Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Better backcountry comm tools

When I am running a backcountry trail or bushwacking off-trail to some big trees (or, in New Mexico, bushwacking while supposedly on a trail), I tend to keep my phone with me, mostly to take advantage of off-line mapping tools. There are many mobile and smartwatch applications that track GPS position, mostly for logging purposes. These are cute, but the functions they provide are relatively unimportant. Consistent networking is (unfortunately, sometimes literally) the killer app for wilderness trekking. There are many satellite systems for SOS beaconing, but the goal is really to send and receive messages before you get into trouble (e.g., if you are canyoneering you'll want to know if there's been rain recently anywhere upstream).

Luckily, there do exist some 2-way satellite systems, such as the DeLorme inReach or the Spot Gen3. I think these kinds of systems could be improved incrementally to be more useful. In particular, this system seems like a perfect fit for push notifications to a smartwatch. It would be nice to be able to configure a service to listen to a particular Twitter stream (e.g., an NWS local) and push important notifications to your device and then onto your watch. It would be even better if the server service would have some basic filtering tools so that you could send only tweets that include "warning" or some other keyword. Even better would be if the NWS has a codified tweet protocol, but as far as I can tell they don't at the moment. This data could also be gleaned via regular web page scrapes from NWS local websites.

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