Introduction: Raspberry Pi GPS Logger

This instructable explains you how to build a compact GPS logger with a raspberry pi zero. The main advantage to this system is that it include a battery and is therefore very compact.

The device stores the data in a .nmea file. The following data can easily be shown in google earth:

  • Position
  • Speed
  • Altitude
  • Distance

This system can be used in places where you don't want to put your smartphone, for example :

  • Longboarding (especialy downhill)
  • On a drone

Step 1: Material

To realise this instructable you need the following hardware :

The tools you need :

  • computer with an SD card reader
  • keboard for the raspberry pi
  • display with HDMI
  • HDMI cable
  • an ethernet cable
  • USB to LAN adapter
  • soldering station
  • some pincers to cut and bend copper wires

You can use another raspberry pi (not a zero) for the installation if you don't have the right adapters.

Warning: Lithium batteries can be very dangerous! Choose a Li-Po battery that can provide enough power and that has a protection circuit inbuilt. I'm not responsible in the case of an accident.

Step 2: Install Raspberry Pi

To install your raspberry pi you need to download two things :

Win32diskImager :
Raspbian Jessy lite :

Be sure to download the 32 bit version of Raspbian.

Install the Win32DiskImager and open it. Select the Raspbianimg file and an empty SD card. Press on the write button, wait until win32DiskImagerhave finished and remove the SD card from the computer.

Step 3: Add Script

The simplest way to add the script is to copy it to the sd card with a computer.

Copy the files from this repository into the partition of the SD card or clone the repository on the raspberry pi and move it into the /boot folder.

Github repository :

Step 4: Install Packages

If you have the ethernet and HDMI adapter, connect the raspberry pi zero to a HDMI display and to the network. Put in the SD card and start the raspberry pi. If you don't have the adapters, you can use another raspberry pi for the installation. In this project I used a raspberry pi model B.

Start the raspberry pi and enter the default username : pi and the password : raspberry. Type in the command to start the configuration tool.

sudo raspi-config

Expand the file system to ensure that the entire SD card is used and disable the serial terminal in the advanced section. You may also want to change the password, keyboard layout or enable SSH.

Befor installing the package, reboot the raspberry pi and do an update:

sudo apt-get update

Then install all the python packages for the communication with the GPS and GPIO.

sudo apt-get install python-dev python-rpi.gpio python-serial

Step 5: Configure Crontab

For that the script listens the buttons connected to the GPIO, we need
it to run just after the raspberry pi is started up. To do this we need crontab. Crontab is installed by default.

sudo crontab -e

If an error message shows up just press enter.

at the end of the file, right after the comments, add the following line:

@reboot sh /boot/

This will run the script after each startup. Save the moddifications and close the editor with CTRL+O and CTRL+X. Your raspberry pi is now ready, you can shut it down with :

sudo shutdown now

Step 6: PCB Diagram

In the pictures you see the diagrammes I made for the PCB of this project.

For the PCB diagram :

  • The vertical lines are the jumpers.
  • The dots are solder points
  • The circles are connections to components outside the PCB
  • And the crosses are breaks in the cupper strips.
  • The rectangles are resistors (the symbol is the european one)
  • The horizontale lines are for better understanding the circuitct

The second image explain each external connection of the main PCB.

You may want to improve, change my diagrammes or add other functionalities to
the circuit. For example, you can add a temperature, humidity or acceleration sensor. But keep in mind that you need space for each component (raspberry pi, gps, powerboost and battery), and that the powerboost USB connector must be accessible to charge the battery.

Note : The diagrammes are views from the copper side of the PCBs.

Step 7: Solder Buttons and LED

For the user interface cut a small PCB to solder the LEDs and buttons on them. If the PCB has copper rows like in the image you need a tool to interupt the cupper strip. If you don't have a tool like this, just use something sharp like a piece of aluminium from an old floppy disk.

On the first image you see the PCB that is done, with a wire for each component (LED or button) and a common ground wire. Each of these wire must be soldered to the main PCB.

Note : The brown copper on the PCB is due to the heat of the soldering iron.

Step 8: Prepare PCB

Cut out a PCB with 23 lines and 29 columns. It is very helpefull if the PCB hase copper rows and not only rings around each hole. Prepare jumpers from a wire to interconnect the rows of the PCB. Interrupt the copper row at the places shown in the diagram from the step 6 (crosses).

Step 9: Solder PCB

Begin to solder the jumpers, because they are the smalles component. Cut off all excess wire and pins.

Continue with the resistors. After the resistors the PCB is done.

We now need to prepare the other PCB (GPS, power boost and raspberry pi). Solder the needed pins to these components (see diagram).

Finally you can solder all the parts together. Be carefull on soldering, the battery connectors mustn't touch each other.

To protect the device put it in a carboard or a box. It's not necessary, it depends where you use it.

Step 10: Usage

Put the installed SD card in the pi zero and power on the device by switching the switch. Until the red LED goes on, the raspberry pi is ready to record the GPS data from the GPS reciever.

The red LED on the GPS reciever is probably blinking once per second, this means that the reciever is schearching satelites. Go outdoor and wait some minuts, the blinking will change from once a second to once every 15 seconds, this means that it has found enought satelites to calculate the coordinates.

  • To start recording the coordinates press on the button next to the green LED (start on the diagram).
  • To stop the recording press on the buttonnext to the red LED (stopon the diagram).
  • To shutdown the raspberry pi press thethird button that has no LED (shutdown in the diagram). After the shutdown of the raspberry pi you can cut off the power supply with the switch.
  • To charge the battery connect a USB micro cable to the powerboost and turn on the switch.
  • To see the recorded data, put the SD card into the computer and open the .nmea files with google earth.


josh6025 made it!(author)2016-10-10

How easy would it be to add Wi-Fi to this so that it could be used in a car and automatically upload files when connected to a network?

postron made it!(author)2016-10-10

The hardware part is easy, plug in a USB wifi adapter. On the software side of the RPI you need to configure the WLAN, install some software, and make a script that upload new files at the right moment. This may be a bit tricky, especially if you don't know Linux based OS, but doable.

samern made it!(author)2016-10-07

I would love to put something like this into one of my rockets.

DIY+Hacks+and+How+Tos made it!(author)2016-10-01

This is a great idea. You can keep track of your exercise or you could make some kind of geocaching style treasure hunt.

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm a Swiss student likes to build things, especially electric or electronic projects. I also like programming: websites, applications and algorithms. Postron is a ... More »
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