Survey Perspectives – April 2007

April 19, 2007  - By

Getting Personal, Now

Ok, this column is supposed to be about high-precision GNSS, right? Well, who would have ever thought I’d be inclined to write about consumer GPS receivers? Certainly not me. Sometimes, I even speak rather condescendingly about those “Wal-Mart GPS units” because they seem to be mis-used so often in the survey/construction business.

But with the explosive growth of Personal Navigation Devices (PNDs) and being the GPS technology-aholic I am, I had to give some of these a try. Surprisingly, I became addicted to them in short order. Mind you, I already have an in-dash GPS navigation system in my car so this isn’t a new concept to me. So why the big fuss?

First of all, let’s define a PND so everyone’s on the same page.

The newer PNDs are roughly the size of a slice of French bread with a 3”-4” LCD touch screen. Its primary function is to guide you from Point A to Point B by providing you turn-by-turn instructions on the map screen and via voice instructions. Seriously — it talks to you. It typically comes with a street/address map database of the region where you bought it such as North America, Europe, etc. It runs on batteries or vehicle power and comes with some sort of windshield or dashboard mount.

Whereas legacy PNDs were bulky and ran a short time on batteries and were really designed to stay mounted in your car, the newer PNDs are slim. They are designed to be truly portable with features that support “grab and go” functionality like ruggedness and extended battery operations.

The PND did its job of getting me to where I needed to go. But the great part about it was that when I needed to alter plans, like a last-minute dinner meeting, it was perfect. With my old Mapquest method, I would have scrambled to find directions.

But, secondly, perhaps what surprised me most and what prompted me to focus this month’s column on PNDs is the response I’ve been receiving from people who see me using the PND. I’m not talking about soccer Mom’s or Joe consumer. I’m talking about architects, construction superintendents, engineers: professional types. I’ve been on project sites where these types of people see me using the PND and they start asking questions.

Most see it as a really productive business tool because they spend a lot of time traveling from one project site to another and aren’t necessarily familiar with the local hotels, restaurants, reprographic vendors, construction material vendors, and so on.

Some have even exclaimed they can’t believe there’s not a monthly subscription fee. There’s not. Although after a couple of years of ownership, you’d probably want to purchase an updated map database.

So the pessimist in me asked what happens if I become too dependent on the thing. After three days in San Francisco, I’d used the PND exclusively to navigate my way around the different suburbs. At the end of my trip, I dialed up the rental car location on the PND and let her take me home. Sure enough, about 10 min. from the airport, the screen went blank. No warning, no nothing. Dead battery. After a few seconds of “uh oh, what am I’m going to do now?” I remember I packed the car charger. I pulled over, plugged it in and off I went. But, it made me think about what I would have done otherwise. My conclusion was that, worst case, I pull over and ask for directions.

The attractive feature of the “grab and go” functionality with new generation PNDs is that they aren’t tied to a specific vehicle. I found myself throwing it on the seat of rental cars and not using the windshield mount at all. To me, there was not enough value in hooking it up all that mounting hardware. I’d rather stuff it in my laptop bag and pull it out when I need it. I can imagine a small survey outfit having one unit in the office that folks check out for the day no matter which rig they are taking in the field.

Another attractive feature for survey/construction professionals is that some of the new generation PNDs allow you to load topo maps in addition to having turn-by-turn directions, points of interest, etc.

Time is money and it doesn’t take an MBA to figure out that if the PND saves time getting folks to each project site faster, it’s a no brainer at the ~$500 price tag.

L1 RTK follow-up

I promised I wouldn’t visit this subject again until products starting hitting the streets. It’s starting to happen. read more >>

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