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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Got OpenAPRS



When I bought my current set of wheels in 2007, I stopped using ham radio in the car except for special occasions because of the difficulty of installing ham radio equipment in a modern vehicle. On those special occasions, that is, my annual roadtrips to the Hamvention in Dayton, I would install a temporary 2-meter APRS set-up with wires and equipment laid out willy-nilly throughout the vehicle. Except for those trips, WA1LOU was off the APRS map.

And so it goes... until recently.

My family gifted me an iPhone 5 for Christmas and I love it. I am not a phone person; I only use the phone when absolutely necessary, so I never bothered owning a cell phone. However, the other capabilities of the iPhone sold me on it; for me, the iPhone is a pocket computer and its phone functions are secondary.

For my trek to Dayton this year, I uninstalled my Tom Tom GPS and replaced it with my iPhone mounted on the dashboard where the GPS used to reside uisng an iOttie HLCRIO104 Easy Flex 2 Windshield Dashboard Car/Desk Mount Holder (it works great and I highly recommend it).

Despite the disparaging reviews of the iPhone Maps app, I used Maps to get me to, from and around Dayton without a hiccup.

Since Hamvention, whenever I am in my car, I put the iPhone in the dashboard mount whether I use Maps or not because it is safer there than on the empty passenger seat or in the empty cup holder. And I have it plugged into a cigarette lighter charger so it is fully charged (or close to it) when I remove it from the dashboard mount.

Studying the iPhone mobile installation awhile back, I thought about running APRS with it. It would not be APRS via ham radio RF, but via cell phone RF, but it would still be APRS and a nice addition to my roadtrips. I searched the App Store to see what APRS apps were available for the iPhone. The App Store found a few, so I read the descriptions and the reviews trying to decide which one to download to my iPhone.

OpenAPRS was my choice. After downloading and registering it, I configured it. In the past, configuring an APRS installation was such a pain the dupa that you could write a book about it! Good news is that OpenAPRS is easy to configure - it took about a minute - and I had it up and running quickly.

After driving to work running OpenAPRS, I checked to see how well OpenAPRS performed and I was very happy to find my route perfectly drawn on the map; APRS via cell phone RF worked just as well as APRS via ham radio RF for that 22-mile trip.

By the way, Verizon is my cell phone RF provider and I am very happy with its service. For what it's worth, while staffing the TAPR booth in the Hara Arena at Hamvention this year, my iPhone had great cell phone RF service, while other people in the booth using iPhones with other cell phone service providers had poor or no service inside the arena.

Getting back to OpenAPRS... it has the following APRS-related screens:

Settings screen - where you push buttons and enter text to set up and control the software

Messaging screen - where you can enter texts to be sent via APRS

Search screen - to find other APRS stations

Objects screen - where you can create an APRS object

Maps screen - to display APRS activity on a map

OpenAPRS also has built-in a compass, a search FCC database function, technical support and help. Also, you can choose from three types of maps: a Google road map, a Google satellite map and a hybrid that combines features of the two.

What I like about the Google satellite map version is that when I zoom into my workplace, the current Google satellite image shows my green Subaru parked in the exact same spot where I usually park it every workday with my APRS station icon overlaid on my vehicle!

How cool is that!

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