Tethering a GPS to QGIS on Windows

I had a client call and ask “I want to hook my GPS to my laptop and get the map to scroll”. It’s one of those questions I should know, but I’ve never had a reason to hook a GPS to my laptop. I’ve worked on laptops that have a GPS hanging off of it but that wasn’t the reason I was working on it.

A few weeks back I did this post, where I talked about gpsd and getting a GPS connected to my linux laptop. I’ve been using that laptop more and more for work related adventures. It’s annoying, because the whole reason I bought it was for non work related things.

So if you do some digging there’s quite a bit of discussion on attaching a GPS to a laptop. Linux has GPSD. Windows has….eh…drivers. The big problem with the whole hooking a laptop and GPS together is most of the software wants to work with a serial device (COM). If you look on your laptop you probably won’t find one – all you have is HDMI and USB ports. The trick is then getting the USB to act like a COM port. I’m not even going to dive into bluetooth.

For the record I have a Garmin Etrex and a Dell latitude. On older machines (Windows XP) you have spanner from Garmin. Spanner doesn’t work on Windows 7.  GPS Gate does and Garmin mentions this in a support article on their website. I went with the free GPS Client download. I installed it. I plugged the GPS to the laptop with a USB cable. I started the software and this happened. Franson GPS Detection

My GPS is now running on a virtual COM port. Com 2 to be exact. With a little bit more playing around I had QGIS connected.

With all of this said – it was actually pretty easy. In this day of tablet PC’s and smart phones I’m not sure how many people actually need to do this. After hooking QGIS, I connected Arcmap and had it tracking my location. Not that exciting – but it was fun. I killed about two hours figuring this out and I hope to take the QGIS portion of this to a client this week. The client in question (not the one that asked) wants a map in the vehicle with them. There are a dozen different options for them – the QGIS option has maps and data for free.

I wrote a more in depth tutorial over on the tutorial page for doing this.