UPDATE 2: DeLorme has discontinued the SPOT Satellite Communicator in favor of their own product, the DeLorme inReach, which offers two-way communication and works as a standalone device or can connect with the PN-60w or with the iPhone or Android smartphones.
We’ve got some big news for backcountry types today. DeLorme and Spot have jointly unveiled the first combination ruggedized GPS navigator and satellite communicator. The DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w with SPOT Satellite Communicator can send customized text messages to individuals or groups. While emergency messaging or personal locator beacon capability is something I’ve been wanting to see in a handheld GPS receiver for awhile, plans are for the PN-60w to offer even more.
Lets back up a bit first though. As you can see from the image above, these are two separate units. We’ve been told that the devices will connect using a yet to be disclosed wireless protocol (hence the “w” in the model name). It’s described as having an ultra-low power draw and a range of over half a mile in recent tests.
But get this…DeLorme plans to release a firmware update in the fall that will allow communication between PN-60w devices, allowing users to see each other on the map, send text messages, and share waypoints, tracks, and routes. This is a very interesting combination that goes beyond what Garmin’s Rino series offers. With the PN-60w, if you get out of range, you can use satellite based communication to compose and send text messages to predetermined individuals or groups.
Speaking of which, according to the news release, messages can also be shared with social networking sites like SPOTadventures.com, Geocaching.com, Twitter, and Facebook.
Like the SPOT Satellite Messenger, this data is sent via satellite, and doesn’t rely on cellular networks, which makes it such a useful (and potentially life-saving) backcountry tool. The SPOT Satellite Communicator also has stand-alone capability to send location-based SOS notifications to an emergency response center.
SPOT has created a unique product and has lots of fans, but it hasn’t always been a smooth ride for them. Last month, they announced a recall of their second generation Messenger product. The false security provided by the devices has also led to people being less than fully prepared for the backcountry, and has significantly increased the number of calls received by search and rescue (SAR) agencies, who are the ones having to deal with the fallout from this technology. How ironic it will be if the PN-60w’s capabilities make it the unit of choice for SAR!
The PN-60w is slated to be available in the spring of 2010 – May appears to be the target date. Unit and service plan pricing was not available at post time, but we can tell you this — owners will need to have a SPOT subscription and then add a text message option to the plan.
More DeLorme news
- There will also be a PN-60 for users who don’t need wireless capabilities; PN-60 series improvements over the PN-40 include better battery performance and 3.5 GB of internal memory
- DeLorme will also be unveiling “new worldwide map data for the PN-60w” this week, including high-resolution color aerial imagery
- Topo USA 9.0 will be released in conjunction with the PN-60 series, and will include interface improvements, such as a new Exchange Dialog