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Portable Global Positioning System Receivers

Static Validity and Environmental Conditions

      Background

      GPS receivers are becoming increasingly common as an objective measure of spatiotemporal movement in free-living populations; however, research into the effects of the surrounding physical environment on the accuracy of off-the-shelf GPS receivers is limited.

      Purpose

      The goal of the current study was to (1) determine the static validity of seven portable GPS receiver models under diverse environmental conditions and (2) compare the battery life and signal acquisition times among the models.

      Methods

      Seven GPS models (three units of each) were placed on six geodetic sites subject to a variety of environmental conditions (e.g., open sky, high-rise buildings) on three separate occasions. The observed signal acquisition time and battery life of each unit were compared to advertised specifications. Data were collected and analyzed in June 2012.

      Results

      Substantial variation in positional error was observed among the seven GPS models, ranging from 12.1±19.6 m to 58.8±393.2 m when averaged across the three test periods and six geodetic sites. Further, mean error varied considerably among sites: the lowest error occurred at the site under open sky (7.3±27.7 m), with the highest error at the site situated between high-rise buildings (59.2±99.2 m). While observed signal acquisition times were generally longer than advertised, the differences between observed and advertised battery life were less pronounced.

      Conclusions

      Results indicate that portable GPS receivers are able to accurately monitor static spatial location in unobstructed but not obstructed conditions. It also was observed that signal acquisition times were generally underestimated in advertised specifications.
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