APRS tracking


We really wish we had a little more information on the construction of this, but [Jeff] made this APRS tracker several years ago. APRS, or Automatic Packet Reporting System is a system where shortwave radios put out small packets of data that are uploaded to a database available via the web. This specific one is relaying GPS data so his family can see where they are located. With current phones, you might think this is antiquated, but he notes that he took this through New Mexico and was able to transmit his position even when there was zero cell phone coverage.

42 thoughts on “APRS tracking

  1. We do a lot of this stuff with our search and rescue group. There are tons of home brew type solutions out there and a few commercial and kit solutions.
    Using any of them does require a ham radio license though.

    One place that sells kits is http://www.byonics.com . We built a couple little trackers that look like this out of their parts…

    It’s fun stuff. Maybe a bit antiquated but fun, and even useful sometimes.

  2. Just f*ing Google it.
    APRS trackers are widely avalible, often as kits, and costs about 20bucks, TinyTrack and Foxdigi are some of the most wellknown.

    go to http://www.aprs.fi and locate the hamradiogeek closest to you! (onlinetracking on a google map)

  3. Check out this website:


    The microtrak products are pretty good. I built an older MicroTrak 300 US unit kit into an airplane. It works pretty well. For ground applications you’ll probably want more than 300mW though.

    A cool internet application of APRS: http://aprs.fi

    First thing to do if you want to try it out is get a ham radio license. It’s really easy (you only need the most basic license) and those folks can teach you everything you’d want to know about APRS. The network is built and maintained by ham operators all over the world!


  4. Getting an Amateur Radio license is fairly easy. No more morse code, coupled with “They give you ALL the questions they can ask” makes it an exercise in memorization for new guys.

    Get your license, and get on the air!
    (I suggest http://www.hamtestonline.com/ instead of buying books)

    I run APRS in my offroader, works great, but it’s not just a tracking program… I use mine to send and receive messages and email through a gateway. works great!

  5. Does anyone have “A program/script to Converting from NMEA to Binary Hex (or vice versa)”

    I am trying to convert the GPS info of EVDO/1x towers of CDMA network in Canada, scanned with QCAT software (QXDM)


  6. “Getting an Amateur Radio license is fairly easy. No more morse code, coupled with “They give you ALL the questions they can ask” makes it an exercise in memorization for new guys.”

    no morse code is probably the worst thing they could have done for amateur radio licensing

  7. “no morse code is probably the worst thing they could have done for amateur radio licensing.”

    Not so!
    Morse code is just a mode of communication. Should we require that you also have capabilities for teletype or PSK?

    Getting rid of the code was the best thing that could be done for a hobby that was “dying” just a few years ago.

  8. yes, knowing an internationally recognized form of radio communication that also happens to be the most efficient to propagate as a signal and the easiest to distinguish from background noise is easily the worst thing to happen to amateur radio.

    -and if the current requirements to get a ham ticket are too much for you then good luck driving an automobile or using a pair of chopsticks.

    this latest round of comments is a joke or something, right?

  9. Saw a guy with this on a motorcycle once… it reported his position and speed on a google maps mashup. He disabled the speed indicator though as his wife wasn’t happy when he hit 100 in a 45.

  10. All I want to do is stick a MicroTrak 8000 (http://www.byonics.com/microtrak/mt8000fa.php) in a vehicle and do a bit of tracking.

    To get a licence I need to book into a course ($150), buy a textbook ($30), sit an exam ($70) and pay a yearly licence fee ($64).

    As I said before, it would be great if there was a licence-free version of APRS, or hardware you could buy and use without a licence.

  11. APRS is pretty cool but its weakness is that you need to be able to hit a 2 meter repeater within range.

    When I was out west I found there were many times when I couldn’t get to a repeater, even when broadcasting with high power and a very good antenna.

    Lots of people are shutting down their repeaters because the Ham hobby is dying, even with the new no-code rules. I say this as a Ham myself. Its sad but true.

    And the cost of getting a Ham license is not $64 a year. I don’t know where that comes from.

  12. Qrz.com gives practice tests (and the question pool).
    Testing can usually be found every week depending on your location.
    Qrz.com can help you find a test also. They cost $15. There are 3 levels an you can take all three, in order, as long as you pass them in order. All you need to do is pass the first test (giving you the tech license) to use APRS. The license is good for 10 years and costs $10 to renew.

    APRS is a protocol that is used by both hardware and PC based software that does an amazing job of tracking assets and passing messages in real time. Hardware to send your position can consist of a VHF radio, a gps and a “tracker” that converts the serial stream from the gps to audio in a format standard packet radio mdems can recieve. There many types of trackers, the tinytrac and opentrac are the two I am familar with. The designs for both are downloadable, but the tinytrac firmware is not.
    You can also buy a radio and tracker in one.

    Aprs has been around longer, is more supported and has more deployed hardware but the opentrac project has more potential.

    There are also ham radios that have APRS built in. The kenwood D7 has been around a long time, and the yeasu VX8 is my current dream radio.
    If you want to look at PC software look at the no longer supported, but superb UI-View for windows or the much more advanced and complex Linux client Xastir.

  13. @trilex

    i don’t know where you are getting your info, but it is VERY wrong… you don’t need a book, unless you want one, classes are not needed and most hams will help you out, the test is only $15 (assuming the new test fee was accepted, if not then $14), and the license lasts for 10 YEARS with a very small fee to renew…
    and they give you all possible questions ahead of time, so you could just keep taking practice tests if you had to… but the books are VERY good electronics books as well, even for a non-radio-operator
    as for your wrong info, maybe you were thinking of Commercial Radio Licenses, such as the GROL?

    as for the loss of code: it is both good and bad.
    it is good because more Hams not capable of receiving code (like dyslexics) and those scared can join, but it is bad because most people join then don’t try it!

  14. @ trialex I just took the test this past Saturday. As Dajjhman said it is $15. Even better, I took all tests for the same price (Technician, General and Extra). You don’t even has to buy books. There are plenty of on-line tests. I did few tests and that’s it. I was surprised seeing how many teenagers where taking the tests. I thought that I was going to be the youngest (40+) but I was wrong. I am working on APRS projects on my own and developing some APRS cool gadgets. Dajjhman has cool stuff too. Anyway, it is worth it. And stay legal.

  15. OK interesting. This would be a one-off project (high altitude balloon), so I guess you can see my issue with paying a few hundred dollars just for the right to buy this stuff that I’m not planning an using on an on-going basis.

    Alternatively, any Aussie APRS uses out there interested in collaborating?

  16. Why is it that every time there is enough people that want something but are not willing to work for it they simply move the mark.

    Another thought is, “we dont need to know how to take off and land, just show us how to fly this thing”.

  17. trialex,

    Those are some steep fees in Aussieland. License costing AU$64/year is pretty high for a hobby. Too bad there isn’t a system on family radio service that could do the same thing.

    Regarding morse code being dropped here in the USA… I think it’s good that the code was dropped as a requirement, but I hope that more people do learn about why it was and is so important. We are seeing more digitally processed morse code and higher tech communication like psk that seem to really be taking the hobby by storm. (Of course there will always be idiots that make it a pain at times to be in this hobby too.)

    I’m really liking the turn SDR is giving these days. Very interesting.

  18. @dano.

    It’s not like you cannot use the APRS network without a licence. Just make up a callsign and maybe encrypt the position. It’ll just blend in with the tens of messages per second.

  19. I did that about 10 years ago. It’s really easy, every part of it.

    Heck his is huge compared to the ones you can build now from sparkfun and other places.

    newsflash: hack-a-day discovers ham radio.

  20. “It’s not like you cannot use the APRS network without a licence. Just make up a callsign and maybe encrypt the position. It’ll just blend in with the tens of messages per second.”

    Then someone with DF will find you and you’ll owe the FCC quite a bit of change. It’s quite a hobby to find radio pirates in itself.

    Invest in a couple of Garmin Rino radios instead.

  21. The fees being discussed vary from country to country, and that may be why this discrepancy. In Canada your amateur license is lifetime, no charge.

    I understand the requirement for Code (used to be called Morse code) has been removed internationally, and from all bands, not just the amateur bands. It is a loss, but not much different from people no longer being able to universally ride horses. There will always be a niche need, and those who specialize in it for the sake of the skill and indeed, artistry.

  22. OK. Glad to see APRS get some exposure again. The hackaday crowd should have no problem getting their no-code tech ticket. Honestly, if you can’t pass the no-code tech, you’re unlikely to be able to operate the radio, beaconing hardware, etc.

    I’ve been using APRS for the past >10 years. It works well. It does NOT require a 2m repeater although some repeater operators have implemented a means to pass APRS beacons they hear in the input to the actual APRS frequency rather than repeating them on the output of the repeater.

    APRS or any other form of telemetry can not be used on FRS. While not a technical restriction or limitation, it is a legislative restriction of the service. I’m surprised that Garmin hasn’t gotten into issues with the Rino radios doing it. For that matter, I’d like to see the “blister pack” radios limited to FRS freqs until you can demonstrate to the manufacturer that you have a valid GMRS ticket but, I guess that’s just me.

    As for making up a callsign and using APRS unlicensed, please just get your ticket and do it legally. It is NOT that difficult. If you can’t/won’t get your amateur radio license, find someone with a commercial frequency and become an authorized user on their frequency. You can get a pair or “rock bound” data radios @ 460Mhz from numerous sources. They work very well, especially in your balloon application and are light weight as well.

    And to the “No-Code Vs. Code” warriors, come on folks… How many YEARS has it been and you’re still having that argument? I learned code. It didn’t kill me. I enjoy CW now but, I did NOT when I had to learn it to get my ticket. While it is a great communications mode and will get through when most others won’t, psk31 and many of the other digital modes out perform it. I’ve had 5×5 PSK QSOs when we were unable, even with DSP, to copy CW because of band conditions.

    Whatever floats your boat though.

    73 de K4WTF

  23. If you just want to use APRS for your baloon experiments, just ask a local Ham to assist you, and use his/her signal.

    I am sure that someone in your local hamclub is intrested in helping you out!

  24. I am a 2E0 HAM in the UK and have played with APRS tracking in a vehicle using UVIEW, software TNC, 2mtr radio and an old laptop with bluetooth GPS.
    Is there a grey area here? The HAM license restricts operators to only transmit messages to other licensed ham operators and not to broadcast other than when calling CQ. With APRS, the digipeaters publish the station location details publicly on the internet where they can be viewed by non licensed people. So in essence it could be said that this guy may be breaking his license conditions as he intends members of his family #9if they are not licensed) to be the end receiver of his transmissions. Also APRS by design ‘broadcasts’ and is not callign CQ nor is a message to another specific station so again that is against license conditions? Further still, license conditions demand that stations must have the ability to able to receive on the same frequency and same mode of transmission as a transmitter, but you can buy TX only APRS modules with no receive capability. So if using one of those modules whilst mobile or elsewhere without having the ability via another radio to listen to the frequency (I thinks it maybe to check for possible interference caused or receive complaints etc) then again it is surely in breech of license conditions?

    BTW the new yaesu VX8 handheld will have APRS built-in with facilities to attach a GPS (although not the first handheld to do this)

  25. @Trialex – it’s not APRS (the protocol) that requires a license, it’s the radio. You can use whatever license-free radios you can get your hands on, assuming your local rules allow data on those radios. Just don’t expect to get much range.

    @anonymous – very bad idea. And if you’re encrypting the position, none of the existing APRS software will work anyway. But more importantly, APRS users can and do track down pirates, even if it means resorting to radio direction finding. Get caught doing that, and you’re facing an $11,000 fine from the FCC.

    In the US at least, there’s no reason *not* to get a license. I passed the test (with Morse code back then) at age 10, and so did my son. I passed the Extra class exam after one Saturday spent cramming with the FCC question pool and Google, didn’t ever crack a book or take a class.

    Shameless plug: I’m Byonic’s primary competitor. My OpenTracker+ outperforms the TinyTrak3+ used in the linked article in just about every way, and the source code is available under the BSD license, so you can hack away. The TT3 is closed and you’ll need to buy a new chip if you want to upgrade.

    I’ve also got a bunch of hard-to-find radio connectors and such, plus some good solderless breadboards cheaper than you’ll find just about anywhere else, at http://www.argentdata.com/catalog .

  26. SF: APRS is not violating any rules or regs by beaconing. That is the operative word here. It is BEACONING, not broadcasting.

    Also, it is not required that those receiving your signal be licensed amateur radio operators. Licensing only applies to those transmitting. In a mode like APRS, any number of licensed stations will receive your beacon and depending on their configuration, digipeat it.

    Last but not least, Bob – WB4APR will probably take exception, as will the FCC to the use of APRS by non-amateurs on FRS / GMRS or other similar radio services, especially if that use is commercial in nature. While Bob allows his invention to be used freely by Amateur radio operators world-wide, commercial use is subject to licensing of the technology.

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