Global Positioning Systems, or GPS, provide a means of determining a person’s location and altitude on earth to within a metre or so. They are commonly used in car navigation systems to allow the driver to receive instructions to a location, but they have other applications which are being pursued by other mobile device manufacturers such as camera makers (to enable photos to be tagged with location data about where the image was taken) and mobile phone manufactuers.
Nokia, in particular, has recently invested millions of dollars in GPS research as well as buying a number of companies associated with GPS technologies, and have started introducing GPS as a built-in feature in some of their handsets.
I recently acquired a Nokia 6110 Navigator – a slim slider phone with a large screen and built-in 2 megapixel digital camera – for free, when I renewed my A$49-a-month Optus contract, and having now used it for a month or so, it’s probably the best phone I’ve owned for years. This handset features a built-in GPS receiver, which allows me to get free voice directions when I’m driving, cycling, or walking around, as well as a full visual map display. It’s as good as many dedicated in-car GPS systems I’ve played with.
Because the GPS is built on the Symbian Operating System used in most Nokias, the GPS can also be extended to work with third-party applications… and this is where it starts to get interesting for m-learning. Applications can be developed for this phone which utilise the GPS system for recording location data.
One application I’ve played with is Sports Tracker, a free application from Nokia Research Labs. This allows me to record my workouts – walking, cycling, skiing or jogging, for example – and analyse the data later. The application also displays real-time performance graphs, such as my speed at various points in the route, in both numerical and graphical form. This requires surprisingly little memory to accomplish; a 1-hour session takes only 45kB of data to record on my phone.
An application like this would be immediately useful for learners in any field where analysing location, speed, or altitude over time would be useful; those involved in the Sports/Fitness industries, aviation, or delivery services, for example.
What makes the application even more useful, however, is that the data can be exported in various formats, including the industry-standard GPX format. This means that I can use the GPS data to accurately determine exactly where media I create has been created. For example, using the free progam GPicSync, from Google, I can determine the locations of my photos along my route, and view the context of the images using Google Earth‘s 2D and 3D views, which allow panning, zooming, and rotation.
This application makes GPS useful for many other areas of learning, including sciences such as forestry, botany, zoology, biology, environmental science and forensics; as well as some you might not immediately think of such as marketing and advertising (taking pictures of advertisements and their locations), architecture, and logistics.
2D view in Google Earth, showing my walking route and the locations of the photos I took. Other data can be superimposed such as roads, points of interest, and other locations in Google Earth:
3D view in Google Earth. 3D is activated using the controls visible in the top right corner of this image. You can pan, zoom, and rotate the image to see “around” 3D objects.
If a number of photos are taken in one location (or close to each other) they can overlap; Google Earth “splits” these when you click on the overlapping icons to make selecting the phto you’re interested in easy:
Clicking on a photo icon brings up a view of the photo taken at a location:
Update: You can now download a demo of a Google Earth KML file with GPS-tagged photos in my file-sharing box in the right margin: the file is called “Mogo Zoo Google Earth Demo.zip”
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