Maps To SMS, When You’re Really Far Away

GPS is available on most smart phones, which is all well and good unless you drive out into a place with weak service. Unless you want to go into the before-time and buy a standalone GPS (and try to update the maps every so often) or go even further back and print out MapQuest directions, you’ll need another solution to get directions. Something like this project which sends Google Maps directions over SMS.

The project is called RouteMe by [AhadCove]. It runs on a Raspberry Pi at his home which is constantly monitoring an email inbox. Using Google Voice to forward incoming text messages as emails to the Pi, the system works when your phone has a cell signal but no data connection. The Pi listens for specific commands in that SMS-to-Email connection and is able to send directions back to the phone via text message. That’s actually a neat hack you may remember from the olden days where you can send email as SMS using the phone number as the address.

If you find yourself lost in the woods with just your phone often enough, [AhadCove] has all of the code and detailed directions on how to set this up on his GitHub site. But don’t discount this particular task, anything you can script on the Pi can now be controlled via SMS without relying on a service like Twilio.

This maps hack is a pretty ingenious solution to a problem that more than a few of us have had, and it uses a lot of currently-available infrastructure to run as well. If you want another way of navigating without modern tech, have a go at dead reckoning in a car.

32 thoughts on “Maps To SMS, When You’re Really Far Away

      1. The Google Maps app actually does this natively, now. You have to select the region to be stored offline in advance, and searching by address doesn’t quite work 100%, but otherwise the app works exactly as in online mode.

  1. The highly-touted accuracy of GPS is open to some question. Frequently I have been a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone who totally relied on the GPS. On one memorable occasion, the address sought happened to be that of a well-advertised major bank building in the center of a large business district in Los Angeles. After a long drive, the announcement came through loud and clear: “You have arrived at your destination”. Looking out the side window, there was not any building of any kind visible in any direction. Just some cows in a large pasture.

    I wonder how many people have or have not had problems following the GPS instructions?

    1. Don’t blame “GPS” for bad instructions. All GPS does is tell where the receiver is located. It doesn’t even provide a map; just Lat and Lon and time, as text. If some other entity laid that info on a bad map or provided invalid instructions, too bad, but that’s not GPS’s fault.

      My experience with GPS on many walking tours is that it can easily locate not just the street, but which side of the street, I’m walking on.

      1. The actual GPS signal is not accurate enough, quickly enough, to tell which side of the street you’re on. The GPS navigator app makes a good guess from all the other information, like the accelerometer and magnetic compass on your phone, like, “If heading north on a north-south road, assume right side of the road, except if you’re in the UK”.

        1. GPS with both WAAS and cellular assist is definitely accurate enough to tell what side of the street you are on, probably even just barely exactly what lane you are in if the maps are accurate enough. I have a handheld garmin unit from a decade ago with WAAS and it very typically says the accuracy is within 2-3 meters.

      1. Exactly. GPS is reliable everywhere on the planet, even in the middle of the ocean, a thousand miles from land, where there’s no “network” and no streets. It’s worth us hackers helping the general population to stop getting confused between GPS and “street navigators” which are built on top of a GPS receiver, and even the next level such as Google Maps, which usually need to download the maps in real-time, requiring a mobile internet connection. But GPS needs none of that. Just Latitude and Longitude.

  2. Certainly on most phones, GPS is totally divorced from the cellular network (though it might use info provided by the network to provide a faster fix). It should certainly work just fine “out into a place with weak service”. If there’s any place it might not work well, that would be in the bowels of a big city, with lots of tall buildings all around.

    1. Yeah, though this seems to focus more on the maps application not being able to download data. But in most countries you can download offline maps for google maps, and even if not, there are openstreetmap alternatives.

  3. Is often that I’m outside of cell range.

    There are multiple phone apps for GPS that allow the maps to be downloaded and stored locally, thus fully usable outside of cell range. Fees for this are not at all out of line and works fine, till your phone is dead. If using a vehicle a standard automotive GPS is powered whenever rolling but is only a convenience to log position and time for documenting later, is not visible while rolling but really handy after the travel. I still use a compass and brief notes prepared in advance for the actual route and become safely stationary to consult maps as needed, just as it was before GPS.

    If you wonder why someone might need this, then you don’t need this.

  4. Even after reading the accompanying Medium post ( I completely fail to understand why this would be any better than just installing e.g. OSMAnd with offline maps.

    I’ve been using an old smartphone without a SIM card and with OSMAnd as a “standalone GPS” for years. Definitely way better than any dedicated GPS navigation unit I’ve ever had before.

  5. “The biggest crutch about being in the middle of nowhere is that cell phone providers don’t care to have many satellites surrounding those areas, so you’re often left with no data.”


    Do people really find themselves in a situation where they have SMS service and not data? Or is this more for less developed areas of the world?

  6. Another alternative when don’t have mapping app.

    ‘”Zen” method of navigation, which was simply to find any car that looked as if it knew where it was going and follow it.

    The results were more often surprising than successful, but he felt it was worth it for the sake of the few occasions when it was both.’

    – Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

  7. This whole article is confused because it doesn’t distinguish between GPS (which works anywhere, is based on satellites, and simply gives you the coordinates of your current location) and what imbeciles call “GPS”, which is some kind of map based navigation app.

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