Different tracking solutions for DofE groups

tracker screenshot

So you have decided that you want to be able to track your DofE groups to help with your supervision plan or to comply with your risk assessments (we have a blog post on that too). Which one do you go for? This is an attempt to break it down for you so that you know what are the available options. Types of tech, rent or buy?

 

This article was written in February 2018. We will try and keep it up to date.
1st update 19 November 2018

 

The first big difference between trackers is how the location information is transmitted from the tracker device to the supervisor. Most use mobile phone sims with the obvious drawback that they will only transmit when in signal. There are a few that use satellites to transmit this information so we'll start with them.

Trackers that transmit using satellite technology

All trackers use satellite technology to get their position via the Global Positioning System (GPS) but there are few that also use satellites (different satellites to the GPS) to then transmit that data. We are only going to focus on the 'Spot Gen3' here (but look at 2 permutations for DofE use). There are many more options open to you that you may wish to consider if you are going very remote but we are moving into the '2 way satellite messenger' or 'satellite phone' area using the Iridium satellite system which would probably be considered an overkill for UK based expeditions. Some examples of these can be bought from here https://www.globaltelesat.co.uk/trackers/satellite-trackers-beacons/satellite-personal-trackers or hired for £50 a week + some messaging costs from Beyond Marathon

The Spot Gen3

Cost of unit  £100
Annual Fee £200
Key Features
  • 3 custom message buttons and a SOS button direct to the emergency services.
  • App for Android and Apple Phones.
  • 5 minute interval tracking as standard (but can be set to 2.5 minutes for an extra £50 a year).
Advantages
  • Satellite communication so will work pretty much anywhere in the world (but can be a bit flaky around the poles and the African equator (best use a Iridium based system for those areas). Spot Coverage.
  • Long battery life.
Disadvantages
  • No option to use OS maps.
  • Location information send in latitude and longitude rather than OS grid references.
  • There is often a lag in the server reporting so you may not get updates for between 10 and 45 minutes then get lots at once.
  • Students need some specific training on how to use it - you must actually get them to press a button to see it working

gen3 productThe Spot Gen 3 is a great bit of kit. You switch it on, activate tracking, then stick it in the top pocket of a rucksack and forget about it (it does need to be right at the top of the bag, preferably facing the sky). If it isn't moving then it goes to sleep to save battery power. It comes with an app that shows the location using google maps. There is the option to switch between the very basic google map and the satellite photo which makes transferring working out where they are on your OS map pretty easy. You can't have an OS map overlay unfortunately and if a message button is pushed location data is sent in latitude and longitude so you need an app on your phone to convert to the national grid (or access to a website to do the conversion, unless you can do it manually).

It has other less known features in that you can set it to send an alert when it moves if it hasn't moved for a number of hours. You could use this to give you a wake up call when their bag is moved for the first time in the morning :-). You can re-programme the buttons to send alerts to multiple email addresses and mobile phones. I think that you get 100 text messages a year included in the fee and if you do ending up using them all you simply buy another package of 100.

If you want to buy a spot then the cheapest way is usually to buy the unit and then register it when it arrives.

Spot Gen3 with Mapyx additions

Cost of unit  £100 + £60 setup fee
Annual Fee

This will depend on how many of their services you want to subscribe to. If you go for the bare minimum then it will only cost a little more than the standard Spot fee. If you go for all the whistles and bells it could cost you a lot more.

Over £200 .

To use OS mapping there is an additional cost that is vastly different between school and commercial users.

Key Features
  • 3 message buttons and a SOS button direct to the emergency services.
  • 5 minute interval tracking as standard.
Advantages
  • Satellite communication so will work pretty much anywhere in the world (but can be a bit flaky around the poles and the African equator (best use a Iridium based system for those areas). Spot Coverage
  • Long battery life.
  • Option to have it integrate with OS maps.
  • Locations can be given in OS Grid references.
  • You can send an SMS text to the Mapxy server and it will reply with the last known location.
  • 24 hour support.
Disadvantages
  • You don't have control over the device configuration, that is done by Mapyx.
  • More expensive than the standard Spot system.
  • There is often a lag in the server reporting so you may not get updates for between 10 and 45 minutes then get lots at once
  • Students need some specific training on how to use it - you must actually get them to press a button to see it working

Mapyx have developed a system that integrates with the Spot system. They register the unit for you and then route all the tracking information via their servers. You then run their software on your laptops, tablets and phones, which you can use with OS maps for route planning as well as tracking (there are many different features that you can opt in or out of). It also means that they have been able to develop extra features such as the ability to text a request for the last known location of a unit. The downside is that they can't give you configuration access to the device as you would then have access to ALL their clients devices. This means that you need to set it up once and keep to that system (you probably need a dedicated mobile phone to receive messages). It may be that they will do a set number of re-programmes a year but I doubt they would be happy to do a re-programme every time you use them. If you want a bit more support then Mapyx could be your best bet, but you do pay for that.

Mapyx will also hire out their Gen3 Trackers for £66 per week.

Trackers that transmit data over mobile phone technology

There is a massive array of this type of tracker. They range from purpose built units designed specifically for outdoor pursuits to little units to stick in your car in case it is stolen or to attach to your pet in case they go AWOL. You can even just use a smart phone with an app that is designed to help you find it if you lose it running in the background. I will only detail a purpose built solution before listing some other bits of kit and apps that could be used for this purpose.

 Beyond Marathon GSM trackers

Cost of unit  £125
Annual Fee £19-£96  (£8 per month when active but you can drop it down to £1 when you are not going to use it).
Key Features
  • 15 second update interval Though this would only last a day. 2 minute update interval should last a gold expedition.
  • App for Android and Apple Phones.
Advantages
  • Small and light.
  • Built in rechargeable (usb cable) battery that should last a whole expedition.
  • Access to OS maps on your phone for only £1 a month extra
Disadvantages
  • Relies on mobile phone signal.

gsm trackerBeyond Marathon sell and hire out these trackers. They each have an “emergency SIM card” in, that works all the mobile networks in the world, combing the coverage of all the networks, not just one. They can be put inside a rucksack, they don’t need line of sight to satellites to transmit the location. They can be set to update as fast as every 15 seconds if desired, but generally it is best to set them at 60-120 second updates so you get 4-7 days of life, 10 days or longer from the bigger model (90g).

 

Beyond Marathon hire these out for £15 per unit for silver and bronze expeditions and £30 per unit for a week long hire for gold expeditions. If you hire them then you get access to OS mapping as well for an extra £1.50.

 

Other Trackers and mobile phone ideas

The above list are all that I have researched in detail so far. There are many more on the market and many that I was aware of seem to be out of use these days. There are other ways that you can track groups or at least find out their location by using text messages. The following methods are not really designed for the outdoor education purpose and are therefore not really recommended but they include.

  • Vodaphone V-pet. Small vodaphone tracker for £55 + £4 a month
  • Pebbell 2. Small mobile phone based tracker with a 2 way speech function so can act as an emergency phone £150 + £12 a year subscription +£1.50 a month + text and call costs
  • Squanto. GPS £40-£50 for unit. No monthly cost works on Giffgaff SIM. £10 credit lasts several expeditions. Lasts 36h tracking with app, 5 days on sleep mode and text to get location. Or mix of two. Works well and affordable, but relies on cellular.
  • Android phones - Wheres My Droid. Buy a cheap android phone for £30 and install Wheres My Droid. Simply text it a code and it texts it's location back. (This is very cheap as it uses no data, the only cost is the price of the phone and a text message but has no 'tracking ability'.
  • Android phones - Real-Time GPS tracker from Green Alp. This is free for up to 4 groups. It does require a data tarrif but doesn't cost that much and you can set 'geo fences' alerts if your tracker strays outside of a designated area.
  • Apple Phones: 'Find My iPhone.
  • Any smart phone: Google location sharing. This does use data but is more of a track than simply using 'Wheres My Droid'.

 

Anything to contribute?

If you see any inaccuracies in the above or use any of these devices (or anything else) and think people would benefit from your experience then get in touch and we can add to this page.

 

 

 

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Comments   

+1 #1 Dave Wright 2018-02-09 15:02
Generally IMHO a good summary but I would make a couple of points.
For Beyond Marathon GSM trackers, listing possible 15s update rate (in table) is misleading (albeit irrelevant!) since (as hinted in the text) this would give a short time to battery discharge (
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