Archive for December 14, 2008

Adventures in GPS

I have been in need of a new GPS receiver for a while.  While I love my Garmin eTrex and it has been a lifesaver on several occasions, the netbook lacks serial ports.  Carrying a serial to USB adapter is out of the question.  I wanted ultra-portability for my kit, especially on vacations and while traveling. Whatever solution I came up with, I knew from previous experience what package would need to be installed first:

sudo apt-get install gpsd

Enter this device:

No brand name, no fancy package.  I plugged it in and it functioned beautifully.  Ubuntu detects it as a Prolific PL2303 USB to Serial Bridge Controller as revealed by dmesg:

[  950.076139] usb 2-2: new full speed USB device using uhci_hcd and address 3
[  950.242660] usb 2-2: configuration #1 chosen from 1 choice
[  950.246324] pl2303 2-2:1.0: pl2303 converter detected
[  950.271393] usb 2-2: pl2303 converter now attached to ttyUSB0

That last line is important.  I needed it to issue the next command:

gpsd /dev/ttyUSB0

As this device lacks a screen to indicate satellite fix, my next step was to install xgps:

sudo apt-get install gpsd-clients

I mostly use xgps for testing connectivity.  It is a very basic interface with limited information.  Pretty useless for navigation unless you work with satellites all day and know where they are supposed to be in the sky.

Eight years ago when I started experimenting with laptops and gps, I quickly found GPSdrive.  It was really the only map-based GPS software available.  Recently, using a netbook’s small 16:9 screen became a major problem when I realized the application wasn’t written for the Gnome toolkit.  I was unable to maximize to my screen resolution of 1024×600, making any buttons at the bottom of the app hidden. TangoGPS has most of the functionallity necessary to track where you are on a map. Like GPSDrive, it is compatible with the Open Street Map project,  works with gpsd, and even allows for friend updates.

For now, I have a system that tells me where I am, how fast I’m driving, and allows me to contribute to open street map.  I will be eperimenting with another program called viking shortly and will discuss it here when I know more about it.