spiffy. Everything was placed in a laser cut wooden control panel, which lend to the old-time feel of the entire project.
Quite a bit of wire and a few sticks of hot glue later and [Folkert] is off and ready for an adventure!
Have you ever wondered how far your dog actually runs when you take it to the park? You could be a standard consumer and purchase a GPS tracking collar for $100 or more, or you could follow [Becky Stern's] lead and build your own simple but effective GPS tracking harness.
[Becky] used two FLORA modules for this project; The FLORA main board, and the FLORA GPS module. The FLORA main board is essentially a small, sewable Arduino board. The GPS module obviously provides the tracking capabilities, but also has built-in data logging functionality. This means that [Becky] didn’t need to add complexity with any special logging circuit. The GPS coordinates are logged in a raw format, but they can easily be pasted into Google Maps for viewing as demonstrated by [Becky] in the video after the break. The system uses the built-in LED on the FLORA main board to notify the user when the GPS has received a lock and that the program is running.
The whole system runs off of three AAA batteries which, according to [Becky], can provide several hours of tracking. She also installed a small coin cell battery for the GPS module. This provides reserve power for the GPS module so it can remember its previous location. This is not necessary, but it provides a benefit in that the GPS module can remember it’s most recent location and therefore discover its location much faster.
[Alastair Barber] finished building the clock at the end of last year as a Christmas gift. The display seen above uses an old mantelpiece clock to give it a finished look. He replace the clock face with a print out of the various locations known to the system and added a servo motor to drive the single hand. His hardware choices were based on what he already had on hand and what could be acquired cheaply. The an all-in-one package combines a Raspberry Pi board with a USB broadband modem to ensure that it has a persistent network connection (we’ve seen this done using WiFi in the past). The RPi checks a cellphone’s GPS data, compares it to a list of common places, then pushes commands to the Arduino which controls the clock hand’s servo motor. It’s a roundabout way of doing things but we imagine everything will get reused when the novelty of the gift wears off.
The hardware was built on a breadboard and [Techbitar] goes into detail about connecting and communicating with each module used. Once it’s running, the logger will read up to six sensors and record them to an SD card. In the video after the break he shows the method used to dump and graph the data. He starts by looking at the data in a spreadsheet. There are many fields included in the file but only three of them are needed to graph what is seen above. After narrowing down the number of columns he heads over to GPS Visualizer and uploads the data set which is then automatically plotted on the map.
In a Utopian society all city owned vehicles would have a system like this and the bad sections of road would automatically appear on the road crew’s repair list.
A few years ago, [Phang Moh] and his compatriots were asked by a client if they could make a vehicle tracking device for oil tankers all around Indonesia. The request of putting thousands of trackers on tanks of explosives was a little beyond [Phang Moh]‘s capability, but he did start tinkering around with GPS and GSM on an Arduino.
Now that tinkering has finally come to fruition with [Phang]‘s TraLog shield, a single Arduino shield that combines GPS tracking with a GSM and GPRS transceiver. There’s also an SD card thrown in for good measure, making this one of the best tracking and data logging shields for the Arduino.
The shield can be configured to send GPS and sensor data from devices attached to an I2C bus to remote servers, or a really cool COSM server. [Phang] is selling his TraLog for $150, a fairly good deal if you consider what this thing can do.
Seems like the perfect piece of kit for just about any tracking project, whether you want to know the location of thousands of oil tankers or just a single high altitude balloon.