What your phone and a Garmin GLO can do for education

February 24, 2016

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Garmin's GLO™ is hardly new. The affordable Bluetooth receiver, which communicates with both GPS and GLONASS satellites for precise position accuracy then delivers its data to your iPad, iPhone or Android device, was released in 2012 — but surprisingly few educators have introduced the GLO to their students.

The Garmin GLO currently costs just $99. Given the myriad interfaces for collecting data introduced by ESRI alone, and the relatively low cost of mobile devices, it seems that the GLO provides the perfect opportunity for students, educators and even professionals, to collect higher quality data at an affordable price. With it, educators could explore new curricula, and may even be able to entice students to explore new interfaces for data collection, such as building a new web mapping application for their phones.

Moreover, the higher accuracy and versatility of Bluetooth GNSS receivers, like the GLO, could afford students new internship and service learning opportunities; they can collect higher quality data for agencies with little more than the mobile device they already own and a loan of the inexpensive Garmin GLO from their instructors.  

For all these reasons, I want to encourage educators to consider integrating the GLO, or a similar Bluetooth GNSS receiver, into their classes.

Garmin GLO GNSS Receiver with 12 hours of battery life and 2.12 oz according to Garmin Ltd. Up to 4 Apple or Android devices can simultaneously connect to each GLO receiver. (Source: Garmin)

What do I mean by "higher quality" data?

To illustrate, I ran Collector on a Samsung Galaxy Tab using its built-in GPS, then used the Garmin GLO. Here are the results: 

Initial accuracy of 21 meters with tablet’s built-in GPS.

Accuracy of 10 meters with tablet’s built-in GPS after 1 minute.

Initial accuracy of 2.7 meters with Garmin GLO.

Accuracy of 1.75 meters with tablet’s built-in GPS after 1 minute.

As you can see, the built-in GPS was able to give me accuracy in the range of 10-21 meters, whereas the Garmin GLO was able to give me accuracy generally in the range of 2-3 meters. Keep in mind that the 1.75 meter accuracy shown in the screenshot above was achieved indoors, in my office. I cannot claim that everyone will be able to achieve the same level of accuracy given the multitude of factors that may affect GNSS signal strength and accuracy, but this simple illustration shows the incredible potential of the Garmin GLO receiver in enabling students to collect higher quality data using their phones or tablets.

While there are definitely more elegant Bluetooth GNSS receivers, such as Trimble’s R1 receiver with sub-meter accuracy, most educators won't need that level of accuracy, nor have the budget to support the R1’s hefty price tag, which, currently, is approximately $2500. The Garmin GLO, I believe, is a good compromise between using the built-in GPS on mobile devices that may have varying degrees of accuracy, and spending $2500 on a GNSS receiver that may be an overkill in classes that seek only to introduce students to basic data collection techniques.

Although the process of pairing the Garmin GLO with mobile devices is relatively straightforward, I ran into some setup problems which were only resolved after spending many days of research in forums and internet resources. At the risk of sounding like the user manual for the Garmin GLO, I offer several tips for users that wish to try the Garmin GLO with their Android tablets or phones:

  1. If the Garmin GLO receiver tries to pair with the tablet (fast blinking blue light) but ultimately fails to pair with the tablet (back to slow blinking blue light), make sure that “Allow mock locations” is enabled on your device. You can access that option by going to Settings>Developer options, and checking the box for “Allow mock locations.”
  2. If the Garmin GLO is still not connecting with your device after you have allowed for mock locations, try installing the free Bluetooth GPS app from Google Play. Once in the Bluetooth GPS app, check the box for Enable Mock GPS Provider and hit Connect. At this point, the coordinates of your current location should be displayed in the app, and the receiver should be connected to your tablet (solid blue light).
  3. If the tablet continues to have trouble communicating with the Garmin GLO receiver, access settings within the Bluetooth GPS app by hitting the menu button on your device. Scroll through the Bluetooth GPS app’s settings menu, and check the box for Use Insecure Connection. If the tablet continues to refuse to connect to the receiver, also try checking the Connection Workaround box just below the Use Insecure Connection box.
  4. Lastly, once the tablet is communicating with the Garmin GLO receiver, don’t forget to turn off your tablet’s GPS or location sensor to ensure that your device is now using the Garmin GLO receiver to collect data.

In summary, the Garmin GLO is not a new device for data collection. However, its potential seems to be underappreciated by the education community at the moment. This article focuses on the Garmin GLO and Android tablets since these were available to me, but my conclusion — that education could benefit from this type of pairing —  is applicable to other economical GNSS receivers and other mobile devices. By providing tips that hopefully simplified the process of connecting the Garmin GLO receiver to Android devices, I hope to encourage more students, educators and industry professionals to give this newer technology a try. 

Work reported in this article are supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DUE ATE 1304591. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. 


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