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18 de Julio 2006

Trackstick - Small USB-stick GPS with Google Earth Support

Trackstick GPS with Google Earth supportTrackstick is a GPS on a USB stick designed for unobstrusive tracking. The small non-descript unit comes with direct support for Google Earth (Windows only). It has no display, it just quietly tracks where it has gone. The idea is you could put this in a car, or something you want to track, and later download its track by simply sticking it in the USB port. I'm glad to say, the makers of Trackstick recently sent me a Trackstick to review and it not only operates well as a GPS, but its Google Earth interface works smoothly.

I ran some tests by driving around the Raleigh area. I also had a Garmin 60Cx with me to compare the tracks. The Trackstick defaults to a slow update rate (once per minute) which didn't leave a detailed track, but you can use the software to change the setting to update once per second. With the latter setting, the Trackstick was quite close to the Garmin for broadscale applications like driving. In this example Google Earth file , I drove between three shopping plazas in Cary, North Carolina. If you select "Path" in the Places pane and "Tools->Play Tour" you can follow the track. The folder has information on the speed of travel, direction, and the amount of time stopped at each location.

The Trackstick's Google Earth support is done well. The download program allows you to filter the recorded results and just display the portions of the track of interest. The unit is about one fourth the size of my Garmin handheld. One possible use would be to keep an eye on where your teenage kids have been taking the car. The unit is available from distributors for a retail price of $250.

The Trackstick is a small non-descript plastic case. You pop off one end to expose the USB stick. The current version requires a small screwdriver to open the battery case, a new version will have a snap-open case. It uses two AAA batteries. A small recessed button is used to set the modes or turn the unit on/off. A embossed logo is used to show the user which way to face the Trackstick as it must face "up" to see the satellites and get a signal.

Since the Trackstick is so small, the antenna has limited receptivity compared to the more expensive Garmin 60Cx. It needs a clear view of the skies to record accurately, so placement is important. I don't believe the unit is water proof, although it is an enclosed plastic container and I imagine it is at least water resistant. But, a protected location would be best. Putting a sticky velcro attachment might be best if its to be placed on a car dash, otherwise it would slide around.

After you get the unit, it is recommended to get the latest software off the web site. The new Fast Track mode is set by using the software's "Device Properties". It allows you to adjust the speed of recorded track points, and download the tracks after they have been recorded. You can filter according to day and time and view in a number of mapping programs or Google Earth. You can also output to a CSV spreadhseet file. For Google Earth, not only are all the points marked with placemarks and information on speed, heading, location, and altitude; but also they provide a "Path" which allows you to smoothly follow the track in Google Earth.

Conclusion: You can find lower cost GPS units which could also leave a track (for example, Garmin Forerunner <$100), but they won't be in such an unobtrusive package. Garmin units already come with software to support Google Earth, but the output doesn't directly contain the same details. The Trackstick company looks to be improving the product, and they are advertising a new product called the Trackstick Pro on their web site. I think the Trackstick has a niche market, and I like the Google Earth support.

Enviado por FrankTaylor at 18 de Julio 2006 a las 07:23 AM

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  • Comentarios

    Perhaps applications like tracking hiking and cycling expeditions would be ideal based on the size of this unit.

    Enviado por: jarrett c. at 18 de Julio 2006 a las 11:00 AM

    Another useful task for the Trackstick would be for photo geotagging using software like WWMX (http://wwmx.org/FAQ.aspx) that matches the time/date stamp on a photo to a GPS track to work out where the photo was taken.

    Enviado por: Rob Roy at 18 de Julio 2006 a las 11:07 AM

    $250 bucks? that's VERY expensive... i'd rather use my bluetooth GPS with my macbook pro... the pluign for google earth let me do the real time tracking and all the other stuff too...

    for the other stuff i prefer a garmin in my pocket as a standalone solution, and hopefully garmin releases the osX s/w ASAP;-)

    Enviado por: smokeonit at 18 de Julio 2006 a las 02:16 PM

    Great gadget! Ive used it to track while driving my work car, personnel vehicles, and extensively with animals. Ive a small ranch and noticed quite a few trails from the goats and horses. I attached it to a collar on one of the goats and got quite a few surprises. The goat herd pretty much followed the same path throughout the winter, but during the summer followed it backwards. I also discovered my wife gets way better gas mileage than I do, because I drive like an idiot. We mostly use it when we go on walks or trail hikes now and save the data so we can fly the trails on the big screen back at the house. Not to be a commercial, but Energizer rechargeable 25000mAh gave me the longest run times. When these things get smaller, Im going to have one implanted, *LOL.

    Enviado por: C. Cato at 6 de Agosto 2006 a las 07:00 AM

    I bought a TrackStick on eBay for $150 (NIB) and it works as advertised. I have run several tests using Google Earth as my base map. Make sure you go to manufacturer's home page and donwload latest versions of client software and TrackStick firmware. I use the firmware option to write a record every 5 seconds and it draws a beautiful purple line on the path you make.

    I haven't used TrackStick for anything other than for fun. It makes a good conversation piece and is very impressive when the path you just followed shows up exactly on your PC screen (Google Earth).

    If you have problems with the OPTIONS in Google Earth, go to TOOLS, OPTIONS, TOURING and "reset to default". After that you may want to increase SPEED and CAMERA RANGE depending on how long your "path" is. Also, bump the CACHE settings to maximum values. I also set TOUR PAUSE to 0.

    Enviado por: M. West at 31 de Octubre 2006 a las 08:12 PM

    The Track Stick huh? The company I work for used it for 6 months before phasing out the worthless GPS devices for something else. They sucked the 2 AA batteries dry within a few hours, did not begin tracking until 20min-2 hours after they were turned on (even after being placed in direct view of the sky), and the plastic housing broke on the first day while trying to insert the batteries. I'm hoping that the new generation of TS are more rugged and have better reception. As for tracking- I was tracked at 106mph 2 miles away when I was actually parked for 8 hours. I'm testing the Wintec BT200 right now and it has many good features, and it of course it's share of bad ones. But at least it has a battery that can be recharged while plugged into your USB port!

    Enviado por: PI Guy TG at 9 de Junio 2007 a las 03:45 PM

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