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SPOT Satellite Messenger Update

SPOT in Freestone parkComing up for air after getting the TracMe Evaluation completed, it is time to update you on SPOT.

Click here to review our First Look article on the SPOT Satellite messenger

Last week I received a preproduction SPOT Satellite Messenger. Over next few weeks I and my associates will be playing with this SPOT to see how it works and figure out how to best test its capabilities for real once we receive production units.

I’ll be taking it with me to Portland, Oregon, this week and Alan will bring it along on a trip up in Northern Arizona, the following week.

After logging in and setting up the account, it’s easy to add emails and wireless accounts to your SPOTteam group and you can also change the default messages that SPOT delivers (see page here – NOTE: pages shown are under development and not final).

Today we took it out to a local park just for grins and to see how the online interface works. We set the SPOT unit down in the middle of a circular pad that’s easy to view on Google Earth and pushed the Check OK button.

SPOT in Freestone ParkWe received text message notification, though it took some time on my Verizon phone. This provides the message plus a latitude and longitude for location. We then went home and looked at both the user account interface at findmespot.com and the results of clicking on the link provided via the email alerts. Both utilize Google Earth, just slightly different interface.

SPOT also updated us on some of the questions we had or we raised in the First Look article.

While SPOT expects that if the unit does not get a GPS fix it is unlikely to successfully transmit to the Globalstar satellites, they have decided that in any case, they will transmit even if they don’t get a GPS location in Help and 911 modes. Also, they noted that as 911 and Help transmit every 5 minutes, there is a good chance that one of the following messages will come through with GPS coordinates.

This is not the case for Tracking, for obvious reasons. They also still don’t plan to do it for “Check-in” messages, figuring that many will use this to store waypoints, but also because check-in messages already are send in triplicate with the two redundant messages discarded by the backend server. I am partly mollified. I still think the Check-in message should be sent if at all possible, because Mom wants to know Sonny is safe, even if she doesn’t know exactly where he might be. Anything that keeps Mom from call out the SAR dogs is a good thing. By having the Check-in feature, it raises expectations on the part of the recipient. If it doesn’t deliver when expected, the reaction could be very negative. Sure, the user ought to know to make sure it can see the sky and get a GPS location, but stuff happens and people sometimes forget or don’t do what is expected after a long day on the trail.

SPOT InstructionsSPOT apparently always planned to include instructions on the device, but the early prototypes we saw did not include them and that message never got delivered. They will be printed on reflective material permanently affixed to the case. Click for sample of instructions PDF.

Further testing has confirmed that SPOT will function properly on alkaline batteries, sending out 911 messages for several days in limited testing. LED’s will initially show green using fresh high-quality alkaline batteries, and then turned red to indicate low-battery status shortly after. Alerts are sent out regularly while the battery indicator was green, with some messages unsent as the alkaline batteries were depleted.

While SPOT will still strongly recommend lithium batteries, they will include information in the manual on using alkalines in an emergency. It is clear from testing that with no lithium batteries available, alkaline batteries can provide enough power to send out messages for a short period of time. The manual has also been amended to let users know that the low battery warning indicates 30% remaining. We’ll take a look at this ourselves in our testing.

SPOT anticipates that their testing will be completed and the coverage map will be updated from the Globalstar Simplex coverage map by the end of 2007. They do expect it to be expanded somewhat from that currently shown, but cannot say for sure until their tests are complete.