Global Positioning System commonly known as GPS is now an integral part of very single smart phone, be it iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7 or Android OS. In fact there are numerous GPS based apps out there that can automatically locate you to provide Location Based Services (LBS). The front-runners include check-in apps like Foursquare and Gowalla that facilitates users with offers based on location. But much before this mobile phone evolution GPS were and is still used by enterprises for fleet management. They deploy GPS tracking hardware on vehicles used for traction to efficiently track them from a remote location. Owing to the fact that modern-day Android phones are powerful enough to execute almost any task put to them here is something that be very useful for people who fantasize GPS technology.
Basically what a GPS tracking device does is it uploads the location data continuously to a server and from there the data is visually represented on a mapping software including Google Earth or Maps. What if we can emulate this on an Android device and turn it into a GPS tracker. Well if you own an Android phone there exists an app called TrackMe that lets you convert your phone into a GPS tracking device with very little effort. Do TrackMe sound familiar to you, yes this is from the very same developer who created an app for Windows Mobile 6 ie the version prior to the current Windows Phone 7 OS. Though not that feature rich this Android version does provide the live tracking option.
TrackMe app uses GPS data to track your location and then allow users export it to a server to represent it in real-time on Google Earth or Maps. TrackMe can extract location data using GPS and WiFi or CellID in the absence of satellite signals to successfully keep track your Android device. Install TrackMe app on Android phone and let it periodically upload .KML data to server. This .KML data is then fetched continuously by Google Earth or Maps apps to display user location in real-time. TrackMe developer hosts a public server where in you can create an account and use it for free. To top it all this TrackMe tracking service can be controlled by sending custom SMS to your Android device to start and stop it.
Steps to set up TrackMe Android app to track in real-time on Google Earth/ Maps:
The whole process can be divided into two sections, the app setup on Android phone and Google Earth/ Maps setup on desktops. Go ahead and follow the steps below.
1. Download and install TrackMe on your Android phone [link].
2. Launch TrackMe and hit menu button on phone to access TrackMe app options.
3. Make sure you change the following settings,
- First of all create an account under ‘User‘ menu. Punch in desired Username and Password to create an account to hold your location data (.KML).
- Now under ‘Storage’ menu can change the ‘Minimum Distance‘, ‘Minimum Time‘ and ‘Minimum Accuracy‘. These are the parameters that decide when your location data (.KML) should be uploaded to remote server. Also if your internet goes down you can set TrackMe to store data on your phone (offline) for uploading it when internet is back. For this see ‘Offline Data‘ options.
- Moving on under ‘Trip‘ you have to make sure the ‘Export Type‘ is set to .KML and the ‘Export automatically‘ box is checked. Change the ‘Export automatic interval‘ accordingly. Check ‘Auto trip name‘ if you don’t want to name your trips and TrackMe will automatically create names with date and time stamps. (not recommended).
- Under ‘Startup‘ you can set it to start ‘Auto tracking‘ when TrackMe starts and also start TrackMe on bootup. Also TrackMe can be forced to start in minimized mode.
- Now this ‘SMS Tracking‘ feature is an awesome add-on. Click ‘SMS tracking settings‘ to enable and set SMS flags. Once enabled set ‘Start Message‘ and ‘Stop Message’. Only when TrackMe detect SMS with the set activation keyword it will enable or disable tracking. Also a ‘Unique sender‘ SMS number can be set so that only messages from that number will be considered.
- The ‘General‘ is self-explanatory. Under ‘Source‘ enable ‘GPS‘ to pull location data from GPS (recommended). The ‘WiFi and Cell network’ can also be checked so that if in case signals from sattelites are received TrackMe will then pull WiFi or Cellid.
- If you are not setting up own server to hold location data then leave ‘Server‘ settings intact. Or else punch the necessary server data there. The server setup files and help files are available here [link]. And this concludes the settings part.
4. Go to the app interface and click ‘+’ button to create a new trip name. Punch in the desired name and hit ‘Ok‘. Now you are all set to start uploading location data to TrackMe servers (or your own server). Click the start tracking button.
The desktop set up depends on which tool you intended to use for live tracking purpose. Both Google Earth and Maps can be used to represent location data in real-time.
Using Google Earth:
1. Download and install Google Earth [link]
2. Launch the app and head over to ‘Add‘ menu and select ‘Network Link‘.
3. Now under Network Link add a new ‘Name‘ and the server ‘Link‘. The link should be http://luisespinosa/trackme/routes/username.kml where username is the same one you used while registering in TrackMe app. Next set the ‘Refresh‘ rate at which data (.KML) will be pulled from the server. For this set ‘Time-Based Refresh‘ to ‘Periodically‘ and the time interval anywhere between 5-10 secs. Also check the ‘Fly to View on Refresh‘ option. Hit ‘Ok‘.
4. Upon receiving location data uploaded to server from TrackMe Android app your phone movement will be displayed on Google Earth in real-time. The speed at which the subject is moving along with date and time stamps will be shown next to pins.
Using Google Maps:
Using the usual Google Maps web service at maps.google.com you can only view static location of Android device. In order to track your device in real-time make you use of the custom Google Maps service set up by TrackMe developer himself. Head over to luisespinosa.com/trackme and login with your credentials you used in Android app while registering. The left panel includes options to set zoom levels, enable Live tracking, time intervals and download .KML file to your computer. Once set this web app automatically refreshed to display real-time location data on Google Maps.
PS: The free server and the custom Google Maps web app made available by TrackMe developer is completely save as I have been using it since ages (Windows Mobile version). Also note that running TrackMe in background for a long time can drain your Android phone battery quickly.