Putting a GPS Tracker in the mail

I lent my SPOT Personal Tracker to a friend recently. The SPOT is a neat piece of kit that relays your GPS location via the Globalstar satellite constellation in various different ways. There are two buttons that allow you to send pre-configured messages to a given set of SMS/email users, an optional “Track Progress” Google Maps overlay and a 911 emergency button that alerts an international emergency centre. It’s been a great reassurance to have this with me on a couple of foreign motorbike trips especially those that get out of mobile phone range.

I posted the SPOT Tracker in a padded envelope and just before I put it in the post I enabled the “Track Progress” function for a laugh. The GPS needs pretty good clear view of the sky and the satellite transmissions are low power. The low power allows it to track for an amazing 14 days or send 911 signals for approx 7 days, impressive off just a pair of Lithium AA batteries. Given that the conditions it would be in were far from ideal I didn’t have high hopes of it tracking at all.

I took it to post office near work and posted it Royal MailSpecial Delivery at lunchtime. I expected the parcel to be put on a truck/train for the 250 mile (400km) journey.

That night evening I checked in and found that it had sent out some signals!

First from the large Mount Pleasant sorting office, note the red coloured Royal Mail vehicles.
Location 1

It then spent an hour on the road, I’m guessing in a fibreglass or soft topped truck heading out of London and up the M11.

All of the updates while it was on the move are accurate enough that you can see the correct side of the motorway that it was on.
Motorway position

It stopped sending messages an hour after it left the sorting office, you can see clearly that it’s in a loading bay
Loading Bay, Stansted

Turns out it wasn’t going on its journey in a train or truck, it was going on a plane from Stansted airport. Perhaps I shouldn’t have left it turned on and tracking!
Stansted

It all went a bit quiet from here until early the next morning when it showed up 5 miles or so away from my friend’s house
Prudhoe Depot
Red vans on an industrial estate? Looks like another Royal Mail depot to me.

Finally we watched it on the driver’s delivery round and spotted it a couple of streets away from his house
Close to delivery

It arrived shortly afterwards about 24 hours after being posted.

It was quite cool watching the progress of the parcel in real-time without using the carrier’s own tracking information and would have been incredibly useful if the package had gone missing at all. This was a fun demonstration of the SPOT Tracker which I’d recommend to anyone who does outdoor stuff away from mobile phone reception.

With parcels all we need next is some kind of cheap data-logging accelerometers so you can prove when the courier dropped it now…

About James Cohen
LAMP geek with interests in building scalable web applications

5 Responses to Putting a GPS Tracker in the mail

  1. Dundagirl says:

    Love this, really great to see that the UK still has a (fairly) reliable postal system; would love to try this in South Africa…

  2. Kathaleen @ Heathrow says:

    Fantastic story. I might have to buy me one of those gizmos and start posting it around the UK. It could be the birth of a whole new craze – Royal Mail tracking. At £130 it would have to be Special delivery every time, although it might be more interesting to see where it ends up if you sent it standard !

  3. matt says:

    Great performance by a spot device on Globalstar who are often derided for having quite a weak signal from their satellites. Wonder how it performs against one of the promoted so called ‘miniature GPS package tracking devices’ using GPRS and GPS?

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