Building a GPS tracker for fun and profit
Building a GPS tracker because why not?
I wanted to build a GPS tracker with all other trackers’ features without having to buy them separately. I also wanted to make it Open source so anyone can build it and use it for their own purposes.
In the summer of 2020, I had my first motorbike stolen. A beautiful Yamaha MT07 was parked in my resident’s underground car park. The sadness of the situation was that I had no way of tracking it. I didn’t know where it was or if it was still alive. Then I had the idea of building a GPS tracker. I had no idea how to do it, but I had a few ideas.
So I decided to build a GPS Tracker for Theft and Performance tracking
I started with some research. I wanted to know what was out there and what I could do to improve it. I found a few trackers on the market, but they were all costly. I wanted to build something cheap and easy to use, with features only Elon Musk would have thought of.
The Arduino family
I started with an Arduino Nano. I had a few of them lying around, and I knew I could get a GPS module. The code worked out of the box. I got the GPS coordinates and sent them to a Serial port. My next step was sending them to a server and visualising them.
- The code exists and works out of the box. It’s easy to get started with.
- CPU is not the greatest. It’s not very power efficient. It’s not very fast. It’s not very good at anything.
The ESP family
The ESP32 is a great little board. It has WiFi, Bluetooth, and a lot of other features. I decided to use it for my project during prototyping and testing. I got the GPS coordinates and sent them to a Serial port. I was also able to send them to a server. For that, I used dweet.io, which acts as a store of the last values sent to it. I could get the coordinates from the server and display them on a map. For the visualisation, I used freeboard.io. It is an excellent tool for visualising data. It is accessible as a trial and has a lot of features.
- It has WiFi and Bluetooth. It’s easy to get started with.
- Limited number of GPIO for the sensors I want to connect to it.
The ARM family
Following the most recent trends, I thought of exploring the ARM family of RP2040 or STM32. I had no experience with them, but I was willing to try them. Each ARM processor had its own SDK, and I had to RTFM to use it in a Native way. I am more accustomed to using Arduino IDE, so I had to learn many new things. Luckily there is an Arduino IDE Library that allows using of Arduino C++ on ARM.https://github.com/earlephilhower/arduino-pico
- Loads of ports fully customisable
- Faster than the ESP8266
- No WiFi or Bluetooth ( not always )
- Custom SDK and libraries
I decided to go with ARM RP240. It was a bit of a learning curve. I had to learn how to use the SDK and the Arduino IDE. Currently, I am working on my code as I am testing all the different sensors I have on my board.
I will be working on writing code, and the next post will describe the hardware and how I will integrate it.