Hackaday Prize Entry : Subterranean Positioning System

There are numerous instances where we need to know our location, but cannot do so due to GPS / GSM signals being unavailable and/or unreachable on our Smart Phones. [Blecky] is working on SubPos to solve this problem. It’s a WiFi-based positioning system that can be used where GPS can’t.

SubPos does not need expensive licensing, specialized hardware, laborious area profiling or reliance on data connectivity (connection to database/cellphone coverage). It works independently of, or alongside, GPS/Wi-Fi Positioning Systems (WPS)/Indoor Positioning Systems (IPS) as an additional positioning data source by exploiting hardware commonly available.

As long as SubPos nodes are populated, all a user wishing to determine their location underground or indoors needs to do is use a Wi-Fi receiver.  This can be useful in places such as metro lines, shopping malls, car parks, art galleries or conference centers – essentially anyplace GPS doesn’t penetrate. SubPos defines an accurate method for subterranean positioning in different environments by exploiting all the capabilities of Wi-Fi. SubPos Nodes or existing Wi-Fi access points are used to transmit encoded information in a standard Wi-Fi beacon frame which is then used for position triangulation.

The SubPos Nodes operate much like GPS satellites, except that instead of using precise timing to calculate distance between a transmitter and receiver, SubPos uses coded transmitter information as well as the client’s received signal strength. Watch a demo video after the break.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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A Simple And Inexpensive GPS Navigation Device

There are plenty of GPS navigation units on the market today, but it’s always fun to build something yourself. That’s what [middelbeek] did with his $25 GPS device. He managed to find a few good deals on electronics components online, including and Arduino Uno, a GPS module, and a TFT display.

In order to get the map images on the device, [middelbeek] has to go through a manual process. First he has to download a GEOTIFF of the area he wants mapped. A GEOTIFF is a metadata standard that allows georeferencing information to be embedded into a TIFF image file.  [middelbeek] then has to convert the GEOTIFF into an 8-bit BMP image file. The BMP images get stored on an SD card along with a .dat file that describes the boundaries of each BMP. The .dat file was also manually created.

The Arduino loads this data and displays the correct map onto the 320×240 TFT display. [middelbeek] explains on his github page that he is currently unable to display data from two map files at once, which can lead to problems when the position moves to the edge of the map. We suspect that with some more work and tuning this system could be improved and made easier to use, of course for under $25 you can’t expect too much.

A Deadbugged GPS/GLONASS/Geiger Counter

So you think you’re pretty good at soldering really tiny parts onto a PCB? You’re probably not as good as [Shibata] who made a GPS/GLONASS and Geiger counter mashup deadbug-style with tiny 0402-sized parts.

The device uses an extremely small GPS/GLONASS receiver, an AVR ATxmega128D3 microcontroller, a standard Nokia phone display and an interesting Geiger tube with a mica window to track its location and the current level of radiation. The idea behind this project isn’t really that remarkable; the astonishing thing is the way this project is put together. It’s held together with either skill or prayer, with tiny bits of magnet wire replacing what would normally be PCB traces, and individual components making up the entire circuit.

While there isn’t much detail on what’s actually going on in this mess of solder, hot glue, and wire, the circuit is certainly interesting. Somehow, [Shibata] is generating the high voltage for the Geiger tube and has come up with a really great way of displaying all the relevant information on the display. It’s a great project that approaches masterpiece territory with some crazy soldering skills.

Thanks [Danny] for sending this one in.

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APRS Tracking System Flies Your Balloons

Looking for a way to track your high-altitude balloons but don’t want to mess with sending data over a cellular network? [Zack Clobes] and the others at Project Traveler may have just the thing for you: a position-reporting board that uses the Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) network to report location data and easily fits on an Arduino in the form of a shield.

The project is based on an Atmel 328P and all it needs to report position data is a small antenna and a battery. For those unfamiliar with APRS, it uses amateur radio frequencies to send data packets instead of something like the GSM network. APRS is very robust, and devices that use it can send GPS information as well as text messages, emails, weather reports, radio telemetry data, and radio direction finding information in case GPS is not available.

If this location reporting ability isn’t enough for you, the project can function as a shield as well, which means that more data lines are available for other things like monitoring sensors and driving servos. All in a small, lightweight package that doesn’t rely on a cell network. All of the schematics and other information are available on the project site if you want to give this a shot, but if you DO need the cell network, this may be more your style. Be sure to check out the video after the break, too!

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Upgraded GPS Now Accepts Voice Commands

[FreddySam] had an old Omnitech GPS which he decided was worthy of being taken apart to see what made it tick. While he was poking around the circuit board he found a couple solder pads labeled as ‘MIC1′. This GPS didn’t have a microphone. So, why would this unit have a mic input unless there is a possibility for accepting voice commands? [FreddySam] was about to find out.

The first step to get the system working was to add a physical microphone. For this project one was scavenged from an old headset. The mini microphone was removed from its housing and soldered to the GPS circuit board via a pair of wires. Just having the mic hanging out of the case would have been unsightly so it was tucked away in an otherwise unfilled portion of the case. A hole drilled in the case lets external sounds be easily picked up by the internalized microphone.

The hardware modification was the easy part. Getting the GPS software to recognize the newly added mic was a bit of a challenge. It turns out that there is only one map version that supports voice recognition, an old version; Navigon 2008 Q3. We suppose the next hack is making this work with new map packs. This project shows how a little motivation and time can quickly and significantly upgrade an otherwise normal piece of hardware. Kudos to [FreddySam] for a job well done.

Solar Tetroon Spooks Albuquerque

An interesting take on Hackerspace outreach is spooking the local community into calling the FAA and even the Air Force. It wasn’t exactly the plan at Quelab, but after an experimental solar tetroon got away from [Gonner Menning], one of the space’s members, that’s exactly what happened.

This is the first we remember hearing of solar tetroons. A tetroon is actually a fairly common weather balloon design using four triangle-shaped pieces. The solar part is pretty neat, it’s a balloon that uses the sun to heat air inside of a balloon. Instead of filling the bladder with a lighter-than-air gas it is filled with regular air and the sun’s rays heat it to become lighter than the surrounding ambient air.

For this particular flight the balloon was never supposed to be off the tether. Previous iterations had turned out to be rather poor fliers. Of course it figures that when [Gonner] finally tuned the design with an optimal weight to lift ratio it slipped its leash and got away. The GPS package tracked it for quite a while but ended up dying and the craft was nary to be found.

We weren’t going to embed the local news coverage video, but at the end the talking heads end up rolling around the word “Hackerspace” in their mouths like it’s foreign food. Good for a giggle after the break.

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Finding an Active TX Pin on Cheap GPS

Twenty Euros will score you a small, self-contained GPS keychain. Crack that case open and you can have a lot more. [j3tstream] explored the guts of the thing and found that the NMEA data can be streamed out of the TX pin on the GPS chip.

First off, check out that miniscule GPS antenna module, crazy! But we digress. For testing purposes the asynchronous UART of the GPS was probed, proving that the data can be acquired. From there [j3tstream] moved to an Arduino Pro Mini with an SD card for data logging. The uC is powered from the GPS board but this will quickly exhaust the stock battery so [j3tstream] swapped it out for one from an old cellphone.

That little dot-matix LCD that comes with the unit also caught our eye. If you can hack a headless interface for the GPS that could be repurposed for your next project. May we suggest a wearable gaming project for it?