Tech: Messages from Space | Adventure Kayak Magazine | Rapid Media

Two-way communications changing wild places

This article on adventure tech was originally published in Adventure Kayak magazine.

When Adrian Meissner, the operations manager at Boundless Adventures, an outdoor adventure center located across the river from the Adventure Kayak magazine office, sends a group into the backcountry, he does so with both a GPS satellite communicator and a satellite phone.

“For one season a few years ago while we were waiting for sketchy Globalstar satellite phone service to improve, we purchased a couple SPOT satellite messengers for back up,” Meissner says. “Even after we switched to Iridium phones with a stable voice connection, we still use both technologies together.”

The four-button simplicity of the early satellite message devices turns out to be their most limiting factor. Users are given only three options, two of which you pre-program in advance and one is a direct line to the cavalry via the GEOS international search and rescue center.

The challenge is the one-way nature of these devices. You must think of all possible situations in advance and create a plan for what each predetermined message might mean in order to use them effectively.

Meissner’s staff team have agreed that the OK button and its mes- sage means the group needs logistical help. “If we get this message and we see the location of the group is on a shuttle road, we know the situation is not personal injury or illness and we’d suspect van trouble and begin to react accordingly.”

Meissner uses the Help button for personal injury or illness situations, setting into action a different response protocol. In either case, Meissner’s staff then turn to their satellite phones to further troubleshoot the problem and formulate a plan.

Global two-way satellite communicators, like the DeLorme inReach, do on their own what the magic orange boxes have always done—send preplanned messages, coordinates and tracking. However, when you sync the inReach via Bluetooth to either an Android or Apple mobile device running DeLorme’s free Earthmate App you have so much more. You can write 160-character messages and send them to anyone in your phone’s contact list and receive their replies just like regular texting, except via satellite rather than a cellular network. The app also allows you to post to Facebook and Twitter and you can install DeLorme’s terrain maps and downloadable NOAA nautical charts.

For Meissner, two-way messaging is a game-changer. “This may prove even better than our satellite phones. With texts you have a record of the conversation, you’re not scribbling things down and you have time to think and plan your response, rather than rushing to reply because you’re worried that your call may be dropped.”

This article originally appeared in Adventure Kayak, Fall 2012. Download our free iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch App or Android App or read it here.

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