How the Trackstick II Works

Essential Gadgets Image Gallery The Trackstick II keeps tabs on your movements. See more pictures of essential gadgets.
Courtesy Trackstick

Sometimes, getting lost can be half the fun of exploring. If you're filled with a sense of wanderlust, you may enjoy driving around aimlessly, discovering the quirks and back alleys of a popular tourist destination or even your own hometown. Perhaps you like to take long walks with no particular destination in mind. Maybe your passion is throwing on some hiking shoes, grabbing a backpack and heading off into nature for a few days to smell the roses and gaze at the stars.

When you return to familiar surroundings, though, it can be fun to see where you've been during your spontaneous wanderings. That's where the Trackstick II can come in handy. Unlike GPS systems that tell you where you're going, the Trackstick II is a GPS device that records where you've been. That means you can review your meanderings, which could be helpful for a variety of reasons -- you could revisit an excellent bakery you found, keep a record of the best spots for bird-watching or just see how far you traveled on a recent vacation.

The Trackstick II, which is available from several dealers for just under $200, is fairly small. Clocking in at 4 inches (10.2 cm) long, it resembles an elongated jump drive. That's no accident -- the device does have a USB port that allows information to be downloaded to a personal computer. But the device also contains receivers that communicate with positioning satellites, and enough memory to record several weeks' worth of travel information. The Trackstick II can record the date and time you visited a given location, and it can tell you how fast you were traveling when you reached that spot. It can also track your altitude, latitude and longitude at any given moment. When used in conjunction with mapping technologies like Google Earth, the device can show you exactly where you were and what you were seeing.

­ While this technology makes the Trackstick II a pretty nifty travel companion, it's also helpful for carrying out some super-secret surveillance work. Let's say you'd like to keep tabs on a teenager who's borrowed the family car for the night -- the Trackstick II will show you exactly where that car goes, and at what speed. And hopefully your significant other will remain faithful, but if you have your doubts, a covert placement of the Trackstick II will let you know where your loved one is going.

On the next page, we'll take a look at how Trackstick II works.

Mechanics of the Trackstick II

The Trackstick II contains receptors for signals emitted by 24 satellites orbiting the Earth. Using that information, the Trackstick II can determine its location. The signal is so powerful that the Trackstick II can determine where it is anywhere on Earth, to approximately 8 feet (2.5 meters) [source: Trackstick]. From the darkest, deepest woods to your best friend's home, the Trackstick II will remember where you went.

Let's say that at 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 17, you were driving past a beautiful waterfall. At that moment, the Trackstick II will use information from the satellites to determine the date and time, your latitude and longitude, the speed and direction at which you're driving, your altitude, and even the temperature. It then stores this information as a logged file on its flash memory device. The Trackstick II contains 1 MB worth of memory, allowing you to save several weeks of travel before saving files to your computer.

The number of recordings that a Trackstick II makes on a given trip is up to you and your battery power. The Trackstick II runs on two AAA batteries for 16 to 36 hours, depending on what kind of battery is used. To prolong battery life, you have the option to use a power safe mode, in which the Trackstick II stays in sleep mode and only records a location every 15 seconds. If you don't want to lose a minute of your adventures, you can keep the Trackstick II in full power mode and bring along extra batteries.

Trackstick II comes with an integrated USB connector so that you can download your files to a computer. To retrieve information from the Trackstick II, you'll need a Windows PC loaded with Trackstick's software, Trackstick Manager. Using Trackstick Manager, you can choose what information you'd like and how you'd like to view it -- perhaps you'd like to see that spectacular waterfall we just mentioned on Google Earth? On the next page, we'll take a further look at how to use Trackstick II.

Using the Trackstick II

Find a great jogging route? You can retrace your steps with Trackstick II.
Find a great jogging route? You can retrace your steps with Trackstick II.

You're all ready to head out on a vacation or a backyard adventure -- how do you put the Trackstick II to use? First, you'll need to give the it at least 15 minutes to determine its location. After installing two AAA batteries, turn the Trackstick II on and take it outside to get an unobstructed view of the sky. Make sure that nothing, particularly metal objects, blocks the sky from the Trackstick II, as the receptors are locating the satellite signals. You'll know that the device is getting a good view after a few minutes, when a green light starts blinking. It will continue to blink as it calculates its location.

After 15 minutes, you're ready to go for a walk or a drive with the Trackstick II. When driving with the Trackstick II, it's best to place the device on the car's dashboard to ensure the most accurate access to the orbiting satellites. If you're going for a walk, putting the device in your pocket will work just fine.

­Now let's say you're heading home from a whirlwind vacation. Since you explore off the beaten path, you've got a digital camera full of photos with only the slightest inclination of where they were taken. Here's where the Trackstick II comes in handy. Using Trackstick Manger, you can relive your entire trip. You can filter results to see what's most interesting to you, be it time and date or where you stopped on a certain day. Trackstick's data files can be exported to Google Earth, among other mapping services, so that you have a bird's-eye view of your route, which is indicated by a red line. The files can also be exported to HTML and emailed, so that if you took the vacation with a distant relative, they can share in the fun as well.

As for those photos you took on your trip, you can examine the data files and use Google Earth to figure out where each was taken. However, you can also sync your camera with Trackstick II and eliminate all that work through geotagging. The Trackstick software checks the date and the time the photo was taken and compares it against a log file of your location. Then it automatically applies a label, and the photo is geotagged. Many photo sharing services, including Flickr, support geotagged photos and put them on a map.

Because Trackstick II records so much information about each trip, there are many different uses for the device, from tagging photos to tracking others. For more fun and interesting gadgets, please see the links on the next page.

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  • Biggs, John. "An Easily Pocketed G.P.S. Tracker." New York Times. Aug. 9, 2007. (Feb. 2, 2009)
  • "Super Trackstick Data Sheet." Trackstick. 2007. (Feb. 2, 2009)
  • "Trackstick Pro Data Sheet." Trackstick. 2007. (Feb. 2, 2009)
  • "Trackstick II Data Sheet." Trackstick. 2007. (Feb. 2, 2009)
  • "Trackstick User Guide." Trackstick. Updated Jan. 13, 2009. (Feb. 2, 2009)
  • Tyrangiel, Josh. "25 Gotta Have Travel Gadgets: Travel Valet Service - Trackstick II." Time. July 31, 2008. (Feb. 2, 2009),28804,1827576_1827591_1828244,00.html