Mapping system links pictures to exact locations

Sometimes it’s good to know exactly where you stand.

The Video Mapping System 200 from Red Hen Systems Inc. ties a map location to a still
picture or video via Global Positioning System readings.

The mapping system is in a little black box the size of a cigarette pack, weighs about
a pound and has a long, flexible antenna that can wrap around you or a dashboard. At the
end of the antenna, a semicircular orb scans the sky for GPS signals.

The GCN Lab has tested several GPS receivers, all of which seem to have the same
advantages and limitations. It’s difficult to get a signal indoors because of the
need to triangulate from three satellites, but the receivers work fine outdoors. I had
trouble with VMS 200 amid tall city buildings, but the signal mostly stayed strong as I
drove around the Washington area.

What is exciting about VMS 200 is its ability to tie GPS data to videotape. You plug
the unit into a camcorder’s microphone jack to transfer the GPS data stream into an
audio signal for later display on a PC.

The GPS data goes onto one of the two audio tracks available on most tapes. If the
camcorder can record in stereo, it will put the GPS data on one track and sound on the
second track. I did not realize this as I cruised around, or I would have lowered my
radio’s volume. But the capability for both sound and data makes VMS 200 much more

To take full advantage of it, you need several things not included in the package. The
first is a compatible camcorder; a complete list of such cameras appears on the Web at I tested with an 8-mm Sony Handycam, which had an infrared
spotlight so I could even work in the dark with the nightscope.

The second extra is a TV tuner card for the PC. I used a standard TV PCI card that
worked fine.

Back in the office, you plug the camera into the TV card to view your data. Using the
VMS Player software, you overlay GPS data from the videotape onto city maps. The map
software is fairly extensive, and you can import maps if you choose. This is a lot easier
with maps that have already been set up with GPS data.

VMS Player is surprisingly intelligent. For example, if your camcorder has a
remote-control time controller, click on the map and the software will automatically
fast-forward the tape to where the camera passed that location.

You can assign photos to the map and output everything in Hypertext Markup Language for
Web posting. Web visitors can click on the map to see a photo of the area. Videos and
still photos can be embedded.

I do have a complaint about the length of the cables. The GPS antenna is taller than I
am, though I could wrap it around me while walking. The audio cord to the camera had a
tendency to tangle when I was walking.

I can understand not putting an expensive camera in the package, but Red Hen could have
included the TV card, or at least offered it as an option, because it is essential for
processing. Another complaint: To make sure the GPS signal is present while filming, you
have to keep checking the little black box’s red indicator lights.

Despite minor flaws, though, VMS 200 would make a great tool for field, natural
resource and law enforcement work because the tapes show the time and the exact location
being filmed. 

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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