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Author Topic: SPOT reviewed by an independent 3rd Party... - great read!  (Read 370 times)

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Offline zebra - Flying Brick

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SPOT reviewed by an independent 3rd Party... - great read!
« on: November 01, 2016, 10:23:52 am »
Note: Chris Grinton at Flying Brick sells these. He was going to arrange an evening demo, but I guess that fell through.
As I've written previously, I like adventuring alone. In the past I've worried about how I would manage in the middle of nowhere if I had a major problem. 
Cell phone coverage is sparse in the areas I (we) like to ride. 
Club ride leaders usually carry satellite phones on most rides, and particularly on gravel routes - simply because you cannot rely on cellphone signal. 
On a group trip, you can expect at least one member to survive almost any incident and be able to use a sat-phone and communicate intelligently in order to arrange a rescue.
There's generally enough bikes with GPS devices to be able to pinpoint the location if emergency evacuation is needed. 
A lone rider may not be so lucky to be coherent enough to communicate, or to be able to find the GPS and relay coordinates. 
I have borrowed a club sat-phone for a ride - but worried that I'd have trouble reaching it in my top-box and being able to tell soeone where I am. 
I don't doubt that the thought of being incapacitated in the middle of nowhere is a significant barrier for many to mount up and head out alone.
In June last year I bought a SPOT 3 device after Tony Schlee pointed out that this service had now been extended to cover Southern Africa.  The time has come to renew the service fees, and I still think it worth the expense.
SPOT is a satellite tracking and signalling device - truly satellite based, and not just recording location using GPS and relying on 3G cellular networks to send communications.
It reads the GPS satellites to discover your location - just as any modern smartphone or GPS device will do. 

But every 10 minutes (or more frequently if you wish) it will send those coordinates, via a commercial sat-phone service, to the SPOT servers - which will record it for you. 
If after a couple of days your partner says "hmmn, I haven't heard from Piet in a while", they can browse to your personal map, identify you haven't moved in the last 3 days - and send in a rescue service.  Even with 10-miute tracking they are likely to find you in the mostly arid SA - it's not like we're in the tropical jungles of Borneo. 
That's something a sat-phone currently cannot do - regularly send location updates.

SPOT also provides an interface to communicate your location and a pre-defined message.  So you can tell your partner - I'll let you know every day that I reached my destination safely.,  If you don't get it by 20h00 - check the map and see if I'm still moving.  At the end of each day, you press an "I'm ok" button and it will send an email, an SMS, or even post to Facebook or Twitter. The message contains your pre-defined text, GPS coordinates and a link to the MAP location.  Even in the middle of nowhere, with no cell comms - you can reassure your loved ones that you are still breathing. 
SPOT is of course loaded for the "I'm not Ok" situation too.  There's a "Help me" button that will send that type of message to your predefined list of contacts; and an "SOS" button which will notify an international rescue service.  Press this one and your loved ones won't get the notification drirectly - but the rescue service will arrange with a local search and rescue to come and find you; and inform your primary emergency contacts.
There's also another custom message you can pre-define and send.  Perhaps an "I love you" message to your stukkie on the side?  Lacking spouse, partner, or stukkie - I can't really think of a use for it - but it's there if I want it. 
What does it cost? Around $200 (About R3,000) for the device itself. That's a once off cost. But on top of that you need the annual service to connect to the satellites and send the tracking - which is $165 (R2,500). 
There's an optional annual insurance fee of $20 (R300) for reimbursement of the first $100,000 (R1.5m) in search and rescue fees.  That seems like a pretty good deal. 
All in, you are looking at around R6k for the first year. Expensive, but peace-of-mind generally is. 
How does it work?  It takes 4 AAA lithium batteries.  They say this will last 2 weeks, but I guess that is for more frequent tracking, or for 24-hour day usage. I haven't run out of battery on a 2-week trip of almost constant use during the day. 
SPOT needs to 'see' the sky - it doesn't have a big antenna - so it is sensitive to coverage.  You need to think carefully about where it wil be placed and used.  Some people mount theirs on their bikes handlebars - which is ok (Chris can sell you a mount for that). 
I have a concern with that though.  If I've been in an accident I might have been thrown from the bike, or might be unable to reach that part of the bike if I'm trapped under it.  I prefer to have it attached to me - that way I could probably reach it in most circumstances. It comes with a carabineer - which I hook onto my water-pack, and I have a soft elastic band to hold it to one of the shoulder-straps - otherwise it flaps around annoyingly.  That way it is pretty much out of the way, and pointing generally skyward. 

It is easy to operate - a button to switch it on, and it cycles through all of the LEDs to show they are working.  Press and hold the tracking button to activate it. And then I'm off for the day.  At journey's end, I press the "I'm ok" button and wait a few minutes for it to work, for the message light to indicate it has been sent to the satellite.  Switch off. 
In order to call in the search and rescue: lift up the flap that covers the SOS button, press and hold the SOS button, wait for the message light to signal it has been sent. Wait for the helicopters. 

If you don't quite need the helicopters, the "Help me" button is also protected by a little flap to prevent it from being activated without need. 
Does it work?  Well - I haven't needed to call search and rescue - but their website indicates over 4000 'souls' have been saved. 
It does sent the "I'm Ok" messages without a problem - provided I'm in the open and I'm patient.  It does take a few minutes for such a small device with tiny antenna to get a lock on a comms satellite. 
It sends the message to facebook, twitter, email and SMS - never missed a beat.
Facebook message: 

Twitter Message:


I have used the "I'm Ok" to signal progress over tricky terrain - pre-arranging a schedule of signals up front rather than relying on one message at the end of the day. 
I have also used the "help-me" button when I got stuck.  I finally managed to sort myself out, and followed it up with an "I'm ok" - also as I'd prearranged.  By that time my sister had already hit the road to come to our aid. 
The tracking looks consistent. 
I'm very happy with it - no qualms at all about signing up for another year. 
Simple to use. One button to call for emergency.  No faffing around trying to get coordinates.  Multiple communication mechanisms allow for flexibility.
You can't deviate from a prearranged set of signals.  "HELP" and "I'm Ok" are binary alternatives - there's nothing in the middle that says "I've fallen and broken something. I'm alive and have assistance and will be able to get myself home - eventually".
« Last Edit: November 01, 2016, 10:25:11 am by zebra - Flying Brick »
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