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.