Taking GPS where no man has gone before

[Willem] has a friend that wanted to take a GPS datalogger up an unclimbed mountain the wilds of Kyrgyzstan. The GPS logger built for the expedition made it to the summit of Eggmendueluek, but it didn’t work the whole way up. Since the logger came back to London, [Willem] was able to do a complete teardown and failure analysis.

The data logger was built around a Jeenode with a GPS unit and MicroSD card reader added on. A few breakout boards were made and two of these bad boys were ensconced in water and dust proof enclosures. Powered by four AA batteries, the data loggers were able to handle the rigorous testing of being thrown down a staircase and also the harsh temperatures of London. Things changed in the wilds of Kyrgyzstan, though.

The data retrieved from the mountaineering expedition wasn’t the greatest – a few wires came loose after being thrown into the back of a Russian truck and jostled around. The AA batteries only powered the data loggers for three days, compared to the 12 day battery life in London. There are a few improvements needed for the next trip – some thermal insulation and not using solid core wire – but not that [Willem] has figured out the bugs he’s ready for his friend’s next expedition.

Comments

  1. Lol In “Mother Russia, you ‘LOG’ the GPS” hehe

  2. Ryan says:

    Lithium AA cells would fair much better in the cold vs Alkaline, not to mention longer lifespan.

    • Willem says:

      You’re quite correct, but lithium batteries cost lots, and are difficult to source in the middle of nowhere!

      • macona says:

        Lithium AA’s are only a couple bucks a piece, stock up. But they might not be allowed on airlines. Not sure.

        I used them on my weather station transmitters. They are the only thing that will keep them going when it gets really cold out.

      • Morgauxo says:

        London is the middle of nowhere?

      • well LiIon batteries are pretty near cripplingly expensive in Kyrgyzstan, so we had to have something that could be used with any kind of easily availably battery. We probably could have got some in London but we were on a pretty aggressive budget so trimmed everywhere. The Duracel NiMiH cells lasted plenty long enough, though the 20hr snow storm finished off the mobile unit.

      • Victor says:

        Gareth: there’s a big difference between LiPo/LiIon or Lithium cells. The first are rechargeable, the latter are not.
        Lithium cells will also not be easily available in Kyrgyzstan, but they’re worth their purchase (and maybe even a spare pack). They pack more energy, weigh in less and keep performing at low temperatures.

      • available and affordable are also big differences in central asia. given that a regular Duracel pack can set you back almost 3 times what it costs in London any kind of Lithium battery is just too expensive to buy out there. As they were too expensive to justify for buying in London the option wasn’t even there. This was an expedition pretty much done for the absolute minimum cost, as none of us have significant financial resources.
        Well given that the route to the base of the mountain requires a days walk, which starts above the vegetation line, passes through frozen moraine for about 2km. Then a further 2km up a crevassed glacier to 4,400m. The actual route up the mountain required technical climbing of a standard not regularly achieved until the mid twentieth century.
        Basically it’s too remote to be visited by anyone not concerned with exploration and mountaineering. The Soviets documented their efforts in the region but only ventured to the very top of the glacier once from the adjacent glacier.
        There are lots of mountains in the world that have not been climbed and many that have never been visited because the approach is difficult and does not coincide with existing industrial or agricultural activity. Alaska has plenty of peaks like this as does central asia and even large parts of Nepal, India and Pakistan.

      • Oh sorry two replies ran into one there!

    • Victor says:

      Lithium cells are also required by the SPOT satellite tracker. Advantages: runs well in low temperatures and much lighter than alkaline / NiMH (every gram counts on an expedition).
      Check http://data.energizer.com/PDFs/l91.pdf
      Do however take care that their initial voltage is 1.6V, with two in series that might damage electronics that is built for rechargeables.

    • Nitori says:

      Depending on how small the device needs to be the simplest fix might be just to use C or D batteries.
      C alkaline cells would have nearly 3 times the mAh of AAs.

  3. TeiSinTai says:

    ‘Back of the Russian truck’ is a key here. I’ve seen PC traveled in a such truck for a thousand km. It’s power supply disconnected itself from chassis – all four screws just teared steel apart. IMHO more suitable stress test for this must be 3 or 4 floor drop, not the staircase. Good example of dealing with it came, when I purchased HDD online – seller, as it seems, was expirienced, so sent it with 15cm foam on all sides. HDD still works.

  4. I’d just like to say that the article isn’t totally accurate. As the Gareth in question I can confirm that the mobile unit did last long enough to get to the summit of our main target and I’ve been able to get some meaningful data from it. It’s given me enough data to confirm a summit altitude over 5,230m and supplied decent track data for our route. Yes the back of a UAZ is pretty harsh and it’s pretty impressive that Willem managed to get two prototype units built in time and that one of them survived long enough to supply some decent data!

  5. Cricri says:

    “where no man has gone before”

    It blows my mind how one can ever state that: what makes you believe that a goat herder didn’t have to climb up there to pick up a goat 1000 years ago?

    Alright, maybe he means “taking a GPS where no man has gone before”. So what? If I climb on my car bonnet with a GPS, I’ll be the first one to step there with a GPS too!

    Heck, if you trek a bit, you have fair chances to put a foot where noone put a foot before.

    • Well given that the route to the base of the mountain requires a days walk, which starts above the vegetation line, passes through frozen moraine for about 2km. Then a further 2km up a crevassed glacier to 4,400m. The actual route up the mountain required technical climbing of a standard not regularly achieved until the mid twentieth century.
      Basically it’s too remote to be visited by anyone not concerned with exploration and mountaineering. The Soviets documented their efforts in the region but only ventured to the very top of the glacier once from the adjacent glacier.
      There are lots of mountains in the world that have not been climbed and many that have never been visited because the approach is difficult and does not coincide with existing industrial or agricultural activity. Alaska has plenty of peaks like this as does central asia and even large parts of Nepal, India and Pakistan.

  6. Miroslav says:

    Insulate the box. And maybe add a mini wind turbine to provide power. Wind should be plentiful there.

  7. kimdi says:

    Aren’t there any commercial systems that can do this job for you? Concerning the costs of such an expedition from London to ASIA, isn’t it worth it to have reliable commercial gadget? Tell us if there is nothing like this in the market, but I guess you spent so much time developing the electronics and software, which is also a high cost.

  8. echodelta says:

    Solid wire, Whew! Strictly for breadboards and stationary aps (HOUSE WIREING). And thermally striped, no cutters or scout knives on small gauge wire.
    Insulating only works when there is a heat source within. It always gets me when somebody wants to insulate water pipes in an unheated space. It only delays the ineveitable. Unless there is a lot of warm mass the difference always levels out soon.

  9. kmmankad says:

    Um,isnt it standard to use hot glue to secure wire joints and stuff?

  10. cmholm says:

    That’s one nasty cornice the pictured climber is working below. Fortunate that it’s not the summit. [plants flag], we made iiiiiiiiiii….

  11. phil says:

    Harsh weather of London? In comparison with a snow covered mountain top? Surely you jest.

    You should have temperature tested it by tossing it in an industrial freezer and see how well the electronics and battery performed over time. (Granted you wouldn’t get any GPS signal inside a freezer, but the purpose is to test the electronics and power source).

    I realize you were on a restricted budget and time schedule, but that’s hardly a justification for doing things half way – you might as well have just took along a commercial GPS instead, and may have gotten better results.

    Look into how spacecraft are tested – vibration testing and thermal testing (a/k/a shake and bake) in order to ensure that they’ll survive. Granted you aren’t going into outer space but the principles are the same.

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