Spot has released and been gracious enough to send me a unit to test that will communicate to your friends and family from the backcountry permitting you to check in and indicate that you are either alright or that you need help to drag yourself out of the bush. If your friends will not suffice and you are faced with a serious emergency the Spot call center will also alert emergency services that you need assistance and provide emergency services with your location.
The advantage of Spot is that it sends messages to satellites which are then relayed to the Spot Center or your contacts via email or text message. By using satellites to communicate you are able to keep in contact in locations where there is no cellular signal. In Alberta, this includes almost every location in which you want to hike.
I have been testing Spot for a few weeks now and so far I am pretty impressed. The Spot has four functions. Spot will allow you to:
1) Send a emergency 911 message to Spot which will result in the notification of all of your contacts and emergency services of your location.
2) Send a message that you have preprogrammed into the Spot site requesting help from your contacts when you press the help button.
3) Send a message of your choice indicating that you are okay to alleviate worrying spouses that otherwise may not let you venture into the backcountry either alone or with what they view as your untrustworthy friends.
4) Allow your contacts to track in real time your progress on your hike. Again I can see this being advantageous to help alleviate worrying but would also be convenient to coordinate pick ups on a long hike. If you have ever spent three or four hours waiting in a parking lot either for a pickup or to pickup some friends after a excursion into the bush you can understand the benefit of this feature.
I have not finished my review of Spot yet and I will update this post when I am finished. I am still playing with the tracking feature and the feature that permits you to create a shared web page that lets people see your messages anytime by viewing a web page as opposed to following a link to google maps via email or text message.
Over the weekend I saw a couple of trail runners a few kilometers into the backcountry. They had no gear other than a water bottle and a small fanny pack. In the summer I have come across other trail runners and hikers with no emergency equipment. Coming across these trail runners I thought that Spot is the perfect product for them. I would not and I expect that Spot would not encourage you to think that their product is a substitute for proper planning and equipment. After all, if the weather or conditions are poor your would be rescuers may not be able to get to you, but should you sprain your ankle, blow a knee or startle an angry bear, it might be nice to get a message out. As spring approaches, consider whether Spot might be a product that will give you some peace of mind and added security.
For more information or to purchase Spot check out the Spot site. The price is $169 for the unit, $99 per year for emergency service, and the OK and help features. In order to use the tracking feature the cost is an additional $69 per year. Chances are if you use it once, you will think the cost is well worth it.
I recently spent a couple of weeks in Hawaii. As I planned for the trip I decided that one of the things I wanted to do was geotag my photos. Several weeks before I left ATP indicated that they would send me a ATP Photofinder to review. The weeks went buy a couple of emails were exchanged but no test unit arrived. After giving up on ATP I went to a local store and attempted to order a unit but was told that there would be a six week delay for delivery. I am not sure where the unit was being shipped from but the last time I waited 6 weeks for delivery of any product was the mid-80s. Eventually I resolved myself to the fact that I would have to mark the locations on my Garmin unit as waypoints and manually enter the coordinates. Not a lot of fun.
GPSPhotoLinker can be used to save location and GPS position data to a photo. The latitude and longitude recorded by your GPS unit while you were taking photos can be linked, and saved, to the photos. GPSPhotoLinker automatically enters the city, state, and country annotations into the metadata.
I was able to load my GPS tracks, including waypoints and scroll through each picture manually adding the latitude and longitude to the EXIF metadata. I was able to geotag almost 200 photos in 15 minutes which would have taken hours manually. When the photos are uploaded to sites like flickr and Everytrail, the photos automatically appear in their proper location. While the level of detail in parts of Alberta is poor on Google Earth, it is fantastic in Hawaii. Below is a screenshot of some photos from a hike on the Pololu Valley Trail in Hawaii. The waves breaking on the beach are visible, in other photos you can see the waterfalls.
The Photolinker also allows the automatic batch geotagging of photos by comparing the time on the active GPS track to the time recorded by your camera. To simplify the process, set the time on your camera and computer to match the time on your GPS. To test the Batch tag, I went for a walk through Bowness Park snapped some photos, used the Photolinker and uploaded the results to Everytrail. Drag your mouse across the track to see the uploaded photos.
Each photo, in only seconds, was accurately geotagged. The downside, Photolinker is designed for the Mac. I have not found a similar program that works with the PC. Bottom line, if you have a Mac, a camera, and a GPS device already you do not need a device similar to the ATP Photofinder. Remember, devices like that from ATP and Sony will not help you find your way out of the bush.
The Photolinker is currently under development and free to download (but donations are appreciated and recommended). The only issue that I had using the program was that sometimes I had to drag and drop the photos and track as using the upload buttons sometimes caused the program to shut down, but it is after all under development. If you are looking for more information on geotagging, see my post Automatically Geotag Photos.