I recently took a trip to the Rocky Mountains in Montana to do some skiing. While I was out there, I started thinking how great it would be if I could use my Motorola Droid (which runs on Android and has a built-in GPS) to track my adventures through the mountains.
After doing a little searching, I discovered a free GPS mobile tracker in the Android Market called My Tracks. My Tracks was developed by Google and lets you record your GPS tracks and view live statistics like speed, elevation, and distance. My Tracks is great for activities like skiing, hiking, running, and many other outdoor activities.
After you’ve recorded data using My Tracks, you can send your data to Google Spreadsheets for analysis or upload it to Google Maps to visualize your path and share with friends. You can even save your data to a KML file so it can be imported into Google Earth.
My Tracks is a free GPS mobile tracker application, and can be downloaded from the Android Market by searching for My Tracks. If you have the Barcode Scanner application on your phone, you can simply scan the QR code to the left to download My Tracks.
My Tracks is available for any Android-based phone with a GPS receiver.
Using My Tracks
After you’ve downloaded and installed My Tracks from the Android Market, launch the application from your Applications menu or your desktop if you added it there.
Before you can start recording your tracks, you’ll have to establish a GPS link. My Tracks should attempt to locate your position automatically, but if not you can press the Menu button and select My Location. Be sure to have a clear view of the sky to obtain a link quickly.
Recording A Track
“Tracks” are where you record and store data from your activities. You can create multiple tracks, but each track is independent so if you’re going on a hike you’ll just need one for the entire trip.
Before recording your track, you should customize the My Tracks settings for your activity by pressing Menu and selecting More -> Settings. The settings marked (recommended) record data frequently, so if you’re going to be traveling slowly you can set things like Recording frequency to a higher value to conserve battery. If you will be moving fast (like skiing down a mountain) you might want to set Recording frequency to its highest setting. Click OK to save your settings.
To start recording a track, press Menu and select Record track. You will see a green marker which indicates your start point, and any movement you make will now be recorded on the map.
My Tracks lets you set Markers to help keep track of your journey. In my case, it was important to set waypoints at chair lifts so I could better follow my paths up and down the mountain. You can also create statistical markers which allow you to break your track into sub-tracks and look at your speed and elevation from specific sections of your track.
To create markers, press Menu and select Markers. You can then select Insert statistics or Insert waypoint.
When you create a statistics marker you’ll be given the option to name it and view the data you’ve recorded so far. When finished click the Save button.
When you create a waypoint, you’ll be given the option to name the waypoint, indicate what type of marker it is (like a building, peak of a mountain, or ant hill), and give it a description.
Viewing Your Data
When you’ve finished your activity, press Menu and select Stop Recording. You will then be given the option to name the track, identify the activity (like hiking, skiing, running) and give it a description. This information will be used to identify your track if you share it with friends.
Once your data is saved you’ll see your entire track overlayed on a map. Touch the map to reveal the Elevation Profile button on the left and the Total Statistics button on the right, with additional options in the bottom right corner.
The Elevation Profile shows the elevation changes that occurred during your track. In my case, I can see my highest elevation was at approximately 11,100 feet and my lowest was at 7,600 feet. Your markers are also displayed on this chart, allowing you to easily identify sections of your trip.
Since I added markers to my track, I know that the blue pin on the far right of my chart denotes when I got on another chairlift and accounts for the dramatic elevation increase at the 6-mile point of my track.
The Total Statistics button takes you to a screen that is identical to the one you saw when creating a statistics marker, except it displays statistics from the entire trip. In this screen you can see things like total distance, maximum speed, and elevation gain.
Sharing Your Data
Now that you’ve recorded and viewed all your data, it’s time to share it with your friends! By touching the More Options button, you can send your data to Google, share it with your friends, and save it to your SD card.
Sharing On Google Maps & Docs
Select Send to Google… to upload your data to Google Maps and Google Docs. You will have the option to select which services you would like to use and if you want to create a new map or use an existing one.
When your data has been uploaded to Google Maps, you can click the Share Map with Friends button to send a link to your map using Delicious, Facebook, Twitter, and many applications on your phone.
When your friends view your map online, they’ll be able to see the waypoints you set as well as statistical data. If you are curious, you can check out my map to see what it looks like.
Uploading To Google Docs
If you uploaded your data to Google Docs, you can then view the details of your trip in spreadsheet form. This data can be exported in many formats such as Microsoft Excel.
Exporting To Google Earth
If you want to view your track in Google Earth, select the Write to SD card… option under More Options. Choose Save a KML file.
You can then open Google Earth and select File –> Open and navigate to your KML file. The KML file will be stored on your SD card in the ‘kml’ folder.
The best part about importing your tracks to Google Earth is that you can tilt your view to show elevation changes, which adds a lot of context to the paths you took.
Google Earth also provides data from external sources like photographs and Wikipedia information.
You can download my Google Earth KML file.
One thing to keep in mind is that GPS logging uses a lot of battery, so don’t expect to get much more than 5-7 hours of recording time. Changing the recording frequency can help, but one of the best things you can do is set your phone to Airplane Mode by pressing and holding the power button then selecting Airplane Mode. This will stop your phone from sending and receiving data (meaning you won’t see satellite imagery of your track) but the GPS will still record just fine.
My Tracks is a fantastic free GPS mobile tracker and provides a great way to share your outdoor activities with friends. My favorite parts are the detailed statistics and being able to observe things like maximum speed.
If you read this and decide to record your own track, how about sharing your Google Map link in the comments?