Wishlist: GPS enabled mobile phones

I am all for device convergence and over the last few years I have seen more and more devices blend into the mobile phone and disappear from my pockets.
With the SonyEricsson K800i I find my self listening to music (MP3 and radio), securely reading company emails, browsing the web for news, watching short video clips, taking decent digital photographs, playing games and even doing the occasional phone call.
While the mobile phone hasn’t completely replaced a digital SLR, a portable game device or a portable music device (iPod) it is perfectly good at those tasks for everyday usage.
One last thing missing is GPS support so I still have to carry a GPS enabled stop watch during running sessions, rent a car navigation device when abroad, geotagg photos manually and have a separate personal locator for our child.
What I would like is future mobile phones to have integrated GPS functionality (but not at the cost of size or price).
When GPS on future mobile phones is as common as Java support is on today’s phones, a wide new range of possibilities will open up.
I have experimented with j2me application development on my mobile phone and it turned out to be a piece of cake. With integrated GPS a host of mobile applications can be created personally or in an open source environment:

  • personal tracking for the whole family
  • workout performance measuring
  • simple tourist sightseeing (never be lost in a foreign city again)
  • automatic geotagging of photos
  • location based games
  • and much, much more

Nokia N82It looks as if my prayers may be answered with the rumored Nokia N82:
Quad-band GSM, GPS, Wifi, 3G, Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP, FM radio, 5-megapixel digital camera with Carl Zeiss lens, auto focus and Xenon flash.
One familiar with SonyEricsson phones will see that the form factor and feature set of the Nokia N82 is a identical to a K800i with added Wifi, GPS and an upgraded digital camera.
The N82 is rumored to ship Q4 2007 and thus one cannot be sure it will materialise with all the mentioned spec. Also by Q4 I wouldn’t be surprised if SonyEricsson had an upgraded K800i with added GPS on the market.
In any case the holy grail of convergence is near, very near.
[via Symbian-Guru]

Globalsat TR-102: personal GPS/GSM tracker and locator

globalsat tr102 personal GSM GPS locatorA palm sized device with built in global positioning (GPS) and mobile phone connectivity (quad band GSM). Put it in a pocket and you can be located anywhere in the world where there is mobile phone coverage.
The tracking can be done either by SMS messages or with a continuous flow of of positions in GPRS mode.
In SMS mode you can either send an SMS or call the device and it will send back an SMS with the current position. This mode is the easiest one to set up and to use.
SMS is universally supported by all mobile operators whereas GPRS isn’t.
In GPRS mode the device sends the current position at predetermined intervals (for example every 60 seconds) to a server.
GPRS mode is great for when you need continuous updates like in a sailboat race or during logistics tracking.
This mode can also be the safest option in personal tracking as in the case of a lost GPS signal, you can view the latest acquired positions.
GPRS mode requires a PC running the supplied “Call Center” software or a server with custom software to collect and publish the data.
Incidentally I have developed such custom software to collect TR-102 data from multiple devices and a Google Maps front-end to view it. This allows me to use GPRS mode without maintaining a PC and to monitor a device from any browser in the world (more details about this later).
The GPS unit in the TR-102 consists of a SirfIII chip which is a top of the line GPS chip. It is highly sensitive to allow tracking even inside a building.
The GSM module is quad band (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) which means truly global support. Still you should look into the GSM and GPRS support of an obscure country before traveling there.
Globalsat TR-102 can also serve as a rudimentary phone because it can receive calls and make calls to up to 3 predefined phone numbers.
Finally the TR-102 personal locator unit also features an SOS button. If pressed, the unit sends an SOS SMS message with the current location to 3 predefined numbers.
Charging is done with 5V and a 4mm plug with same dimensions as for a Sony PSP. This means you can use a PSP USB synch and charge cable for charging the unit on the go.
All in all the unit is a fantastic piece of technology but it has some issues. Hopefully some of the issues can be addressed in the next version of the device.
1. Non-standard mini USB connector. If you misplace the original USB cable that came with the unit you have to get a replacement from Globalsat as standard mini USB cables will not fit. Update: the connector appears to be a 4-pin mini USB. It does not appear to have a specific name but has a single grove that allows it to be identified.
2. The TR-102 does not support commands OTA (over the air). It would be useful being able to send an SMS to instruct the unit to switch from GPRS mode to SMS mode.
You have to connect the unit to a PC to be able to do any kind of set-up.
I would suspect such functionality can be supplied in the future with an updated firmware.
3. Not yet a truly transparent solution due to the size of unit and GPS signal loss issues. Transparent personal GPS tracking will only be possible when devices can be worn as a wristwatch or be integrated into personal clothing.
Dimensions: 115 mm, 45 mm, 22.5 mm, 100g
Update 14 May 2007
In a twist of faith the unit was stolen last weekend. The unit was switched off or else I would have been able to locate it and together with it the thief.
This incident points out additional weakness of current personal locator devices: if the unit is switched off or batteries are dead or if it is discarded or destroyed by the perpetrators it is rendered useless.

Bennetts motorcycle and scooter insurance renewal

bennetts motorcycle insurance renewalIt is a real shame but it seems as if you have watch closely all the companies you are paying for a service.
Forget to watch them and “mistakes” will be made which will always result in you paying them more.
The latest company to act questionably is the motorcycle and scooter insurance broker Bennetts.
Their business model is to get a quote from several different insurance providers and let you select the best value one.
My first year with Bennetts scooter insurance costed me £260 (third party, fire and theft). The second year costed me £250.
Towards the end of my second year I realised that having 1 year of no claims discount should have resulted in a better quote than I had been given.
I inquired Bennetts about this and was assured that my third year with them would be “considerably cheaper”.
The renewal quote arrived a few days later in the post and had the figure of £176. This sounded like a really good value.
The letter further stated that I did not have to do anything because the policy would be automatically renewed at the end of the term. At that point my credit card would be charged the quoted fee of £178.
One day before the renewal a Bennetts sales agent called me to inform me that my policy was due for renewal and that the best quote she was able to find was £220.
I was a bit puzzled by this and informed her that a lower quote was already sitting at the kitchen table back home and I did not wish for her to do anything at this point. I would be calling them later that day with the previous reference number in hand.
When I called Bennetts later that evening I was told that the higher fee I had been quoted earlier that day was currently in my account and had I not have called, I would have been debited this figure.
At this point I was about to explode with how unjust this was when the sales agent quickly told me that he has yet another quote and that it is £150. After going through the terms and conditions of this policy it turned out that it was the best one so far.
The Bennetts sales agent was not able to explain what had happened but insisted that if I “finalise it with him there and then” he could guarantee this figure.
One has to ask what motivation Bennetts has to actually give you the lowest quote they find. If they operate on a percentage based commission it would be in their interest to sell a more expensive cover.
Oh, one more thing.
Bennetts adds an optional fixed “legal protection” fee to all policies. You can request to remove this £25 fee to further reduce your annual insurance cost if you do not require it.
Cheap scooter insurance alternatives:
Lexham Bike insurance
Carole Nash
Photo credit: Signalstation

One mighty year

party hat face birthday babyMy dearest son, you have completed your first year – on to Level2. How much of it will you remember in years to come?
You came on Cupid’s wings and landed in our arms
Do you for example remember when you took your first breath – a breath of sweet life in an otherwise sterile operation room?
Do you remember when you tasted real food for the first time or took your first tumbling step?
I sure do and the memories will be for ever etched into my mind.
You are growing up surrounded by technologies one could not even dream about when I was I child.
You are wearing a GPS/GSM tracker in your pocket, watching high definition baby television, space tourism is about to take of, open source software is challenging commercial offerings on many fronts and the Internet is becoming just another utility like tap water is.
There are some unfortunate things to be sad about like the decaying environment, advances in genetically modified plants and organisms, greed of pharmaceutical companies and cruelty going on in the world wide world.
Hopefully these issues can be improved upon with a generation of bright children like you and your sister.
I kissed your face and you said my name – Mwuuaaaaaahhh
You stand on the shoulders of great man and can achieve anything you set your mind to. However let’s start with some potty training because you cannot conquer the world while wearing a diaper!