Based on the number of views, one of my all time most popular posts is one I wrote nearly three years ago describing how to build a GPS data logger using a Raspberry Pi Zero. Although it specifically describes using a Pi Zero to do nothing except configure the receiver and log raw data to an SD card, the platform itself is quite general and can easily be extended to more complete options including running a real-time RTKLIB solution on the Pi. It is a little out of date now but I think it can still be useful.
However, if what you want is just a raw GPS data logger and nothing more, then, while the above choice may still be the lowest cost solution, it is not the simplest option to implement.
In this post I describe another inexpensive alternative using the very popular OpenLog data logger board available from Sparkfun which currently sells for $15.50. In this particular example, I have used it to log data from an Ardusimple u-blox F9P receiver but with a few minor modifications the design should work with many other popular receivers. For reasons described below it does require the board to have both a USB and a UART port available as well as easy access to 3.3 volts.
Here’s a couple of photos of the front and back of the Sparkfun OpenLog board. As you can see, it is only slightly larger than the size of the microSD card it uses to store the data.
The chip on the front side of the board is an Arduino processor which comes pre-loaded with code to automatically log all incoming data from the RX/TX lines directly to the microSD card. The source code is open and available on Github, so if you need to modify it you can, but in most cases it should work fine as is.
To connect the OpenLog to the receiver is very simple. First connect VCC and GND on the OpenLog to 3V3_OUT and GND on the Ardusimple receiver. Fortunately, the pin spacing for the two boards is the same so I was able to use a two pin header to connect power and ground and rigidly mount the OpenLog at the same time. You can see the details in the two photos below. I also added a small piece of double sided foam tape between the two boards to strengthen the physical connection between them.
Then connect the RX/TX data lines on the Open Log to TX1/RX1 on the Ardusimple making sure to swap the two so that RX goes to TX1 and TX goes to RX1. On many boards this will be all you need, but the Ardusimple also has a IOREF input which selects the voltage levels of the GPIO pins. In this case we will connect that to 3.3 volts. You can see these three jumpers on the top photo above.
That’s it for the hardware. The next step is to configure the data logger. To do this you will first need to format a microSD card. Then create a file with the name config.txt, cut and paste the text below into this file and save it to the microSD card.
This is what the data logger uses when it powers up for configuration parameters. The only detail that matters in the above text is the first number which should be set to the same baud rate that UART1 on the receiver is configured to. The maximum baud rate that the OpenLog supports is 115200, so that is what I am using. For more information on the other numbers in this file or about the OpenLog board in general, Sparkfun has an excellent tutorial available here.
The last step is to configure the F9P receiver to output the appropriate messages to UART1. This is where things become much simpler by having both UART and USB ports available on the receiver board. To configure the receiver we will use the u-blox u-center app running on a PC and connected to the receiver through the USB port. Once the receiver is configured and the results saved to flash, we can then unplug the USB cable from the computer and plug it into a USB charger to provide power to the receiver and data logger while they are collecting data.
For this tutorial I will assume you have already downloaded the u-center app from u-blox and are somewhat familiar with using it to configure u-blox receivers. If not, there are many tutorials out there including some of my earlier posts that will help you.
One thing to be aware of is that the messages going out of the receiver to the USB port will generally be different from those going out to UART1, so just because you have the right messages coming out the USB port does not mean they will also be coming out of the UART port. Also be aware that if you use the “Messages View” in u-center to enable and disable messages, this method only affects the active port and so you will be enabling them for USB but not for UART1.
To enable and disable the messages for UART1, you can use the CFG-MSGOUT option from the “Generation 9 Configuration View” which is opened from the “View” tab on the main menu in u-center. I find this method nice for listing which messages are enabled and disabled but rather clunky for actually changing their status, so I used the MSG message from the “Configuration View” ( also opened from the “View” tab) to actually enable and disable the messages. I show this in the screenshot below. If you do it this way, make sure you issue a CFG-CFG message when you are done to save everything to flash.
There are many NMEA messages enabled by default on UART1. You will probably want to disable most or all of these to avoid using unnecessary UART bandwidth and microSD file space.
If you already have raw base observations streaming to the receiver and are using the internal RTK engine to calculate position solutions real-time then you will just need to enable the NMEA GLL messages to log position. These will give you the LLH positions in text format.
If in the more likely case that you are logging raw data for later post-processing, then you can enable either the appropriate RTCM3 messages or the UBX-RXM-RAWX messages to get the raw observations. To minimize the load on the logger, I would suggest using RTCM3 messages for the raw observations and not logging the navigation messages. You only need a single set of navigation messages and in most cases it is easier to log those on the base station. It is simplest to enable the same set of RTCM3 messages for both the USB and UART port. If you need to make these different for any reason, be aware that the F9P does not handle the RTCM3 end of epoch flag independently for both ports, so the last message in each epoch must be the same for both ports or you will have problems.
That should be it. At this point, every time you power up the receiver/logger, it should start a new log file on the microSD card and log all incoming messages from the receiver. The log file names will be in the format LOGxxxx.TXT where “xxxx” increments each run. Simply remove the microSD card from the OpenLog and plug it through an adapter into a PC to transfer the log files. Be sure to be careful when removing the microSD card from the OpenLog. The card locks in with a spring and needs to be pushed in to unlock it. Occasionally I have found that the card catches on the spring and needs to be gently coaxed out or you will break the spring as I found out the hard way.
If using RTKCONV to convert the raw data, you will need to specify the data type (UBX or RTCM3) since the file extension will not be correct for auto format detection.
Here’s a plot of some raw observations I collected this way, then converted to Rinex format with RTKCONV, and then plotted with RTKPLOT, using navigation messages collected separately on my base station.
The data logger performance is limited by a relatively small buffer size and it is possible that you will see missing samples in your data if the logger buffer overflows while writing to the microSD card. However I did not see any missing samples in my data while collecting dual-frequency GPS, Glonass, and Galileo RTCM3 observations at 5 HZ.
This is the simplest method I am aware of to turn an eval board into a relatively fully functional receiver but if anyone has an easier way, please leave a comment. All it needs now is a 3D printable box to protect it and enclose it from the weather to turn this into a general purpose low-cost dual receiver for real world data collection, at least for post-processing.
For another interesting option, check out this post from the Ardusimple website that describes combining an Ardusimple board with a bluetooth module and smartphone for real-time RTK.