Review: LAS Tracking Key GPS device

During this year’s storm intercept vacation from 5-21 Jun, I used a LandAir Sea (LAS) GPS tracking device (web link) — intended by the manufacturer for fleet vehicle monitoring. Apparently it often is used to track truck drivers. If an employee goes through that liquor store drive-through when on the job, this will show it, given the 2.5 m tracking resolution. Zoom in far enough in Google-Earth, and you will see the driver’s track into that parking lot or off the road. It also gives max speed in mph (and location of that speed).

We used it for self-surveillance: to track chase routes and stops, and the timing thereof. It was a gift, so why not? I know many storm observers instead employ mapping software and a GPS puck to do basically the same thing, but this device has very useful Google-Earth output (more below), and also will be used to keep track of my soon-to-be-driving teenager’s vehicular whereabouts.

In short, it’s worthwhile if you have multiple uses in different vehicles, such as tracking your own storm observing and the driving of someone else.

Some things to know: You will need to be still for more than about 5-7 minutes for the output to show a stop, but because of two factors, we still get useful output, even for quick “pull-outs” to photograph a storm:

1. High spatial resolution: Pulling safely off the road, as storm chasers are supposed to do when performing photography, shows up on the tracking at highest (2.5 m) resolution as a knob or bump on the path. If you back a few m into a pull-off, side path or driveway, this ensures the “bump” will show on Google-Earth.

2. High temporal resolution: The raw (.las) log file shows the times and locations, so one can see when one was stopped even for brief “stop-n-shoot-fast” situations.

The device is weather sealed and has an intense magnet that should secure its place anywhere inside the car. I wouldn’t trust it on the outside, given what we do, because it still could get knocked loose by, say, a tumbleweed or hailstone that smacks it while driving at 60 mph. I stuck the tracker to the inner top/back window frame of my sedan, and its reception was almost flawless. I can’t speak for its reception when placed in more surreptitious locations in a vehicle; but others have posted glowing reviews on sites like Amazon.

My favorite aspect of the LAS Tracker is that its output can be set to upload directly into Google-Earth, and saved as a “kmz” file, so we can have all chase routes stored quickly and permanently. We also can use the “kmz” file to match all our photo locations to the landmarks around the shoot. A photographer can derive very precise directional and positioning info this way, in combination with the EXIF data from the camera that shows the lens’ focal length, to better locate a distant subject, in addition to himself.
LAS Tracker has three minor nuisances, all involving the batteries.

1. One has to unscrew the battery compartment to turn it on and off. I realize this was designed deliberately, so the subject of surveillance can’t just switch it off. [My subject will lose driving privileges if any harm comes to the device, or its signal is interrupted for any reason.] But the battery compartment’s screws are tiny, and therefore, easily fumbled, dropped and lost by someone like me with large hands.

2. The battery compartment is too deep for the batteries, which on rough and shaky roads, may pop loose from the terminals while still within the compartment. I jerry-rigged a solution by folding up a piece of #2 plastic between the compartment door and the battery slots, to hold them in place.

3. Battery life is far below what’s advertised. When using Ni-metal hydride (rechargeable) batteries, I had to change them out every day. When I tried to leave them in two days, the batteries (new Energizers, BTW) ran out during the evening of day-2.

I don’t use its own mapping software; so I can’t say one way or another about that. I’ve read that it has old, crappy mapping, but it doesn’t matter if you’ve got Google-Earth anyway.

All in all, I do recommend the tracker, as long as you are willing to change/charge batteries daily, and to build that into your nightly equipment unloading and debriefing routine.



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