Monday, May 29, 2006

Find adventure with a GPS receiver in hand

location based services

When Needham adventure racer Tim Reif begins the 500-mile Primal Quest race in southern Utah next month, he and his teammates will carry a device that could save their lives: a portable GPS receiver.

As they hike, bike, and paddle across some of North America's most treacherous terrain, Reif's team will lug a specially designed GPS unit that will allow race officials to electronically monitor every step of their progress during a non stop odyssey that could take up to 10 days to complete.
``We'll be covering a huge area, and it's a nice thing to have if you have an injured or sick person," said Reif, 38, a veteran of more than 20 adventure races. ``It's reassuring. If a team wanders off course or doesn't move for 24 hours, you know someone is going to be able to find them."
Portable GPS receivers are becoming a must-have accessory for motorists, boaters, and backpackers. Global Position System technology uses radio signals from a network of satellites to provide real-time mapping information that, depending on the unit, can tell you where you are, where you're going, provide directions on how to get there, and estimate how long your journey will take.
Consumers in North America are expected to spend approximately $300 million on portable GPS devices this year, a 50 percent increase over the roughly $200 million spent in 2005, according to ABI, a New York research firm.
``GPS technology is pretty much everywhere these days," said Frank Viquez , ABI's director of transportation research. ``Now that the market has become so competitive, the costs are coming down. The real winner is the consumer."
With a slew of new devices on the market, ranging from basic $130 units that fit in your pocket to top-of-the line models that feature touch-pad screens and sell for $1,000 or more, Viquez said it pays to evaluate your GPS needs before going shopping.
Need a dash-mounted GPS to navigate Boston streets? Viquez recommend ed looking at the high end, where quality units cost between $600 and $900, but can climb as high as $1,200 to $1,500 for what he call ed the ``Ferraris of navigation systems."
Viquez's list of must-have features for automotive use include a color, touch-pad screen that's 4.5 inches in diameter or larger, voice guidance, a rechargeable battery, an internal hard drive that can store maps and other media, as well as a USB port so that it can download information from a personal computer. Garmin's StreetPilot Series, Magellan's RoadMate series, and TomTom's Go 510, 700, and 910 models, most of which are priced between $500 and $1,000, are good options, according to Viquez.
Hikers and boaters who want a smaller GPS receiver for outdoor use and don't need all of the bells and whistles that come with automotive units can find excellent devices for between $150 and $300, Viquez said .
Garmin's eTrex and Foretrex series, which retail for between $130 and $300, and Magellan's eXplorist series, which start s at $120 for a black-and-white screen and climb s to $350 for color , are compact, durable, and water-resistant.
Reif, who first started using GPS technology in the early 1990s, owns three portable units. He runs with a Garmin GPS watch, and hikes and bikes with a small Magellan unit. He rarely leaves home without them.
``When you spend as much time in the woods as I do, it helps," he said.
© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.

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