As the Raspberry Pi in its various forms continues to flow into the wild by the thousands, it’s interesting to see its user base expand outside beyond the hacker communities. One group of people who’ve also started taking a liking to it is sailing enthusiasts. [James Conger] is one such sailor, and he built his own AIS enabled chart plotter for a fraction of the price of comparable commercial units.
Automatic Identification System (AIS) is a GPS tracking system that uses transponders to transmit a ship’s position data to other ships or receiver stations in an area. This is used for collision avoidance and by authorities (and hobbyists) to keep an eye on shipping traffic, and allow for stricken vessels to be found easily. [James]’ DIY chart plotter overlays the received AIS data over marine charts on a nice big display. A Raspberry Pi 3B+, AIS Receiver Hat, USB GPS dongle and a makes up the core of the system. The entire setup cost about $350. The Pi runs OpenCPN, an open source chart plotter and navigation software package that [John] says is rivals most commercial software. As most Pi users will know the SD card is often a weak link, so it’s probably worth having a backup SD card with all the software already installed just in case it fails during a voyage.
If your only experience with Garmins is from that one rental car a few years back, it may surprise you that some of them, mostly the handheld outdoor units, allow custom maps. This sounds cool until you find out the limitations. Unless you upgrade to premium, it doesn’t allow map files larger than 3MB. What’s worse, it will choke the resolution of maps larger than one megapixel. Well, bust out your virtual hiking boots, because [facklere]’s gonna take you down the trail of DIY digital cartography.
You can use any map you want as long as its not completely fictional (although wandering the maps of middle-earth would be a fun hack on top of this one). Your map can be paper, PDF, or parchment; it just has to be converted to JPEG. The map [facklere] wanted to use was a huge PDF, so as a bonus, he shows how to get from PDF to JPEG in GIMP. Then comes the fiddly part — rooting the map in reality by overlaying it on real roads using Google Earth.
You’ve still got a huge map. Now what? The secret sauce is tiling. [facklere] used KMZfactory, a free map editor for Garmin maps that goes the extra mile to split the tiles for you, keeping them under the 1MP limit. Once that’s done, just upload it to your unit and hit the road.
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.
Precision time is ubiquitous today thanks to GPS and WWVB. Even your Macbook or smartphone displays time which is synchronized to the NIST-F1 clock, a cesium fountain atomic clock (aka the ‘Atomic Clock’) that is part of a global consortium of atomic clocks known as Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Without precise timing there would be train collisions, markets would tumble, schools would not start on time, and planes would fall out of the sky.
But how was precision timing achieved in the 19th century during the era of steam, brass, and solenoids? One of the first systems of precision timing kept trains running safely and on time, rang the bells at school, and kept markets trading by using a special clock designed by the Self Winding Clock Company. Through measurements of celestial objects by the US Naval Observatory, and time synchronization pulses broadcast by the Western Union telegraph network, this system synchronized time across the United States in an era where the speed of our train system was out-pacing by the precision of our clocks.
Those clocks were designed so well that many of them are still around and functioning. One of these 100-year-old self-winding clocks made its way onto my workbench. I did what any curious hacker would do, figured out how the synchronization worked and connected it to a clock source with atomic precision. Let’s take a look!
We may not always be aware of it, but the daily function of the technological world around us is extremely dependent on satellite navigations systems. It helps the DHL guy deliver those parts you were waiting for, and keeps the global financial and communication systems running with precision timing. So, when these systems have a bad day, they can spread misery across the globe. To keep an eye on these critical constellations, [Bert Hubert] and friends set up a global open source monitoring network that aims to track every satellite in the GPS, Galileo, BeiDou and GLONASS constellations.
Off-the-shelf GNSS receivers are used to feed navigation messages to a machine running Linux/OSX/OpenBSD. The messages are processed to calculate the position (ephemeris), extract atomic clock timings and status codes of each satellite. Publicly available orbital data is then used to make an informed guess regarding the identity of the satellite in question.
All this data enables [Bert] to determine ephemeris discontinuities, time offsets, and atomic clock jumps. The project’s twitter feed, @GalileoSats, is very active with interesting updates. Go check it out! All the collected data is available for research purposes and the software is up on Github.
GPS hacks are never in short supply around here and another open source satellite network, SatNOGS has been featured a number of times on Hackaday after it won the 2014 Hackaday Prize.
What’s the first thing you think of when you see an old GPS navigation system for sale cheap at a garage sale? Our research indicates that 100% of people would wonder if it could run Doom; at least that’s what we conclude from the single data point we have, anyway. [Jason Gin] asked and answered the question — with a resounding yes — about his recent acquisition.
The unit in question is a Magellan RoadMate 1412 running Windows CE. After some playing, [Jason] found that simply connecting the unit to a computer via USB caused all the application files to appear as a FAT-formatted volume. Replacing the obviously-named “MapNavigator.exe” with a copy of TotalCommander/CE allowed browsing around the filesystem.
This revealed that much was missing from the CE install, including the Explorer shell and command prompt. Either could be used to launch Doom with the required command-line arguments. Luckily, [Jason] had another trick ready, namely using MortScript (a scripting engine) to launch the Doom executable. This worked like a charm, and after a few tweaks, he now has a dedicated demo box.
We say “demo box” instead of “Doom machine” because without a keyboard, you can’t actually play the game — only view the demo. In a valiant attempt, he connected a USB OTG connector, but the GPS doesn’t seem to recognize input devices, only USB storage devices. Keep at it, [Jason], we’d love to see you crack this one!
If you can ride a bike with no handlebars, no handlebars, no handlebars, you can do just about anything. You can take apart a remote control, and you can almost put it back together. You can listen in on a two meter repeater and you can build a GPS module speedometer. That’s what [Jeremy Cook] did with just a few parts, a little 3D design, and some handy zip ties to hold it onto the handlebars, the handlebars.
The electronics for this build are relatively simple, based on an Arduino Pro Mini because that’s just about the smallest readily available development board you’ll be able to find. To this is a LiPo, a LiPo charging circuit, a GPS module, and a single RGB LED. The code gets some data from the GPS module and figures out a speed. This is then translated into a color — red, yellow, or green depending on whether you’re stationary, below 5 km/h, or above 5 km/h.
All these electronics are stuffed into a 3D-printed enclosure. The majority of the enclosure is printed in black, with a translucent top that serves as a great diffuser for the LED. Just two zip ties hold this GPS speedometer onto the handlebars, and from the video below, everything looks great. The GPS module does take some time to get data at first, but that’s a common problem with GPS units that have been powered off for a few days. If only someone made a GPS module that could keep time with no metronome, with no metronome.