Monday, 29 September 2008

Geotagging

As you may have guessed from the number of blog entries on the subject, I quite like taking photos. With the move to digital I'm taking more photos then I ever did before. For example, we took almost 1500 photos in just ten days on our honeymoon -- the equivalent of 41 rolls of 36 exposure film! There are two problems with this explosion in the number of photos we take: storage and remembering where they were taken. I don't have a solution to the first yet (other than lots of blank DVDs and hard drives) but I've bought a new toy that hopefully will solve the second.

Geotagging involves tagging each photograph with the exact location at which it was taken. Once tagged the photos can then easily be display on a map which is really useful if you are trying to remember where they were taken (you already know the when from the timestamp). I've tried manually tagging some of my photos in the past but it is a very slow and painstaking process. Of course if you have a GPS device then you can know precisely where you are and all you have to do is make use of the information to tag the photos. While many people may have GPS in their cars this isn't a lot of good if you are walking around. To solve this problem what you really need is a very small GPS recorder.

So my new toy is a keyring sized GPS recorder from QSTARZ -- specifically the BT-Q1300 model (which, in the UK, can be bought direct from SuperGPS or if you prefer through Amazon). As you can see from the image it really is only the size of a large keyring and weighs virtually nothing, which makes it very easy to carry around. On it's own it can log up to 200,000 separate locations and with a battery which lasts for about 12 hours should be great for a full day out and about with the camera. Given it's small size it's antenna isn't the most sensitive and so it nearly always fails to get a location fix indoors but I don't really see that as a problem. Apparently (although I haven't tried this yet) as well as logging the journey it can connect to a laptop or PDA via bluetooth and be used, with the right software, as a GPS navigation device as well.

I did have a few problems getting it to work initially. As I said it doesn't seem to ever get a location fix inside (which is where I was when I was first trying it out) and on the day I bought it I managed to crash it. Basically there are two versions of the software on the supplied CD (v3 and v4) which both have slightly different capabilities. As it turns out some of the advanced features found in v3 aren't compatible with the hardware and this combined with the software locking up on my laptop left the device rather confused and I had to wait 12 hours for the battery to go flat before I could re-charge it and get it to respond.

I also, as yet, haven't managed to give it a really good test on a long day out, but I did record my journey to work this morning from Penistone train station right to the department at the university and took some photos on the way. The results of this can be seen on the Google Maps below (or if you prefer you can view it in Google Earth).


One of the main let-downs of the bundled software is that while it will output both KML and KMZ files for viewing in Google Maps and Google Earth respectively only the KMZ output links to the photos and the format the software produces doesn't work properly with Google Maps. Anyway a bit of hacking later gave me a KMZ file that works OKish in both -- expect me to write software that does this better at a later date.
30 September 2008 at 07:30 , L'homme bizarre avec la barbe grise said...

Sounds like a brilliant piece of equipment. Especially when one is wandering around the New Zealand unnamed backwoods. My SatNav can be used in walking mode but I would have to record all GPS positions manually. However it sounds as though the software would be rather beyond me. Let me know when you've produced your version! Incidentally my SatNav won't work indoors either nor with certain car windscreens which screen out the satellites.

30 September 2008 at 09:08 , Mark said...

The software for tagging the photos isn't actually too bad, it's just that the output doesn't work well in Google Maps and Earth at the same time. Anyway I'm sure there will be a posting on the software once I've written it.

Well I suppose knowing one of the cars you drive in New Zealand even if the windscreen is a problem the satellite signal can probably make it through the open roof!

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