If you use the Google Maps Mobile function then the big G knows where you are even if your phone doesn’t have a GPS module in it. So the next time you want geolocation capabilities in a project consider building around GSM functionality which can also be used for Internet connectivity. That’s exactly what this module does and luckily the hard work has already been done for you.
The method really hinges on a couple of things. First of all, any GSM capable device knows the information about the cell it is currently communicating with. Secondly, Google knows the coordinates of radio towers used in the cellular mobile network. A little bit of data sniffing on Google Maps Mobile app communications confirms how and when cell information is transferred between the device and the maps server. Take a look at this series of write-ups which go into detail about hardware, software, cell network location data, and communication protocols which Google hasn’t publicly documented. Sure you’re not going to have the accuracy we’ve come to enjoy with GPS, but this can get you pretty close.
This on-wrist navigation system uses Google Maps and something called… paper. This is a throwback to scroll-based directions from the 1920’s and 30’s that [Simon] built. He soldered a couple of brass tubes to a brass back plate, then added sides and a face crystal. Now he prints out step by step direction from the popular mapping website and winds them onto scrolls. We’re not sure that we’d take the time to do this, but hey, at least the screen resolution is fantastic and you don’t have to worry about battery life.
Many of the projects we post are so well thought out and engineered, they could hardly be called “hacks”. This one, however, falls neatly into the hack category. [Dave] wanted his very own exercise bike hooked to Google maps. Instead of setting up a control system and writing software to control Google maps, he simply hacked a USB game controller. He wired a magnetic switch directly into the board, where the “up” button is. Then he mounted the switch so that it would be triggered each time he rotated the pedal. Though he only has the forward movement done right now, it would be pretty easy to set up a couple more switches at the base of the handle bar for left and right.
While the experience may not be quite as nice as the more complicated one, aside from head tracking, it isn’t that far off.
Maybe you’ve tinkered a bit with the Google Maps API. Most of the software produced with it is not all that useful or entertaining, but a few gem have shone through. Still, wouldn’t it be better if applications produced with it could be easily ported to other online mapping services like Mapquest or Yahoo! Maps?
Some of Mapstraction’s current features are what you would expect: point, line, and polygon support, image overlay, GeoRSS and KML feed importing, and several others. We’re really looking forward to future versions with OpenStreetMap support. Currently Mapstraction works with only commercial mapping services, but OpenStreetMap combined with Mapstraction directly hits the sweet spot; a customizable, open source map.