There has been some interest in the navigation system I use in my Jeep, so I have been asked to present a tech article about it. What I concocted was a system that uses a laptop car mount to hold an Android tablet. The tablet runs an application called Maverick GPS. The advantages of this set up include:
1 Pre trip downloading and caching of maps for the areas I will be traveling in.
2 Switching back and forth between multiple map sets (i.e. USGS, ESRI
3 Large screen for ease of viewing.
4 Easily removable for security purposes.
5 Inexpensive (if you already own
I am sure that a similar system can be created if you own an iPad, but I will limit my comments to the Android Operating System as that is what I am familiar with.
Starting with the laptop mount, there are many of these available onthe market. I choose one from a company called Jeniko that was fairly inexpensive, but has proved to be sturdy and doesn’t shake a lot when traveling off road. It incorporated a “universal” mount that bolts to the base of you passenger seat. In the case of my Jeep Grand Cherokee, it didn’t quite give me the fit I wanted, but a short piece of 2” angle iron with three holes drilled in it did the trick. The mount is adjustable for a wide range of positions so you can get it right where you want it.
The tablet is a Lenovo Android tablet with a 10” diagonal screen and built in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities. These are usually all of the interfaces I need. If I need to access the internet on the road, I utilize the Wi-Fi hotspot capability of my cell phone (assuming there is a cell tower in range). Also of critical importance is a built-in GPS receiver. However, nearly every Android device now comes standard with GPS. Nearly all Android devices use a mini USB jack for charging. By buying a cheap USB charging unit that plugs into your cigarette lighter socket, you can keep the tablet going around the clock.
Maverick is only one of several similar applications for GPS navigation that can be used. I have also tried the US Topo Maps Pro application. The important thing to look for in one of these applications is the ability to cache maps in advance as we usually travel in areas without internet access. Another feature to look for is the ability to import track and waypoint data from other sources, such as Google Earth. Beyond that, choose the application that appeals to you the most. In the case of Maverick, the application comes in two flavors. The basic application is free so you can install it from the Google Play Store and play with it to see if that is what you want. You can then install the “Pro” version for just a few dollars that allows you to download and cache maps. All of these maps can be downloaded for free. Instead of downloading complete quadrangles, this application allows you to download much smaller “tiles” that follow the route that you wish to take. This can be a real time saver. For example, on the Great Western Trail trip this last March, my downloaded map tiles added up to 1.6 GB of data (whew.) Once you purchase the Pro version, you can then choose which of many different maps you want to view. Play with this feature. Different maps might be the best for you on different trips.
Some of the other features of Maverick include:
• The ability to zoom in and out at will.
• Freeze the map while you are moving, then quickly recenter the map on your current position.
• Record your moving track and display/export it later.
• Add and annotate way points on the fly to record interesting or important information.
• Maverick can import most of the commonly used way point and track formats used by different manufacturers.
Since I already had the tablet, the total cost was under $100.00. If you start from scratch, you can get the whole system for around $300.00. Keep in mind that the tablet does so much more than a dedicated GPS receiver that you could get from say, Garmin or Magellan. It does email, web surfing, takes photos and videos, file sharing, word processing, etc.
All in all I have been very happy with this set up. I have noted a few gotchas though. It is important to set aside enough time for the tablet to download all of the tiles before shutting off the program. For a long trip, this could take as much as 18-24 hours depending on your internet link speed. If you don’t, you can occasionally have the map details disappear on you in the closer in zoom settings. Fortunately, it this occurs, zoom out and you get your info back on the screen at lower resolution. As these map files can be huge, you should have a large capacity SD card installed in the memory expansion port and set up Maverick to cache files to the SD card rather than the built-in memory.
– Happy navigating, Bill Powell