It wasn’t that long ago when the ability to create a functioning GPS device was reserved for the big companies, academics, and those with money to burn. Today, thanks to the ever-increasing demand for consumer-grade GPS electronics (such as those in every smart phone), the availability of GPS integrated circuits (chips) has dramatically increased, while at the same time the cost of these chips has decreased.
However, in order to make a GPS device that serves an actual purpose, these GPS chips need to be connected to a computer in order to display, store, or analyze the positional data. Obviously, a portable GPS device will want to use as small of a computer as possible in order to keep the overall device size small and power requirements low.
Thankfully now-a-days computers of this size and function (called microcontrollers) are inexpensive, easy to acquire, easy to program, and require very little power. All of these factors now allow for anybody to design and build their very own GPS device!
Here at Junior Pi School we have created a GPS device that we call the GPS Scooter Logger, and it can be built for around $50. This device is actually a simple GPS data logging device. It uses a uBlox GPS receiver and antenna along with an Arduino Mini microcontroller to process the positional data and then write it as a Google Earth .kml file to the attached SD card.
We have published a complete step-by-step guide to building the device (see above link) which lists all the electronic components you need to purchase (along with eBay links), how to solder the components together, how to program the Arduino microcontroller (including all code), and even the 3D model for the device case is included for 3D printing.
So, if you have an interest in building your own GPS device or simply want a challenge, we would encourage you to take a look at our project. We welcome any and all questions and comments.