Wednesday, January 27, 2010

X Marks the SPOT

Obviously, I like to hike. Often times, I go by myself, sometimes with other people. It might be an easy couple mile stroll where I have plenty of company, or a rugged walk through remote country where I feel like I am the only person on earth that day. I’ve never been in a situation where I badly needed help, but I know that could easily happen at some point. A storm comes in and you get disoriented and miss a key trail junction. You trip over something on the trail and take a bad fall. Or less serious but still disabling, you sprain your ankle badly. That in particular is very easy to do – how many times have you turned an ankle just a bit while hiking? And I rarely hike in areas where cell phones work. So last year, I bought a SPOT satellite GPS messenger.

Since they work off satellites, like a GPS, they work almost everywhere with a clear view of the sky, unlike cell phones - which must be near a signal. SPOTs have three functions, although you must sign up for the annual service for any of the functions to work. The first is a “911” function for a serious life-threatening problem, such as a bad fall or other incapacitation. In that case, a call center gets the message and notifies authorities.

The other two functions rely on your network of family or friends. The first of these is a help message, which sends an email or text message to the list you specify telling them that you need help. Maybe you are completely lost and in the woods for the night, but it is survivable. Or your car has totally broken down in a remote area. In any event, someone getting your email must relay the information to authorities.

The final function is the “all is OK” function, just to let your family and friends know that all is well. The help and OK messages send the text message that you set up on your account, along with a link to your exact location. Here is an example from my last hike that I did just as a test:

GPS location Date/Time:01/16/2010 20:54:15 GMT

Click the link below to see where I am located.,-75.91031&ll=36.66102,-75.91031&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1
Message:Art checking in with a SPOT Check. All is OK.

I enjoy coming back from a hike and going to the links I sent to see exactly where I was, and toggling between the map, topo, and satellite views.

You cannot vary the message without being at your computer, logging into your account, and changing it. But imagine if you could change the message in the field. “It’s so beautiful here I am going to hike another day.” “I’m fine but hiking was rough today, and I made slow progress. So I will be late.” That would be pretty cool, eh?

Tomorrow, I will write about a new development with DeLorme that will do just that, and my fortunate involvement in that as a Beta tester. It should be pretty amazing!

1 comment:

  1. That's very good idea to hike with a SPOT especially when you're on your own. Always good to be prepared as the Boy Scouts would say.