Time Travel with Your Smartphone. Bridging Old Maps and GPS Coordinates for an Augmented Reality Like Experience in the Field.
A year or so ago, I became familiar with Maprika – and used it for a long mountain bike trail for which I only had a paper map. It kept me from getting lost! It was awesome, putting your GPS location over the top of actual scanned in maps. Even hand drawn ones. I have used it on vacations, for zoos, and even on photos of maps taken in libraries!
Maprika allows you to load old maps, create reference points, and then accurately plot GPS location onto the old map. When you’re in the field, you see yourself as a blue dot on the old map. As you move, your dot moves – helping you to find house sites and such. The more I use it, the more I come up with new ways to use it.
There are two ways to use Maprika:
- As a desktop computer based map comparison tool. Once reference points are plotted, you can have the old map on the left and modern Google maps/earth on the right. Your cursor will move on both sides.
- As #1, plus, a mobile GPS enabled tool for accessing the maps created in #1. This is truly powerful.
How it works is this, in a nutshell.
- Check to see if the map you want exists already. Go to Maprika’s site and click on available maps. Zoom in and see what’s in your planned hunt area. Someone may have already digitized the map you’re planning to make.Okay, first the desktop/laptop map building portion.
- Install the Maprika’s map building software on your Windows-based computer. This works better with large monitor if you have it. (Sorry Macintosh users, the map creator is only available for Windows.)
- If you are updating an existing map, I strongly advise you to download the existing map again BEFORE doing any edits, even if you have it on your hard drive. To find it, click “Server maps’ on the desktop software menu and open it. This will save you MUCH grief if Maprika for some reason decides you’re trying to upload a map over another users’ changes (it happens!) I learned this lesson the hard way!!!! Always start with the map that’s in the cloud, and always push the updates back to the cloud when done.
- If you’re creating a brand new map, digitize the old map at high resolution. Scan it, buy it, download it. Make sure it’s a high resolution JPG or PNG file. You can use maps you’ve photographed at the library too if you’ve done a good job keeping them clear and steady – I even made one of a hand-drawn map on the hood of a pick-up truck! Make sure that you don’t lose any resolution along the way even if they end up being 5, 10, 15mb in size. I had some that were 8000×4000 pixels. You can reduce resolution, but never raise it.
- Load the map to the desktop software. The old map will go on the left, and modern Google Maps (I use Hybrid mode) will appear on the right. Make sure to show the satellite image on the modern map (it starts out in standard road map)… so you can see ponds, fencelines, etc.
- Position the modern map on the right using the SEARCH feature (just like you’d search in Google Maps normally) – or you can enter GPS coordinates.
- Once both maps are loaded, start adding points. Use old road intersections, railways, creek-road intersections, ponds, barns, etc. that exist on BOTH SIDES as your reference points. Points are always added on both sides at once, but one will be correct and one will be “off.” As you correct them, you’re building a correction matrix that will make your map accurate! … <save often!!>
- Finish Up. After you have enough reference points (I say, a minimum of 30,) save the map using “File/Save”...at this point, you have a very usable old-to-new reference map on your computer. The mouse movements on one map will make the mouse move accurately on the other- voila!!! Find old things on the left and watch where they are on the right (or visa versa.)
Okay, so if you want to publish the map to access it on your phone, continue….
- Get ready to publish. First add Map Properties (important for organizing your maps and making them easy to find!) – Under the file Menu use Map Properties choice under the File Menu – This is how you’ll find the map later. Save the map again. Caution: This will be visible to anyone browsing active maps on Maprika – so make it a good name. On my descriptions, I put “digitized by Scott Clark – contact at [email protected]) in case people have questions.
Click Publish. Upload it to the Maprika “cloud” using the “Upload to server” menu choice. Be patient on large maps. It takes 3-4 minutes sometimes, even on WIFI… Once finished, you’re ready to use the map from the cloud on any smartphone
TIP: I made all of my maps “on-hold” so nobody else can see them in the Maprika list. You can make them active while you download to your phone and then change them back to “on-hold” when done. I’ve provided maps to many friends too (genealogists, photographers, historians) Each time you change the setting from “active” to “on-hold,” you need to publish the map back to the cloud (just hit “publish to server”) bang.. done.
Okay, now to the smartphone to load up the map to take the the field (Note: Maprika does NOT require an active data connection during use once you’ve downloaded the map once… but it does require a regular GPS connection. So charge that phone up and bring an extra battery if you plan to use it a lot! )
Let’s get the map on the phone:
- Download Maprika phone app from itunes or Google Play onto your smartphone or tablet and install it. Super easy.
- Load the Map into Your Phone. Go and load the map covering the area you need for your research. I keep around 10 maps on my phone at once covering 8 counties.
- Head out into the field….It will then show your GPS position ON THE OLD MAP and you can zoom up tight, pan and so forth without any loss of clarity (thanks to your efforts at preserving resolution.)
- Enjoy! Let me know if it helps you!
Here are some tips:
More points, the better. I usually ended up with 50-100 points per map. In areas where I knew I wanted to do a lot of hunting, I did more reference points. I know it will make my field work more accurate. In this example map – there are 102 points. Save your file along the way!!
Where to put reference points??? Use Road Intersections, Corners and Railroads to help you point.. See here that my points were at intersections and corners. Every few minutes you spend improving the references can save you hours in the field.
Before you know it, you’ll be finding old routes for roads that are long gone – usually because of development, modern highways, railroads or other reasons. Maprika allows you to trace the old map and watch the cursor move around on the new map. It’s habit forming.
You Can Right Mouse to Add Point.... When using the maps, you can use “right mouse” to start a new point. This saves time!
Only load the maps you need. I have found the iphone application gets slow and buggy if you load too many maps, but the Android is much better. It looks like you can load quite a few more on Android than iPhone – I regularly have 10-12 loaded on my 64G Samsung Note 4.
Use a Battery Case or an external auxiliary battery if you plan all-day use. You’re going to eat battery juice with Maprika and GPS working fully time. Good ones run around $30 on Amazon. GPS takes less power on my Android phone than iPhone. You can close the app as soon as you eyeball your location of course (don’t forget and leave it running in the background!!!)
While Driving: This thing is cool as hell when driving, but please don’t die. I tend to use it when someone else is driving.
BONUS: Maprika is one of the only ways you can load in a huge image (5000px+) and have such great zooming capability in the field. Go figure.
Editing the map image to be “high contrast” or “monochrome” can make it easier to read. Also high contrast can reduce map size. This can be done in your favorite image editing software, or using Maprika’s “desaturate” feature.
Here’s how it looks on the iPhone. This map can be zoomed way up because of high resolution throughout. As I move about, it will track me (blue dot) onto the historical locations.
If you’re using iPad, make sure to click on the 2x button to make Maprika Full Screen
Poor Mans Scans: You can even take high res photographs of maps at the library with a good smartphone and use those as the input and try to photograph it straight-on with a steady hand, and make sure the north indicator is visible. It’s a big time saver!! You can imagine how amazing this is if you scan old topographic maps, sanborns, etc. I’ve gone scan crazy.
Happy Digital Hunting!
Heath Jones has made a great video tutorial that will be helpful also!