Tracking Explorers: beyond SPOT's reach - meet Solara

Posted: May 31, 2010 04:18 pm EDT

Tiny and affordable a SPOT tracker is the "it" thing in Himalaya right now. Globalstar's satellite system lacks 100% coverage of the globe though, so for transmissions of positions in polar areas as well as much of the South Pacific and Indian Oceans an Iridium based system is a must.

Iridium tracking

While downloading your position from the GPS satellites can be done to all kinds of gadgets; transmitting the data elsewhere requires access to various ground networks or communication satellites.

Iridium's satellite constellation is the only truly global communication system available. HumanEdgeTech compared two new trackers using these dishes: the Yellowbrick and the Solara.

With its cool design Yellowbrick unfortunately lacks certain features essential to explorers. The battery is factory charged before shipping and can not be recharged externally. Cold rating down to -20C is not enough for polar expeditions and the unit does not offer messaging of any kind.

Editors note! The Yellowbrick team has contacted ExplorersWeb with information that external charge is now possible. We expect to run a more extensive Yellowbrick review in the upcoming weeks.


Solara

As for Solara, the first generation tested by HumanEdgeTech in 2008 was bulky and rough. But the second generation Solara Field Tracker 2100 made it for us.

Rated to -20C (-4F) the built in battery can be charged from a Feather or Survivor solar panel. An optional cold weather charging kit ($80) built around AA Lithium batteries offers operation down to -40C (-40F).

Solara has been tested by two North Pole expeditions this year. Christina Franco used it for 30 days with hourly updates. 4 AA lithium batteries was all it took and she still had power to spare. The Catlin Arctic Survey expedition led by Pen Haddow has been using the tracker for more than 2 months.

8 AA lithium batteries should be plenty for a full South- or North Pole expedition with- or without resupplies.

Mapping

Out rowing the Pacific Ocean; Roz Savage's positions are updated automatically over the Solara unit onto a map. Roz mounted the tracker inside her cabin, but Solara is water proof and could be mounted outside.

Access to a basic Google map is included (check out the new Explorersweb MOSAIC later this month for more exciting positioning applications.)

Messaging

In addition to 37 preset messages, a keypad on the Solara enables short texting (up to 98 characters) to the home team, who can text back through a password protected web page.

Pricing

At $1500 per unit Solara also requires an activation fee of $60. A monthly cost of $50 includes 1200 messages. After the first 2.5 months, the plan can be deactivated at any time.

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Roz Savage is tracked on her Pacific Ocean row over Solara.
courtesy Roz Savage, SOURCE
Safety: gadget tracks your position and uploads it automatically to central. Fun: your positions uploaded to ContactA will show your trip in an interactive 3D map setting.
courtesy Explorersweb Inc., SOURCE
Ann Daniels and Solara on the Arctic Ocean.
courtesy Catlina Arctic Survey, SOURCE