Please consider the following:

I am looking to build a device that will be placed in a vehicle as it drives through heavy wooded areas, potentially far away from any mobile reception towers.

The hope is for this device to be able to get its GPS location in near real time, and upload said information to either, another device, or best case: the internet, but the key point would for this to be as uninterrupted as possible.

The device must not require any modification to the vehicle (attaching antenna to the roof etc) other than being powered/charged from a 12V cigarette lighter.

Is my best option here to build an app and use a high quality mobile phone, or would it be to build a custom device with some kind of satellite internet, and high quality GPS module.

If the custom device I would consider using a Raspberry Pi as the controller for it, can anyone suggest equipment that could be used in this?

Many thanks,


I would also love to see any examples of similar projects for some brainfood.

  • 4
    I think it is related: Methods of sending GPS position. Check this module. Jan 16, 2017 at 16:54
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    ROCKBLOCK with RPi Jan 16, 2017 at 17:43
  • 3
    It's worth noting that the RockBlock doesn't, in itself, provide a particularly good location tracking mechanism. It's more for sending (really) short messages. The advice from RockBlock's manufacturer (see: Do I get positions with my messages?) is that 'It's invisaged [sic] that if you want position reports, you would use an off-the-shelf GPS module with your solution, and get position data from that.'
    – goobering
    Jan 16, 2017 at 17:57
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    Are you looking to report the vehicle's "heavily wooded location" data in near real time? Or are you planning on capturing the trip data and uploading it after the vehicle returns to a cellular data service area? If the latter, there are dozens of cheap commercial "GPS Vehicle Trackers", simply do a web search for "GPS Vehicle Tracker". Jan 16, 2017 at 19:45
  • 2
    I am looking to report in near real time, I will edit my question to reflect that, thanks very much :)
    – Aphire
    Jan 17, 2017 at 9:12

1 Answer 1


For near-real time tracking of vehicles while out of cellular service range, Spot makes the Spot Trace, a vehicle tracker that uses satellite communication. It transmits only when the vehicle has moved or is in motion, and only as often as you configure it for, minimizing data traffic over the satellite link. It operates on alkaline batteries (for concealed placement) or vehicle power.

If you just need a product and don't feel the need to build one, this is a pretty inexpensive way to meet your stated needs.

If you still want to customize it further and/or build something yourself, Globalstar offers a variety of satellite and satellite+GPS communications modules.

  • 1
    I'd be rather dubious about satellite comms in an obscured location, unless you can provide some support. In vehicle is not a good starting point for a transmitter (even though dashboard would be a good candidate for a view of the sky). Tracker uses VHF (at least in the UK) but has the disadvantage of covert instalation. Jan 16, 2017 at 20:45
  • @SeanHoulihane, I don't understand your comment. Spot Trace uses the S and L bands, not VHF. It's line-of-sight to the Globalstar Simplex satellite constellation, which is in Low Earth Orbit (1414 km). That means a couple things: the transmission uses less power than a high orbit, and the satellites are constantly moving, meaning coverage will periodically peek through, even under a direct overhead canopy of foliage, or if it's shaded by a building. The Spot software retries until it receives a positive confirmation that the transmission was delivered. Seems pretty robust to me. Jan 16, 2017 at 21:05
  • But microwave is strongly attenuated by foliage, presumably more than GSM for S and L band. I know GPS is borderline in wooded areas - so to me the question is asking if high gain antenna is necessary, rather than just for a service which offers the right type of reliability. Jan 16, 2017 at 21:25
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    Foliage is rarely 100% obscuring. Yes, if internally mounted in a vehicle, it would require a patch antenna. But he's not likely to find good coverage of less-developed areas with a non-satellite solution; at least none that don't require a much larger antenna and higher transmitting power. Using APRS would take a license and a 2m antenna pumping out maybe dozens or hundreds of watts, use of digipeaters, and it's still not going to be very successful at pushing a signal out of a valley; not to mention the discourteous use of amateur bandwidth for anything other than a real-time operation. Jan 16, 2017 at 22:11
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    Aha! Knowing that it's a rally race, it's limited in geographic area and time. You could still consider a VHF APRS type of solution, which would require only a single base station, and could give you as many position updates as you want in real time (second-by-second) for free. See rallynotes.com/trackerbox for lots of information, including a kitted up solution for sale. Jan 18, 2017 at 19:50

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