Summer fun: tinkering with a broken GPS

[Image: A Magellan eXplorist XL GPS receiver with a rubber case. It shows the location 50°34.526N, 024°42.434E, elevation 0m, accuracy ---m, Date/Time 31 JAN 13 18:50:53, Trip Odometer 0065.5m.]

My latest flea market find is a Magellan eXplorist XL GPS receiver. It was claimed to be broken and sold for €3. Inside it had an SD card containing detailed maps for the whole country. I took it home, changed the batteries and looked inside. Turned out one of its battery terminals had been installed backwards and was not touching the battery. Amazingly, this was the only fault it had, and after fixing it I now have a working GPS receiver!

I've tested the receiver on walks and bike trips. It works perfectly and is very accurate. The maps are detailed and quite up-to-date (from 2007). I can type in a street address and it will calculate a route for me. It even knows many shops, restaurants and public services.

The device has a peculiar connector on the backside. Markings on the PCB reveal that it's a custom USB connector. This was probably the only way they could make a USB connector water-proof. I don't need water-proofness but USB would be fun, so I cut a hole on the side and installed a standard USB-A connector instead.

[Image: Backside of the GPS receiver showing a six-pin connector and a Dymo label 'WINDYTAN'.] [Image: The receiver opened, showing a USB cable coming in and separating into botchy wires. Electric tape all over.] [Image: The USB connector seen from the outside, clearly with the rubber protection rendered useless.]

This hack actually works and the eXplorist is recognized ­(as a modem for some reason). Turned out the device can even communicate with Linux using NMEA, so I can now install gpsd and do all sorts of fun location aware stuff on my laptop!

[Image: Screenshot of the device's UI. It shows the Communications menu, with the items File Transfer, NMEA Data Comm (selected), and Power Only. The selected item has a description 'This selection enabled NMEA communication'. The font is Comic Sans MS.] [Image: NMEA messages seen in the Linux terminal as shown by gpscat.] [Image: xgps GUI showing a graphical interpretation of the NMEA data, including positions of the satellites in the sky, the user's current position, and current time.] [Image: Screenshot of Viking showing a crosshair over OpenStreetMap.]

Later I've downloaded more maps to the device from OpenStreetMap. They're awesome! Some Python scripts need to be used for map conversion (pymagellan).

As an added bonus, Magellan has chosen the highly-acclaimed Comic Sans MS as the font for all menus.


  1. o_O *twink* *twink* EYES!

    Ban that font, shoot it and bury deep!

  2. One question, what desktop environment do you use?


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