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-   -   The Great Big SPOT Thread (http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=282391)

John E Davies 11-06-2007 05:29 PM

The Great Big SPOT Thread
 
They are now available, and I would bet we will start to see "testimonials" and user reviews in a while. Any links would be greatly appreciated.

Has the company ever answered reviewer concerns about 911 calls from non-subscribers, and also what happens if you are trapped with no gps signal?

And yes, I am aware there was a thread here a few months back.

Website:
http://www.findmespot.com/

User Manual:
http://www.findmespot.com/downloads/...2007_10_16.pdf

Thanks.

offroute 11-06-2007 07:35 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by John E Davies
They are now available, and I would bet we will start to see "testimonials" and user reviews in a while. Any links would be greatly appreciated.

Has the company ever answered reviewer concerns about 911 calls from non-subscribers, and also what happens if you are trapped with no gps signal?

And yes, I am aware there was a thread here a few months back.

Website:
http://www.findmespot.com/

User Manual:
http://www.findmespot.com/downloads/...2007_10_16.pdf

Thanks.

Am being provided with a demo unit tomorrow and will be testing extensively next week. Will report back then.

John E Davies 11-07-2007 10:38 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by offroute
Am being provided with a demo unit tomorrow and will be testing extensively next week. Will report back then.

Cool. Please try it out in a non-911 mode under tree cover where the unit can't get a fix. I am curious about what it will do. Does it report the last known good fix or just stall out?

Thanks.

John

GPS_Jon 11-07-2007 11:21 AM

The web page says this:

Even if SPOT cannot acquire its location from the GPS network it will still attempt to send a distress signal without exact location to the Emergency Response Center, which will still notify your contacts of the signal and continue to monitor the network for further messages.

-

offroute 11-08-2007 07:20 AM

Very Preliminary Impression
 
Spent considerable time with a demo unit yesterday. Nice and small. Setup is easy. Operation is not very intuitive. LEDs and button operation can be confusing unless you commit some stuff to memory. Biggest concern is reliability and on this point a lot more testing needs to be done. So far in testing around Reno/Tahoe I'm finding that the unit definately needs a reasonably clear view of the southern horizon to get its message out. With a clear view the messages are delivered promptly. However, my concern is crashing alone in a heavily timbered or easy-west facing canyon and not being able to walk the unit up so it can communicate with the GS satellite. Getting a GPS fix appears easier than sending the message out successfully. When it works it's great! Being able to send check-ins or non-catastrophic helps is an adventurer's dream come true. Looks like for two or more riders it may be just the ticket, but when riding solo I'm still a bit concerned that certain situations might keep the user from getting his message out - in which case a real PLB is still the much safer solution.

I'm reserving judgement until after more real world testing over the next 10 days. I'll be riding in several narrow east-west canyons next week and will do a number of test messages with those back home to get a better sense of how much I can count on it. I'll report back then.

John E Davies 11-08-2007 12:33 PM

offroute - do you currently have the "real time tracking" or whatever they call it? If so that would be a great way to see how sensitive and accurate the unit is under cover.

John

TomW 11-08-2007 04:54 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by offroute
...I'm finding that the unit definitely needs a reasonably clear view of the southern horizon to get its message out... With a clear view the messages are delivered promptly. However, my concern is crashing alone in a heavily timbered or easy-west facing canyon and not being able to walk the unit up so it can communicate with the GS satellite....

Hmmm...I read their material and although they never say so, Spot does not use geostationary satellites. They use a constellation of some 40 satellites in low earth orbit, thus they can be anywhere above the horizon -- not just in the southern sky. Spot is owned by Globalstar, operator of the somewhat popular consumer sat phone system, so I'm sure they use the same satellites (the coverage map on Spot's website is the same map Globalstar uses).

Regarding reliability of uplink sat comms, here's an excerpt from Globalstar's web site:

"...Technology / Path Diversity
Path Diversity is a patented method of signal reception that permits the combining of multiple signals of varying power strengths into a single, coherent signal. Subscriber terminals [i.e., Spot units] will be able to operate with a single satellite in view, though typically two to four satellites will be overhead."

So, that's good news for a rider down in an east-west canyon (a view of the southern sky is not required); however, since a line-of-sight path to the satellite is still required, a canyon will reduce the time a satellite is in view as it passes overhead. (That window of time may not correspond with the Spot unit's once-every-5-minute transmit schedule.) Logic dictates that sooner or later a satellite will be in view when the unit transmits, but the narrower the canyon, the longer that wait might be. Hey, nothing's perfect, and at a cost that's a fraction of a PLB (which has the same technical limitation re: line of sight path to the satellite), Spot sounds pretty attractive to me.

It would be more attractive if it had an external power jack (with the internal battery for backup) and provision for external antennae (so it could be kept in a secure location when used for tracking).

I'm interested to hear your real-world findings as I'm thinking about getting one myself.

Cheers.

offroute 11-08-2007 09:42 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by John E Davies
offroute - do you currently have the "real time tracking" or whatever they call it? If so that would be a great way to see how sensitive and accurate the unit is under cover.

John

Yes I do. I've been using it to test today since it tries to send a message every 10 minutes. Same results - fairly clear view of the southern sky seems necessary. 10 yards behind my house where the southern sky is blocked I get no messages out. Further behind the house in a fairly low density pine forest I was able to only have one message go out in a 2 hour period. Give the thing a view of the southern sky and it seems to reliably get messages out.

Four days riding in Death Valley next week and I'll have the thing SPOTcasting all day, each of the days. I should then be able to come back and see where the trouble spots are on the ride. I'll also be sending Check In messages when I come across what looks like challenging areas.

As I said earlier, I think it's already proven to me that when riding with a buddy it may be the perfect device. But at this point I'm thinking I want a 100% reliable PLB for my solo rides when I can't always count on getting a message out without moving the unit for a clearer view of the sky. Sitting somewhere by myself somewhere with a broken leg while looking at the device and heavy tree cover or high canyon walls might be a little worrying.

The thing costs as much as a regular PLB over a 5 year period. $150 plus at least $100 each year... Still with its advantages of Check In, Help and Tracking it's a pretty compelling device. It's great to have choices and there is certainly a huge market for this new device.

Edit - BTW a external power adapter is in the works as well as RAM cradles so it can be mounted on bars. Rentals should be available by end of November, so anyone on the fence can evaluate on their own without investing $300 and apply a portion of their rental towards purchase if that's what they decide to do.

TomW 11-09-2007 02:58 AM

Point taken re: the cost of Spot (initial purchase plus subscription) over a 5-year period.

Quote:

Originally Posted by offroute
...Four days riding in Death Valley next week and I'll have the thing SPOTcasting all day, each of the days.

Is there a public web site where folks can see your track if they have the proper info?

Quote:

Originally Posted by offroute
...But at this point I'm thinking I want a 100% reliable PLB for my solo rides when I can't always count on getting a message out without moving the unit for a clearer view of the sky. Sitting somewhere by myself somewhere with a broken leg while looking at the device and heavy tree cover or high canyon walls might be a little worrying....

100% reliable? PLBs are subject to the same issues as Spot. They need a pretty unobstructed view of the sky, although they ought to tolorate more foliage due to the lower frequency and substantially higher power. The position accuracy of PLBs without GPS data is about a 5-mile diameter circle using doppler data from the low earth orbit satellite system. Approximately one hour is needed to get enough data to determine a position with the LEO satellites. Only the geostationary satellites will process received GPS data, so a view of the southern sky is required for a more accurate fix and quicker response.

Cheers.

offroute 11-09-2007 08:06 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by TomW
Is there a public web site where folks can see your track if they have the proper info?

No. Unfortunately the SPOTcasting mode is only viewable via a private website. I can do a screen shot and post here once I return. Only Check Ins and Help messages are sent with a link that gives designated users access to the Google Map.

In regards to PLBs - 100% reliable may have been an overstatement, but everything I've read indicates that whether or not a GPS equipped PLB acquires a GPS fix, the 406mhz and 121.5 transmissions almost always get out in the same kind of conditions where SPOT seems to be challenged, and the coverage is worldwide. Yes, without GPS coords the PLB search area is larger, but at least it's a search area. My understanding is that without GPS, a SPOT message may get out, but it is not searchable. I have yet to see that SPOT has been unable to acquire a GPS lock - even in challenging conditions where I simply cannot get a message out.

Wish I could test GPS equipped PLBs, but for that data I guess we'll have to rely on others. And from everything I've been able to glean, they are pretty darn reliable...

I am definately not trying to dismiss SPOT in any way shape or form. I'm going to own one for sure. I'm just trying to share my experience and offer up my opinion on what I see as some limitations.

DRTBYK 11-09-2007 10:49 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by offroute
No. Unfortunately the SPOTcasting mode is only viewable via a private website. I can do a screen shot and post here once I return. Only Check Ins and Help messages are sent with a link that gives designated users access to the Google Map.

How many "designated users" can you give access to the Google Map tracking site?

TomW 11-09-2007 01:08 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by offroute
...I am definitely not trying to dismiss SPOT in any way shape or form. I'm going to own one for sure. I'm just trying to share my experience and offer up my opinion on what I see as some limitations.

Well that's good 'cause I want a unbiased test under real world conditions. I want it to work since I want one too -- if it works well enough to be practical. I have a GPS-enabled PLB that I take with me pretty much everywhere. (I'm not overly concerned about needing it in an ATGATT sense; it's mounted inside one of the bike's panniers and easiest just to leave it there.) So Spot's reliability doesn't need to be a life-or-death thing.

I'm curious -- how do you carry it on a motorcycle so that it functions in track mode (where both antennas can see the sky)?

Cheers.

offroute 11-09-2007 01:32 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by DRTBYK
How many "designated users" can you give access to the Google Map tracking site?

Check Ins and Helps get sent to your list via SMS or emails. If email, the person on your list simply clicks on the link and they see that location in Google Maps.

Tracking is a different story. For now it is only accessible through the main user account. You have to login to select the Tracking points you want to view and unfortunately this login interface gives access to all the rest of your account information - so its not shareable unless you really trust who you give the login to.

offroute 11-09-2007 01:40 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by TomW
I'm curious -- how do you carry it on a motorcycle so that it functions in track mode (where both antennas can see the sky)?

So far most of the results I've been relaying have been walking around with the unit held flat and away from my body. On the motorcycle I plan to put the thing in my tank bag under the clear vinyl of the map pocket or if better in the top pocket of my CamelBak in the same flat orientation.

BTW - 40 minute walk this morning in an open pine forest along double track. Not a single Tracking mode point was successfully relayed, although I watched it transmit 4 times. I walked to more "open" areas of the forest and was able to have two different Check Ins get out.

Also not sure where the satellites are, but it seems pretty consistent that the southern sky is what this thing wants. They're obviously in different positions at different times, but at least for me there does seem to be a pattern...

TomW 11-09-2007 07:57 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by offroute
...Also not sure where the satellites are, but it seems pretty consistent that the southern sky is what this thing wants. They're obviously in different positions at different times, but at least for me there does seem to be a pattern...

So...ummm...you're the only one who can see your track on Google Earth, but...but...you're on the bike, right?

I'll find out what orbits Globalstar's satellites are in. I suspect they're in some sort of polar orbits that should have them all over the place (i.e., not restricted to some range of latitudes). My brother's some sort of rocket scientist and works in the business -- he can find out.

Hmmm...keep us posted on the testing.

Cheers.


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