PDA

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SGT Rock
12-23-2003, 06:16
Recently someone in the Army decided I needed a PDA to do my job better. Not being the kind of person afraid of modern devices, I started playing with it and thought about its posible aplication to hiking. Apparently some other people before me have put some thought into it, but I thought I might throw it out here:

Hiker PDA (A.K.A Swiss Army PDA)

Issue: Pack weight reduction by implementing available technology in order to reduce single use items for backpackers with a single electronic device.

Discussion: Backpackers, hikers, field researchers, and other people that work or enjoy recreation in the outdoors often reduce weight by reducing the amount of single use items. Some items such as a first aid kit really have only one use but are essential because they are absolutely necessary in emergency situations. But besides that, there are some items that are so specialized that they only have one use such as a camera, map, radio, etc.

These individuals often compile journals while on trips to share with others, to save for later in order to add to photos, and for various other reasons such as research data. For many years backpackers simply used notebooks and pens to record their thoughts, experiences, photo data for processing, and other information. Many these days are using PDAs to produce text document like a MS Word document or E-mail for transmission via phone or Internet to their friends, family, and sometimes websites that specialize in hosting hiker journals. As smaller, more efficient PDAs become available and the ease of transmission for their files becomes the standard, the trend will only escalate towards their use by hikers as they become comfortable and familiar with the technology.

Recently companies have developed maps and guidebooks for trails that can be used with software on personal computers and some can be input into GPS or PDA computers using USB (Universal Serial Bus) connections. These devices and the software will only continue to grow in the number of trails covered and the quality of data they provide. Hikers often carry one to three separate maps and one to two guidebooks for trails, but if the trend in digital maps and guidebooks continue, a single device can replace the need for printed maps and books.

These groups also generally carry a camera for recording the sights during a trip. Commonly they carry single use 35mm or slightly more expensive, but lightweight 35mm and ALPS cameras. The trend lately is to look for digital cameras so photos can be edited or deleted on site instead of taking bad pictures and finding out later that the picture taken is worthless. The main drawback for these cameras is the speed with which they consume batteries, and often these batteries are specialized and hard to find in supply points along trails.

Many hikers and backpackers have carried tape players for music to relax with when in camp, and have started to migrate to CD players and MP3 players because of the amount of data space available for such a low pack weight. Entire music libraries can be carried in lightweight data cards and played on lightweight players.

Current technology has made it possible for things such as PDA (Personal Data Assistants) to perform tasks such as taking digital photography, playing MP3 files, and sharing data in standardized formats such as Adobe Acrobat. Other electronic devices such as GPSs (Global Positioning Systems) have become increasingly smaller, lighter, and have the ability to have map data input into them.

If a PDA with MP3 capability and digital photography were available and marketed to the outdoor enthusiast, it would probably be able to find a market. What would increase the likelihood of it catching on would be a recharging system based on 9v or AA batteries since they can be easily found almost anywhere. The battery of choice would be lithium batteries since they last much longer and are lighter than standard batteries, but alkaline batteries would be available in a pinch to a hiker at a trailside store that only carried standard alkaline AA or 9v batteries. Environmentally conscience hikers could even use solar recharged NiCad batteries as an option.

Such a device should have a standard modem system available for transmission by the user of data anytime a phone connection is available. Offering toll free dial in connection service for a fee from anywhere to customers could prove lucrative to the manufacturer.

Options could include optional cellular phone technology to make the transmission easier. Another option could be a Magellan M500 GPS or similar expansion GPS that could show position on the bundled map software.

None of the examples of equipment I have presented are anything new. All these devices are currently available in one form or another, and many of them are already available in combination such as digital cameras built into PDAs, or MP3 players built into digital cameras. They would allow hikers to replace many of their single use specialized items with a single device. An example of the devices replaced is as follows:

Items replaced Weight of each item Price
Zip Lock 0.5 ounces x 2 $1
Notebook 3.0 ounces $2
Pen 0.5 ounces $1
Maps 8.7 ounces $180
Spare Batteries 0.8 ounces $4
Guidebook 1.0 ounces $25
Radio 3.3 ounces $30
Camera 6.3 ounces $35
Film 1.2 ounces $10
Tripod 1.6 ounces $12
Total Weight 27.4 ounces $300

Recommendation: An PDA company provide a package deal of PDA, accessories, power supply, and software device aimed at outdoorsmen, backpackers, and field researchers.

The specifications of the device should be something similar to the following:
PDA Proposal

Hardware Price Weight
1. PDA - Zire 71 $300 5.3oz
2. PDA Case N/A 1.0oz
3. Modem PalmModem $99 ~2.0 oz
4. Memory - 10 ea 128MB Proporta memory cards one
for topo software and data (~25 maps), two for journals
and photos (~300 photos), and six for MP3 data (~380
songs @ 56kbps) $650 ~1.0oz
5. Recharger Proporta 9v travel charger system $8 ~1.0oz
6. Earphones - Earbuds $10 0.2oz
7. Batteries 4 ea 9v lithium $32 3.2oz
8. Ziplock bags 2ea 1/2 gallon $1 0.6oz
Totals $1100 14.3oz

Software Price
1. Topo software - Maptech palm software (not ported
to Palm OS yet) $100
2. Map & data - Maptech A.T. Pack $50
3. MP3 Software Realone Player Free
4. Guidebook ALDHA Companion in Adobe Acrobat Free
5. Office Interface Documents to Go Premium edition $50
Total $200

Overall Price: $1300
Total Weight savings: 13.1oz

OK, so the price for a 14 ounce weight saving is a little steep, about $100 per once. But as time goes by, I imagine the price will go down a lot and the quality will go up. The price I quoted does not include any sort of bundle system price savings that might be given.

DebW
12-23-2003, 10:04
Yup, things are definitely moving in that direction. But I'm probably not willing to give up paper maps and depend on something that needs batteries and could fail. But an electronic form of the guidebook would be worthwhile since most people don't carry that now due to weight. Electronic journals (pocketmail) have already caught on. Check out the Garmin iQue 3600 for an integrated PDA/GPS/MP3.

brian
12-23-2003, 12:24
For memory....how about 3 256meg cards for music, 1 256meg for photos, and 1 128meg for topo stuff....the zire 71 uses SD (Secure Digital) Memory cards, so that would be a total of $316 (3x$67+1x$43). That is almost half of the $650 that rock said would be the cost. And be aware that mp3's run about a meg a minute, so that would be just under 13 hours of music, enough to never hear the same song twice on a LONG day of hiking.

TJ aka Teej
12-23-2003, 23:36
Solar panels and recharge sockets: coming soon to a shelter near you!

The Solemates
12-23-2003, 23:55
yea really TJ, good forecast. let's hope that never happens...

Kerosene
12-24-2003, 05:56
Looks like Sarge has a liiiittle time on his hands :sun, or he's trying to set himself up for life after the Army by combining his interests!

The problem that I've seen with creating products like this is that, despite all the babble about "market segmentation", "niche marketing", "mass customization", and "a market of one", very few companies actually come close to recognizing these opportunities. It's hard enough to find gear with all the features you want, let alone a PDA or cell phone that contains all the features one of us deems critical for business use. That's not to say that less capable products won't be popular, just that some of us are more demanding.

To build on Sarge's product concept, I'd really want to see full weatherproofing, much more capable mapping software than the Maptech product, an interface that can be used when it's cold outside, and a minimum of 2 megapixels for the camera with "sufficient" light sensors. Oh, and while we're at it, we might as well throw in a heart rate monitor! All of this would have to cost no more than about $400 in order to capture sufficient market share to pay back the development costs. Even then, much of the hiking community would do without.

If you really want to look ahead, then all of the electronics would be woven into your clothing, working hand-in-hand with small, dedicated, disconnected devices (such as a camera lens) over a personal area network.

Unfortunately, the trend is to move to increasingly separate "appliances" that do a single task well but can integrate with other appliances. While easier to use and cheaper to manufacture, this is at odds with trying to trim overall weight and volume.

Boy, does my product marketing and technology background come through or is it just that it's 4:30 in the morning and everything I type sounds good? :banana