Outdoor Retailer Summer 2010: Update on Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) Technologies

SPOT and DeLorme introduce the DeLorme PN-60w with SPOT Communicator, and ACR announces the SarLink View. Both allow text messaging via satellite from remote locations, which goes beyond just chatting, enabling you to provide important information to people on the outside.

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by Will Rietveld | 2010-08-03 11:00:00-06

DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w GPS with SPOT Communicator Combines GPS Communication with Text Messaging and Emergency Communication via Satellite

Tied in with Outdoor Demo we had the opportunity to field test the new DeLorme PN-60w GPS with built in SPOT communicator. This product pairing consists of two separate units: a SPOT Communicator unit that clips onto the top of your pack or pack shoulder strap where it has good exposure to the sky, and the DeLorme PN-60w handheld mapping GPS. Besides the usual set of icons and menus in the GPS, the unit also enables four types of communications sent out by the SPOT: progress tracking, “I’m OK,” emergency/SOS, and text messaging. Its the first GPS that enables type-and-send text messaging via satellite from virtually anywhere in the world to stay connected with family, friends, and emergency services. In the event of an emergency, it allows your group to provide real time information regarding the situation and what your needs are. If you forgot something, if you want to revise your schedule for a re-supply, or if you need repair parts sent in, this device enables you to get in touch with someone on the outside to tell them what you need.

Outdoor Retailer Summer 2010: Update on Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) Technologies - 1
The new DeLorme PN-60w GPS with SPOT Communicator allows you to stay in touch when there’s no cell phone service, providing coverage from locations worldwide. With this device you can type and send text messages from the field to let others track your progress via social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Fire Eagle, SpotAdventures.com, or Geocaching.com. In addition it has the usual SPOT communication ability to send emails to let know you’re okay, or to send help in case of an emergency, all with your GPS location embedded. DeLorme specifies the weight of the PN-60w at 5.4 ounces (153 g), and the SPOT Communicator at 3.7 ounces (105 g), however our scale gave weights of 6.4 and 4.8 ounces (181 and 136 g), respectively. MSRP of the paired units is US$550.

Because messages are conveyed via satellite, and are not dependent on cellular phone coverage, the PN-60w with SPOT Satellite Communicator keeps users reliably connected, even in difficult-access remote locales. Both devices are rugged and water resistant and thus better suited than most cell phones for the rigors of outdoor use.

“Now there’s a completely new way for those who travel off the beaten path to navigate with GPS and also send satellite text messages back home via email and popular social networking sites,” said DeLorme Vice President Caleb Mason. “It’s a thrill to be able to share your excitement when you summit a mountain, kayak through heavy white water, or reach a destination. It’s also a big stress reliever if you can keep loved ones apprised in case of delays, receive nonemergency help if you encounter problems, or send SOS messages in case of a serious emergency.”

The outbound text messages can be distributed to recipients’ cell phones and email addresses, and via social networking sites. In addition, family and friends can track a user’s progress via Google’s free online maps. A special interface on the PN-60w connects it wirelessly with the SPOT Satellite Communicator, which was designed exclusively for DeLorme. Messages are created on the PN-60w’s internal keyboard, then relayed via satellite for delivery using established SPOT technology. The SPOT actually sends tracking messages and “I’m OK” messages three times to ensure they go through; SOS messages are sent continuously.

I found the DeLorme PN-60w to be intuitive and user-friendly; it is a delight to use compared to some GPS units by competitors I have used recently. The display is easy to read in strong sunlight.

The Earthmate PN-60w comes with DeLorme Topo North America GPS maps and desktop software included, for topographic and street coverage of the U.S. and Canada. It also displays DigitalGlobe worldwide high-resolution satellite and aerial imagery, official USGS and Natural Resources Canada topo maps, and NOAA nautical charts, all available from DeLorme via low-cost subscriptions.

The text messaging, track progress, and emergency SOS features are all activated via subscriptions available from SPOT. Regular SPOT service is US$100 per year, tracking is $50, type-and-send text messaging comes with five free custom text messages upon activation. To purchase more type-and-send text messaging capability, the rates are 500 messages for US$50, 100 messages for US$30, and the single message rate is US$0.50 per message.

The DeLorme PN-60w (wireless) model, including the specially designed SPOT Communicator, is expected to be available in late August. The SPOT Communicator cannot be purchased separately; it is only available in the paired configuration. If a Personal Locator Device is all you need, then you should look at the next-gen SPOT 2 (US$150). Alan Dixon is currently working on a review update of the SPOT 2 that Backpacking Light will publish soon.

ACR Electronics Introduces the Next Generation of Personal Locator Beacons - Smaller, Lighter, and now with a Strobe Light and Multi-Use GPS Acquisition Testing

Not to be outdone, ACR Electronics has upgraded the SARLink 406 MHz PLB features to include a new strobe light function and multi-use GPS acquisition testing. The SARLink is one of the smallest, lightest 406 GPS PLBs in the world.

Outdoor Retailer Summer 2010: Update on Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) Technologies - 2
New features in the SARLink are: a built-in, super bright LED strobe light to increase visibility for Search and Rescue; an onboard 66-channel parallel GPS acquires then transmits LAT/LON when the unit is activated, dramatically saving time for the distress message to reach local rescue centers, and provide rescue agencies with exact position to within 110 yards (100 meters); full functional self testing of internal circuitry, battery voltage and power; increased number of long GPS acquisition tests - up to twelve times per life of battery; more efficient design uses less power, making it smaller and lighter. Specifications: size: 2.3 x 5.9 x 1.5 in (6 x 15 x 4 cm), weight: 8.9 oz (252 g) with lanyard, MSRP US$499.

Outdoor Retailer Summer 2010: Update on Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) Technologies - 3
The bigger news from ACR is the new SARLink View 406 GPS PLB, which adds an added level of assurance with instant information and a breakthrough digital display. The digital display, which allows the user to see all of the beacon’s operational activities, visually provides GPS LAT/LON, operating instructions, usage tips, and transmission bursts, as well as battery power. The Digital Display also makes self-testing simple and easily understood by visually walking the user through the self-test process step by step. The digital display will allow the user to test GPS functionality up to sixty times over the life of the battery.

When mated with ACR’s new 406Link.com (www.406Link.com) subscription-based satellite self test service, the SARLink View will also give users the ability to send non-distress messages via text/e-mail to family and friends, letting them know that all is OK.

Housed inside the unit, the Digital Display cannot be touched, bumped, pierced or otherwise damaged by an external force unless the entire PLB is destroyed. The PLB uses an LED type of display to ensure that it is visible when below freezing and in direct sunlight, therefore it does not suffer from the problems associated with LCD displays.

The waterproof SARLink View provides three levels of integrated emergency signal technology - GPS positioning, a powerful 406 MHz satellite detectable signal, and 121.5 MHz homing capability. The SARLink View broadcasts a unique registered distress signal that not only tells rescuers where the sender is, but who they are. An onboard GPS can fix the sender’s position to within 100 meters and then utilizes a powerful 406 MHz signal to relay the distress call to orbiting satellites. As local Search and Rescue is deployed, a separate homing signal and integrated LED strobe light guides rescuers to the sender’s exact position.

Specifications: size: 2.3 x 5.8 x 1.5 in (6 x 15 x 4 cm), weight: 9.1 oz (261 g) with lanyard, MSPR US$599.

ACR Products Announces 406Link.com

ACR Products has also announced the launch of a new subscription-based satellite self test service, 406Link.com, now available to current and new owners of 406 MHz Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs), Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELTs), and Emergency Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs).

Available in two service plans, 406Link.com now gives those owning 406 MHz emergency beacons the ability to send non-distress messages for the first time via text/e-mail to family and friends, letting them know that all is OK.

Priced from $40 (annual subscription), subscribers to the 406Link.com service, for example, will have access to ACR’s unique thru-the-satellite self-test application for PLBs, ELTs, and EPIRBs, which ensures the beacon is performing properly via transmission and satellite confirmation, ultimately sending a text and e-mail message to the beacon’s owner.

An upgraded service, 406Link Plus, will provide users with the self-test application system described above, plus the added features of multiple text and e-mail messaging, trip planning, and GPS test location (must have the ACR PLB AquaLink View/SARLink View to use this function). The upgraded 406Link.com plan is priced at $60 for an annual subscription.

McMurdo Fastfind 210 PLB

To complete our updated coverage of personal locator beacons, mention needs to be made of the Fastfind. UK-based McMurdo released their Fastfind 210 PLB to the US market in February 2009. Unlike personal signaling products such as the SPOT Satellite Messenger, the Fastfind is a single-purpose device whose sole purpose is to alert rescuers to your location in the event of an emergency; there is no progress tracking, “I’m OK” communication, or text messaging capability. It sends out an emergency message (only) via the standard 406 MHz band of the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system that has been operational since 1979.

Like the SPOT Satellite Messenger, the Fastfind sends a signal with your GPS coordinates to a satellite network, which is then relayed to a ground station to alert authorities to your emergency. Once the Fastfind has been deployed, it must be returned to the manufacturer to be re-activated. However, it doesn't require a paid service subscription like SPOT, which is a plus. More details on the McMurdo Fastfind can be found in Mike Martin’s article published as part of our summer 2009 Outdoor Retailer coverage.

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Note that a PLB is a satellite-signaling device of last resort, for use when all other means of self-rescue have been exhausted and where the situation is deemed to be grave and eminent, and the loss of life, limb, eyesight or valuable property will occur without assistance. It’s important to note that communication (including messaging) is one-way from you to the outside; you cannot receive acknowledgment or responses from recipients, and there is no real-time confirmation that messages are received. All beacons must be registered. There are no monthly service fees required for 406 MHz beacons.


Citation

"Outdoor Retailer Summer 2010: Update on Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) Technologies," by Will Rietveld. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/orsm2010_personal_locator_beacon_technologies.html, 2010-08-03 11:00:00-06.

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Forum Index » Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2010 » Outdoor Retailer Summer 2010: Update on Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) Technologies


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Mitchell Keil
(mitchellkeil) - F

Locale: Deep in the OC
Watch SPOT get lost on 08/09/2010 10:42:12 MDT Print View

Gerald and Bob:
Guys. Please search BPL for the lengthy reviews and posts from the many of us who purchased SPOT. You will note that even after the excellent and useful review that BPL posted,(see here: http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/spot_satellite_personal_tracker.html
) the vast majority of the posts were uniformly negative. SPOT has failed more of us in ideal circumstances in the field than seems possible for such a hyped device. Even the reviewers went with a legalistic approach not wanting to recommend a device which is so "complicated". SPOT has worked for a few people under what appear to be ideal conditions. But most of us who have owned the device want our money back with an apology in bold capital letters. Most of us would like to recommend the SPOT company for one of the lower circles of Hell where they can send a "we are ok" message as often as they like. No one will receive it, but that is performance within acceptable parameters.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Watch SPOT get lost on 08/09/2010 10:47:01 MDT Print View

That BPL article is not public.

--B.G.--

Mitchell Keil
(mitchellkeil) - F

Locale: Deep in the OC
Re: Spot getting Lost on 08/09/2010 13:40:13 MDT Print View

Bob
Sorry about that. I guess I did not notice members only. However, a search of BPL will bring up many of the posts which have been posted most of which are negative.

Gerald Miller
(colnagospud) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
SPOT 2 Reliability on 08/10/2010 09:10:15 MDT Print View

Bob...thank you for you insight and lesson, however, bottom line is that the SPOT unit that I bought was DEFECTIVE and SPOT admitted as much but would not support their product. They also asked me to "track" a trip from Sacramento to Fresno on Hwy 99. It was equally off track while driving down the Hwy. Is this what anyone wants when you might be in need of help? As for me a retired fire chief and Emergency Response Manager for a major State Agency, I don't think so.....

What happens out in the field is much more important to me than knowing the difference in orbits, technology, and other mapping technology. I understand that stuff and I also understand the issues with globalstar, but the bottom line is will this tool work for me as expected?