Traffic Updates On The Seven Seas: Open Source Chart Plotter Using A Raspberry Pi

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.

AIS transponders in the Mediterranean. VesselFinder

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.

We’ve seen AIS receiver stations built using the RTL-SDR, as well as a number of projects around the AIS equivalent in aviation, ADS-B. Check out [John]’s video after the break. Continue reading “Traffic Updates On The Seven Seas: Open Source Chart Plotter Using A Raspberry Pi”

Navigate Around Garmin’s Custom Map Limits

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.

Got an old Garmin that won’t do custom maps? See if you can get DOOM up and running on it.

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.

3 Words To Describe Any Spot On Earth

For quite a long while now, latitude and longitude has been the way humankind has navigated the globe. This is a perfectly workable system, but it’s a little overwrought for daily use by the layperson. What3Words seeks to provide a simpler solution.

The system is based on splitting the surface of the globe into a grid of 3 m x 3 m sections. This includes oceans and bodies of water. With the grid layed out, each section is given a name consisting of three English words strung together. For example, ///eggs.form.breakfast denotes a spot in the outskirts of Chengdu, China, while ///crops.cards.gifts is a good approximation of that spot where the Naked Cowboy hangs out in Times Square, New York.

Addresses in this format are written with three leading forward slashes, along with a dot between each word. An attempt has been made to only use uncontroversial words, as well as to make sure no crude addresses are created by awkward combinations. Don’t worry, we checked – but if you do find anything good, drop it in the comments below.

It’s a tool that’s been around for a while, but an interesting one nonetheless. It’s something that needs a wider societal acceptance to become truly useful; we imagine it could be good in a small social circle once everyone is familiar with it. It may yet catch on – only time will tell!

Tracking The Satellites That Keep Us On Track; Monitoring GPS, Galileo, BeiDou, And GLONASS

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.

Local azimuth and local elevation of GPS, Galileo, and BeiDou satellites passing overhead [via @GalileoSats]
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.

Thanks for the tip [DarkSideDave]!

Running Doom On A Doomed GPS

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!

[Jason] is no stranger to hacking Windows CE devices. Last time we checked in, the target was a KeySight DSO1102G oscilloscope.

Continue reading “Running Doom On A Doomed GPS”

Vintage Console Becomes The Calculator It Appears To Be

What’s sitting on [Bob Alexander]’s desk in the video below did not start out life as the desktop calculator it appears to be. Turning it into a standalone calculator with features the original designers couldn’t imagine turned out to be an interesting project, and a trip down the retrocomputing rabbit hole.

A little explanation is in order. Sure, with its Nixie display, calculator keypad, and chunky mid-century design, the Wang 360 desktop console looks like a retro calculator. But it’s actually only a dumb terminal for a much, MUCH bigger box, called the Electronic Package, that would fit under a desk. The foot-warming part that was once connected to [Bob]’s console by a thick cable that had been unceremoniously lopped off by a previous owner. [Bob] decided to remedy the situation with modern electronics. The console turned out to have enough room for a custom PCB carrying a PIC32, some level-shifting components, power supply modules that include the high-voltage supply for the Nixies, and a GPS module because Nixies and clocks just go together. The interesting bit is the programming; [Bob] chose to emulate the original Wang methods of doing math, which include multiplication by logarithmic addition. Doing so replicates the original look and feel of the calculator down to the rapid progression of numbers across the Nixies as the logarithms are calculated using the display registers.

We normally frown on vintage gear being given modern guts, but in this case [Bob] hit just the right balance of new and old, And given that the Electronic Packages these consoles were connected to go for $1500 or more on eBay, it was a better choice than letting the console go to scrap. A similarly respectful approach was taken with this TRS80 Model 100 revival.

Continue reading “Vintage Console Becomes The Calculator It Appears To Be”