Tracking your Route through GPS – Getting Started

It was 14th February 2013, Valentine’s Day. Inspired by one Motorola commercial, I set out to walk in a ‘heart shaped’ route, as a Valentine Gift for my beloved wife. The commercial is available at http://youtu.be/iG2DRiQt1b0 and the end result was tracked on Sports Tracker, with me walking in a heart shaped route near Lotus Temple, Delhi, India.

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I don’t have a good navigation sense, and rely mostly on GPS/Google Maps/Map My India for my everyday needs. Thus, to accomplish this task I’d specially bought a professional compass to track the directions, and had planned to cover at least 2 kilometers walking/running (though eventually it was restricted to 100 meters, reasons I’ll not delve into).

But, the biggest gain (apart from the delighted beloved, and learning how to use a compass) was that I came across various techniques that are used across the globe to track/plan a route. It’s more awesome than I ever imagined!

The Basics – Routes, Waypoints & Tracks

Routes – It is the pre-defined route that you are supposed to take. When you feed in a From & To location on the maps, what you get is the route, which you can navigate to.

Waypoints – These are the points of interest (POI) that you define. For example, a building, a school, a friend’s home. The POI are defined usually by the manufacturer of the maps, and waypoints are defined by you.

Tracks – This is the trail that you’ve already followed. It’s in the past. If I follow a certain route, it becomes my Track.

Start Tracking

I had consistently used Sports Tracker to track my workouts, and had recently got a heart rate belt too to capture the Calories burnt more accurately. I tried to search for apps which were more focused on maps and tracking, and to my pleasant surprise, I found two more.

1. Sports Tracker – to track Calories burnt too

Sports Tracker

2. Google My Tracks – by Google itself

Google My Tracks

3. Maverick – the PRO version has more functionality

Maverick Lite

Saving & Modifying Tracks

You can easily save your tracks in a format called GPX. For the technical folks, the GPX files are simple XML files which have the latitude, longitude, and based on the device used to capture this info, the date, time as well as altitude.

The editing of GPX can easily be done through softwares such as Viking and JOSM. I tried Viking, and it worked really well, with the option to export the format back to GPX. JOSM is meant more for Open Street Maps (OSM), which is a collaborative free maps – an alternative to Google Maps.

On Linux, I can use gpsbabel to convert the gpx format to a variety of different formats, including KML format that Google Maps support by default.

Creating Tracks, & a Prototype

The best way to create tracks is to travel yourself using one of the above applications. Once the track is created, you can export it to gpx or share it with other users.

Alternatively, there are a large number of web based applications available which allow you to create your own tracks and export them to Google or other mapping applications.

Using Google Maps API, I created a prototype of my own at http://exain.com/maps/

This prototype allows you to

  • Create a route by doing a left click and selecting points
  • Tell co-ordinates by right clicking on a location
  • Export the route’s latitude and longitude’s values

As it is just a prototype, nothing fancy is available. However, the potential is there to broaden the approach. Maybe would do in the next version.

Possibilities & Potential Usage

  • When you visit a place and track it, you can confidently share that track with others. No more approximations and guesses on the amazing journey that you undertook. See it later in satellite view & know where you really were.
  • Create a route before you start your journey including all the places you plan to visit. Even if you’re not driving by car, and the trail that you take is in the mountains.
  • In some countries, people share their cycling & running tracks with others. Makes it convenient. Open Street Maps are popular, and some are specialized ones too such as OpenCycleMap.org

In what ways do you think this could be leveraged?

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3 thoughts on “Tracking your Route through GPS – Getting Started

  1. mobile device based gps tracking applications such as TrackAss http://www.trackass.com are providing excellent business grade telematic tracking for businesses wanting to responsibly track field service personnel without huge expense or fixed equipment costs.

  2. Also worth considering is the way in which low cost GPS solutions are helping enterprise with tracking and reporting of vehicle and staff movements, products like TrackAss http://www.trackass.com are becoming an inexpensive way to incorporate GPS telematics into the smallest business for productivity gains.

  3. Useful post, thanks! In terms of converting gpx to kml files or the other way around, it might worth trying gpx2kml.com free software. Easy and simple to use.

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