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Friday, April 25, 2008

Looking for a housing?

This week has been extremely busy and I definitely need a day of rest and spend some quality time with my family after all those long nights. Quite a lot of things are coming together:

  • As you can see I have collected quite a few different housing styles over the last couple of weeks. This will be helpful in designing the package. The top photo shows the top and bottom of each of the housing types.
    To give you an idea of what the size of the boards is in comparison, take a look at this photo:

    The first prototype board is on the left, the new PCB design is on the right (in paper form).

  • The new PCB design went out today for manufacturing. Looking back at the design process, I ask myself: "Wow, how did I manage to stuff all those parts in such a tiny area, including a full dock connector!" And guess what, I even managed to connect 3.3V power from the iPhone/iTouch and the L/R audio out through. I guess thinking about PCBs during my commute to work paid off. Whether this design will make it, is ultimately dependent on the performance of the chip antenna, so let's hope for the best. In the meantime, I will be working on a patch antenna backup solution in case the performance would be lacking.

  • The majority of the new PCB parts has also arrived this week.

  • This new PCB design also has a few "light(n)ing" options since some people have posted in the comments that they were concerned about a bright flashing LED when the module has a GPS lock. They'd rather see this reversed: flashing when searching for a lock and steady on when a lock is found. I will post a poll at some point later to see what configuration is most favorite and what LED colors you prefer. The new design will be able to accommodate for quite a few options.

  • We also hit 750 votes today! And that only 11 days after we hit 500 votes. I think some people posted this website on their own blogs which is a great thing! So if you have your own blog or want to spread the word, feel free to do some advertising :)

Well, time to catch up on some sleep now... Gd'Night.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Smaller, please...

I am still working on the new PCB design. The picture shows a preview printed on paper (top right) in comparison to the old boards (left and bottom). The width is about the same and the height is about 5mm shorter and it has a full dock connector instead of a mini-USB plug. I am simultaneously working on the package design as the two will need to be in sync with each other.

Only a short post this time, since I am trying to get things done as quickly as possible. This project requires quite some multi-tasking of different things and I need to be working on all of them in parallel in order not to loose any time (I guess all of you are eagerly waiting for the time when you can place that order):

  • Designing the PCB board
  • Package design which needs to fit the PCB, connectors and iPhone/iTouch
  • Ordering the PCB components (I am getting parts from quite a few places and all need attention)
  • Getting ready for production (both for the PCB board, the package and assembly) which means interacting with one or more contract manufacturers.
So hang in there with me :) If you'd like to have something more to read in the meantime, you can click on some of the human rights related links on the right.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Halfway there for a first production run!

Today, the number of voters who want a GPS module for their iPhone and/or iTouch has hit 500! This is great and since some people even want more than one module, it is more than half way to those 1000 pieces that are required for a first production run.

I am currently working on finishing up another PCB design which will bring you an even smaller form factor of about 27mm (W) x 19.5mm (D) x 8mm ! (H). This will be a universal module for both the iPhone and the iTouch and it will have a similar dock connector as is present in the iPhone/iTouch so that you can use your standard Apple cables/chargers.

Whether this will be the ultimate production design will be dependent on whether satellite tracking performance is acceptable after I build a prototype. This new prototype is using a chip-antenna instead of a patch antenna and I will have to test if the chip-antenna performs as well.

Stay tuned....

Quietly steaming along.....

Things have been busy last week. I have built the second GPS module. There were a few hick-ups along the way which slowed things down a bit. Quality control on parts is a MUST. I had a few parts that weren't up to spec. It took me three evenings to figure this out and fix the problems. I wish there was more free time in a day.

The second module (the right phone in the photo) uses a slightly different GPS module. This module consumes less power:

  • Module #1 (on the left):
    • Consumes about 65mA at 3.3V on startup (that is when searching for satellites)
    • Consumes about 50mA at 3.3V when tracking (GPS lock)
    • Green LED is continuously on all the time. A high brightness orange LED in the same package starts flashing when a GPS lock is achieved.
  • Module #2 (on the right):
    • Consumes about 55mA at 3.3V on startup (that is when searching for satellites)
    • Consumes about 35mA at 3.3V when tracking (GPS lock)
    • Blue LED is on continuously when searching for satellites and changes to flashing when a GPS lock is achieved.
Talking about power consumption, the technical specifications for the iPhone battery can be found at Apple's website.... well so much for technical specs on that link. Actually on that page there are no technical specs for the battery, only that battery life depends on usage.....

Searching around the internet, one can find that the battery in the iPhone has a capacity of 1400mAh and a voltage of 3.7V. So plugging in my GPS module for one hour, will add approximately an additional 35mA of current load to the phone (about 2.5% of the battery capacity). To speak in laymen's terms, not too much to worry about. I have been playing around with module #1 over the last couple of weeks, having it on continuously during my drive from and to work (about an hour each way) and I still get about 2 days of battery life out of the phone. To be honest, I think it is more determined by how much Wi-Fi I use during the day than anything else.

But, since the question has come up quite a few times already, for those who are worried, there is a mini-USB plug on the module which allows you to charge and sync the phone as needed.

And then on a final note, I have also included a lithium rechargeable battery on the PCB board now that will keep the acquired satellite positions saved in the GPS module (see the photo above; click on it for a larger view). In that way, you will get a fast GPS lock (within about 5-10sec) after your first initial lock (which can generally take up to a few minutes depending on where you are). This lithium battery is charged from the phone with a current of about 0.05mA and will last about 8 days without recharging by the phone.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Live working GPS demo on the iPhone!

I have finally had time to shoot a live video of the working GPS module. Enjoy!

Link for iPhone and iTouch users here.

The software that is used to interact with the module is written by Simba. You can visit his blog here. We have joined forces to speed up the progress of the project.

Here are some of the features of the software:
  • Compass screen:
    • Your location: latitude and longitude
    • Dashboard: heading, speed, distance to target, bearing
  • Satellite screen:
    • Locked satellites used in GPS location (green)
    • Other satellites in view but not used in GPS location (grey)
  • Maps button:
    • You can upload your own maps to the Google Maps app in case you are not on a network.
    • For more information on this, you can visit this thread.
  • Points button:
    • This sets your travel destination point. It uses your Maps app bookmarks.
    • While driving, the distance to this target is displayed on the compass screen.
    • The yellow arrow on the compass indicates the direction you should take to get to this target.
  • View on map button:
    • This will launch the Google Map app and drop a pin "I am here" at your current location.
    • If you are not on a network, you will need to have uploaded a map of your local area to your phone (see above).
Note that this software is still beta, but Simba will in the meantime be overhauling/updating the code with new features, e.g. a GPS daemon, continuous location updates in the Maps app, choice of distance units in km/miles, etc.

  1. All credit for the software goes to Simba. The only thing I did was test-drive the software with the GPS module. I found a few minor bugs which he has already fixed.

  2. I did design a new iPhone icon for his software. The icon is a composition from two other icons designed by Studiomx:

  3. The icons are licensed under the
    Linkware license

Please leave your feedback, comments and encouragements!


Tuesday, April 1, 2008


What would this be? Post your guess...