Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Little GPS Sidekick

Recently I've begun to use the Bad Elf Pro GPS.  It looks like a digital stop watch and is operated in a similar fashion.  But that is where the similarities end.  The Bad Elf Pro is a fully-functional GPS with WAAS support and provides GPS information to supported Bluetooth devices.  For iOS devices, the device uses Core Location services, which allows it to override any on-board GPS device.

I have been testing the Bad Elf Pro in the field... kind of.  Its first major field trip was to the island of Maui, Hawaii, USA.  I used it to track the entire trip so that I could geotag my Canon G11 photographs using Aperture.  It worked great.  The Bad Elf went from sea level to 10,023 feet on Haleakala.  It tracked, at one second intervals, our every negotiated curve during the drive to Hana and all the way around.  The only time it might have failed was when I thought I had it on and data-logging (tracking) but that ended up not being the case.  Fortunately I was at a single location the entire time.  I have no idea what happened but I quite possibly was at fault.  In any case, geotagging my 600 photos worked flawlessly.

So the Bad Elf Pro proved to me that it is ready for a more rigorous field experience.  I have a WiFi iPad that does not have an on-board GPS.  When paired via Bluetooth with the Bad Elf, it can become a full-fledged mapping tool.  I can also use it with my iPhone and turn off all of its radios (except Bluetooth).  This is important because CDMA iPhones turn off the GPS receiver when the cellular radio is turned off... and when you're in the deep woods with high topographic relief, iPhones will kill themselves in hours.  During my visit to Haleakala and around the volcano, my iPhone had a very good battery life when using only Bluetooth.  The Bad Elf might be a match made in heaven with an inexpensive iPod Touch...

A few apps that look promising for field mapping on an iOS device:

  •  Avenza's PDF Maps -- compatible with ArcMaps geospatial PDF output, USGS PDF Topos, and USFS PDF Topos (thanks to Julie Donnelly-Nolan at USGS for the tip!)
  • Trimble's MyTopo Maps -- a quick way to get [mostly] seamless topos for all of the US on-the-fly... and offline (may need Elite account).  I did find a huge seam on the island of Maui.
The Bad Elf Pro looks to be a great GPS sidekick.