Where Was I?

A GPS receiver lets you pin your travel photos onto a virtual map

PHOTO: Pharos

This is part of IEEE Spectrum's Special Report on IEEE SPECTRUM’S HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE 2008

As Global Positioning System receivers get more compact and more affordable, device makers are finding new uses for them. A nifty example is the Pharos Trips and Pics, which lets you log your every step.

Because the Pharos isn’t a navigation system, it needs no screen or keypad, letting it easily fit into your pocket. It stores up to 13 000 log entries of location and time, which you can transfer to a Windows PC via a USB dongle. While thus connected, you can change its settings, such as the period between log entries, which can vary from once every 65 535 seconds (about 18 hours) down to one reading every second. At the one-per-second frequency, the log will hold about 3.5 hours of movement (redundant points aren’t logged). One reading per minute gives about a week’s worth.

The supplied software turns a downloaded log file into a form that can be used with Google Earth, Google Maps, or Microsoft Streets and Trips. The result is a detailed plot of your journey on a globe or a map [see screen shot]. The software, which unfortunately works only with Windows, is easy to install and easy to use.

Additionally, since the GPS log includes a time, the software can exploit time stamps on digital photographs. Knowing ”when” is equivalent to knowing ”where,” so your photographs can be dropped onto the map at the spot where they were taken. Because no direct communication between the devices is needed, this works with any digital camera, as long as it can time-stamp its photos.

One complaint: the logger is actually two pieces, and they often separated while bouncing around in my pocket. I finally wrapped an elastic band around it to compensate for the lack of any kind of latch.

The Pharos Trips and Pics is an easy way to track your own trips—or someone else’s. If hidden in a spouse’s or teenage child’s car, it would record his every movement. At a street price of about US $100, it’s cheaper than a PDA and more reliable than a diary.

About the Author

Brian Scearce is an engineer at VMware Inc. in Palo Alto, California. He is also an avid geocacher.

To Probe Further

For more articles and special features, go to IEEE SPECTRUM’S HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE 2008

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