Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Spot and Aether

SPOT Personal Tracker and Emergency Beacon:
Two weeks ago Michael from Pivotel was kind enough to loan me a SPOT to test its capabilities in conditions typical of hiking in S.E. Queensland. As you can see from the link the unit I was given was the first generation unit.

You can get all the information from the link above, however the general idea is that this unit provides emergency and non-emergency messaging over the Globalstar satellite phone network. This enables you to request emergency help or even just let people know that you are ok in areas without any mobile phone coverage. The device has a in built GPS receiver and transmitter and runs off two AA batteries.
My first impressions were that the unit itself seems fairly rugged and it survived a couple of falls from the top of my pack without any problems. However, this ruggedness definitely adds to its weight and bulk. It isn't small. The only interface options are 4 small buttons with corresponding LED's on the front. The LED's can take a bit of deciphering to figure out what the device is doing.

My first test was to send a single "OK" message from my office window at work. Michael had configured it to send an email to my address in this case. The email arrived within 10 min of pressing the button and contained the GPS coordinates and street address. The main test was done yesterday on our walk to Mt. Mitchell. This walked passed through a wide variety of foliage and was a good test on the receiving and transmitting capabilites of the SPOT.

To obtain a correct position the unit first has to acquire a GPS position and then be able to transmit this back to the Satellites. For this test I put the device in tracking mode whereby it sends a location message back to the SPOT server every 10 minutes for anyone to view on Google maps. The screen shot below is taken from this server after my trip with the locations received displayed as the blue pins. I have added red rectangles around the areas where the reception was poor.

Mt. Mitchell Track


The map below is taken from the National Parks track map and shows the general track route that should correspond to the map above.

Mt. Mitchell Map


Conclusion:
The areas marked in the satellite image above showing areas of poor performance of the SPOT correspond remarkably with the areas of moderate to high density rainforest on the walk. The best performance was obtained at the peak where the foliage was low and sparse. This leads me to believe that in areas of total rainforest such as Lamington Plateau the SPOT would be lucky to get a single position out. Perhaps the newer SPOT 2 with an updated GPS chip would perform better.

Osprey Aether 60:
I loaded up the new pack with an overnight trips worth of stuff. All that was missing was a tent and a bit of extra food. Weight was just over 9kg including 2L of water. I was happy with this weight and already shows an improvement since my last walk.

Any fears I had of the new pack not being big enough were shattered. There was plenty of room for lots more gear as I had all the compression straps pulled in a fair way. Despite there being more room available the straps brought the size down well and the load was very stable.

Balance was very good with a high position that clung to my back very well. This allowed me to walk with a much better posture. Despite all the positives my back still started to hurt in similar places as with my old Mont. However, I will continue to fiddle with the harness and the real test will be on a multi day walk. Stay tuned.