This would be a handy feature for people in the outback who run into trouble.
An interesting and timely question.
Until now, there were only two good options for emergency signaling with GPS: Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) and the SPOT Personal Tracker.
Both of these devices enable you to transmit a distress signal, encoded with your GPS coordinates, via satellite to a search and rescue service.
PLBs are more expensive and only have one function–emergency signaling.
SPOT is more affordable upfront and allows you to send 3 types of messages: “OK”, “Help” (for minor injuries), and “911” (for immediate rescuing). However, there is a $99.95 annual fee for the service.
For an additional fee, SPOT allows you to track your movements on Google Maps. Your friends and family can see where you are in real time. How cool is that?
I own a SPOT Personal Tracker. I like it a lot. It works well and gives both my wife and I some peace of mind when I head off into the backcountry on my own.
Unfortunately, neither PLBs nor the SPOT are navigation devices–there is no screen to track your movements, mark waypoints, get altitude or direction or mileage, etc.
Which brings me to the “timely” part of your question: very soon (July 31, 2010) the DeLorme Earthmate PN-60W Portable GPS Navigator with SPOT Satellite Communicator will hit the market. This is the first integrated GPS navigation and emergency signaling device.
The PN-60W is a full-featured navigation device, with a full set of topo and street maps included, and its integration with the SPOT communicator allows you to send text messages via satellite!
I think the PN-60W is a very exciting new product. If I had the dough (it’s not cheap), I’d pre-order it right now. But I have to save up my pennies first.
It will be interesting to see if Garmin and others come out with similar units.
I hope that answers your question!