August 27, 2005

GPS Lodge Review: MotionBased Website Helps Analyze GPS Data

MotionBased website service takes data obsession to a whole new level. It's a well thought out service that allows you to upload your GPS track data to their website, and allows you to analyze it in various ways through charting and other graphical methods. The other key aspect of the website is that you can also search through their very large TrailNetwork (>90,000 uploaded routes available to search) and look at prospective routes that you might enjoy. Overall, it the system still has a ways to go as far as features and ability to help you get the best out of the data, but the technology and usefulness is still impressive eye-candy, and fun to use. Best of all, the standard features are free so you can try before you buy (plus membership is around $8 - 12/mo.).

Getting Started - See MotionBased's QuickStart guide

To get started with Motion Based, you need to go and get an account. Again, you can start with a free membership for basic services for now and if you like what you see, upgrade later. After getting an account, you need to download and install a small application that will help you upload your GPS data track. At we used our Garmin Vista C as the GPS, and uploaded our recent bike ride. If you have the right drivers installed from your GPS, the upload is seamless. The up-loader application asks you which tracks you want to upload, you check off the ones you want to upload and send them on their way. Those tracks are then in your inbox at MotionBased and awaits you to check it in.

The folks at MotionBased did a good job of technical corrections to stitch together the data trail when your GPS loses a signal, and as a result breaks a trip into two pieces. They also consider any trip with a break in the middle of it of less than 10 minutes a single event; so if you take a quick water break, it still considers the two pieces one run/ride/hike/trip.

The track you just uploaded sits in your inbox, awaiting your approval. When you click on your inbox, the uploaded tracks are sitting there waiting for you to fill in several fields: activity Type, name of activity, comments and notes, etc. You can then elect to keep the activity private, or share that posting with the other users on the TrailNetwork. Once you are done, you click the button and check it into the database.

Activity Dashboard
Once that activity is in your database, you can then view the route the basic dashboard that allows you to view key statistics on your track. You can choose to see several different plots along with key data tables, like time vs. distance, speed vs. distance, speed vs. time, elevation vs. distance, heart rate, distance and time (for GPS devices like the Garmin Forerunner 301, or the Garmin Edge 305 that also track heart rate), and finally, a page on the weather at the time. MotionBased grabs the weather data for the time and location attaches that information to your track. The weather is basic information: "scattered clouds at 400ft" - temperature high, low and average, humidity and wind speed.

Activity Map Player

The Activity Map Player is a great little toy and provides most of the eye candy for the site. The Map Player runs through Adobe SVG viewer which must be installed prior to using the Map Player. Once up and running, you can "Play" a run-through of your route overlaid on one of several backgrounds (street, topo, satellite, etc). The player puts a red dot on the map and traces your route across it, while giving you key information on speed, elevation, grade, elapsed time, etc. While you are playing your track, you can also watch your elevation play alongside this in a window to help understand the relationships of speed, distance and elevation. See the screenshot to the right, click on it for a larger view.

Motionbased also has a vast number of routes that you can search and access. As a basic (free) member, you are limited to a basic search query, that is good enough to screen down to the location (country, state or providence), and the activity type. A note on activity types: There are loads of activity types uploaded, from running to hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming and more. There are also subcategories that provide a bit more detail in the search string. Once you find a route, you can look at similar statistics, and run it through the Map player also.

Other Features
Google Earth Export - cool eye candy here too. If you have Google Earth installed, you can export your route and display it on Google Earth. You also have the ability in Google Earth to fly through your route, giving you a bird's eye view of the earth that you just traversed on your ride, hike, run, etc.

Dot Racing - This allows you to pit yourself against another track (yours or someone else's) and race on the screen. The idea is that while you may have run the course at different times and on different days, the fact that your GPS data is uploaded you can see your run performance pitted against another run. Again - some superb eye candy. While this can be useless and fun, it can also be serious. If you are training for an event, you can see how your training has paid off over the weeks and months by playing earlier training events against your latest. Or get a bunch of friends to run or train on the same route, then upload and run a virtual race on MotionBased.

Analyzer's Distance Splits - With the paid subscription, you can use the analyzer to take a tabular look at your distance splits (every mile if the route is < 50 mi, and every 5 mi if the route is > 50 mi.). You can look at speed, ascent, descent, etc and compare across splits to check on performance.

Reports - While still evolving, you are currently able to take a look at summations of your activity by activity type, looking at total time in an activity, average time, total distance, average distance, average speed, average pace, and elevation change.

Compatible GPS Devices - MotionBased lists several Garmin devices as recommended ones (Forerunners, ForeTrex, GPSMAP 60cs and Vista C), but has a fairly extensive list of compatible and "untested" devices.

List of Supported GPS Receivers

Info on how to upload GPX, etc files.

Overall, MotionBased is a must try; if you like to see where you went and keep track of how you did, the thing is addictive. There are some limitations put on the free service, like you can only see your latest 10 activities (all your uploaded activities are kept on record if you ever upgrade, you can see them all), but the free service is pretty liberal in their features. With the free standard plan, you should easily be able to get the hang of it and see if it would be useful to you. If you are seriously into training or a total data hound, it's not expensive to sign up for the fee-based service. For the price of a couple of after-training pints of beer, the service can be bought no problem.

The site and software seems like it is constantly being updated and evolved, which makes me feel like there's someone there making this thing better by the day. I have been playing with the service for a couple of months now, and have seen features added and bugs fixed along the way.

Disappointments? - While the list of devices is long if you like Garmin Devices, the list is pretty short if you don't. This is too bad. If you have a non-recommended device, you can upload via other file formats like *.gpx. While this should work well, it's not as slick as the automatic upload feature.

Info on how to upload GPX, etc files.

See a related post that mentions MotionBased in a NYTimes article: Data obsessed drive GPS use

Read More in: GPS Accessories | GPS News | GPS Reviews | GPS Software

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Posted by Scott Martin at August 27, 2005 9:59 AM

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