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This article describes how to create custom maps using the DeLorme XMap Editor or Professional software, and to use these maps on the DeLorme Earthmate GPS PN-40 and similar handheld receivers.
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Custom Map for the DeLorme Handheld GPS:  An Example

Proliferation of handheld GPS devices in the past decade has added a tremendous component to the gear set for any hiking or backcountry event.  It is now possible to know exactly your location with an accuracy of a few meters, anywhere in the world.  The handheld GPS technology has advanced at a rapid pace, while prices for mainstream devices have fallen equally rapidly.  You can now get a high quality GPS receiver for not much more than $200 from numerous manufacturers such as DeLorme, Garmin, or Lowrance.  Coupled with a good map and compass, the handheld GPS completes the navigation package for hikers, mountain bikers, and other backcountry adventurers.

While the handheld GPS hardware has made huge strides in the recent past, there is one aspect of the GPS experience that seems to hold back complete enjoyment of this technology:  maps.  That is good maps, which can be used both on a PC for trip planning, and then can be exported to the handheld GPS for use in the field.  Map software products have been available for a long time.  Take for example the National Geographic TOPO! State series.  These excellent map software titles have been around for over to a decade, however, for a long time this software could be used only on a PC (or Mac).  The TOPO! State maps were not compatible with any handheld GPS.  Only within the last couple of years was TOPO! compatibility with a handheld developed.  Unfortunately, the Magellan Triton handheld GPS devices that work with TOPO! State maps had numerous problems from the outset, and only now are the National Geographic TOPO! and Magellan Triton products working acceptably together.  But that’s another story altogether; however, the example is a good one, as it illustrates some of the painful steps that have to be taken in order to get high quality maps on a handheld GPS. 

There are a couple of typical ways today to get maps on a handheld GPS and then use them in the field:

  1. Using a PC program to browse the maps and then exporting some selected portion of the map to a handheld GPS.  These products typically come on a CD or DVD, or can be downloaded from a manufacturer’s website.
  2. Using a flash memory card pre-programmed with maps for a specific region or area.  These products can be used only while inserted into the handheld GPS, limiting their usefulness for trip planning.

Both of these approaches are constrained by the proprietary nature of the map formats and GPS interfaces used by the different manufacturers.  Thus, for example, you can only use Garmin maps on Garmin GPS handheld receivers.  There are third party developers whose products are compatible with Garmin receivers, but these manufacturers typically have to set-up relationships with Garmin, which often limit the available product offerings.  Magellan and Lowrance are leaning towards maps provided by third party vendors only.  With these three companies, map availability is always a matter of the manufacturer’s choice.  This means that if a manufacturer decides not to include map coverage for a particular area, region, or country, then the user is out of luck.

I ran into this problem on a recent trip to Poland.  Poland has a unique tourist attraction:  it is still possible to ride a mainline train behind a steam locomotive between two cities in Poland.  Two of the daily regular service train pairs between Wolsztyn and Poznan are usually worked with steam locos.  For rail enthusiasts, this is possibly the only opportunity to experience train travel as it once was.  Again, we’re talking about a daily steam service run by the PKP, the Polish national railway system, that is scheduled to operate all year (with the exception of a month or two at holiday time).  These trains are used by hundreds of passengers every day, and the Wolsztyn and Poznan areas are visited by an increasing number of enthusiasts with the expressed purpose to ride and photograph these trains.

I had an opportunity to experience travel onboard these steam trains several times since 2001.  And I always wanted to use a handheld GPS to record these trips to show speed and location of the line on a map.  Recording the speed and location, via a GPS track is not a problem.  As the name suggests, the Global Positioning System works anywhere in the world.  Any handheld GPS devices will work in Poland and will create a record of a trip on the steam train.  Presumably, this record can then be opened in some PC application, where the speed profile can be viewed.  But what about the maps?  Availability of electronic maps for Poland has been extremely limited for many years.  I’ve found some obscure local government websites which offered some maps, sometimes in geo-referenced files such as GeoTIFF.  However, it was never clear how to get these, what areas are covered, and what types of maps these were (topographic, tourist, road, etc.).  Then recently I’ve come across kamap.pl, a website for a small company in Opole, Poland, which developed a viewing program to display mostly tourist maps for various regions in Poland, on a PC or a PDA-type device.  If a GPS device is connected to the PC or PDA, the kamap software also offers live position tracking.

So now finally I had a source of maps for the areas around Wolsztyn, but wasn’t too inclined to run them on a PDA or, even more so, on a PC inside a steam locomotive.  After some checking of the kamap software, I realized that I have my solution:  I will use the kamap maps in the DeLorme XMap software, from where I can export the map raster images to my DeLorme PN-40 handheld GPS.  XMap provides the missing link between virtually any map that can be viewed on a PC and a handheld GPS, in this case any of the PN-series GPS devices from DeLorme.  XMap can do a lot more, of course.  It is a full-fledged GIS software solution, with many functions that are highly useful for users of the PN-series devices.  For me, the key feature is the ability to perform image registration.  Image registration is a process by which a map image that is not geo-referenced can be located in the proper geographical place using at least two known latitude/longitude points.  There are three flavors of XMap, Enterprise, Editor, and Professional.  The least expensive solution, XMap Professional, offers a two-point image registration feature, and the mid-range solution, XMap Editor, offers multi-point image registration.  Multi-point provides a higher degree of accuracy while registering the map images, especially for large map areas, but is also several times more expensive than XMap Professional.  For my Wolsztyn project, I used XMap 6.1 Editor and the DeLorme PN-40 handheld GPS.

There are five distinct steps in the process of creating and using custom maps on a PN-series GPS handheld:

  1. Select the map
  2. Prepare the map for use in XMap
  3. Process the map through image registration
  4. Export the map to the PN-40
  5. Import GPS track data from the PN-40.

While at first glance XMap Editor may appear a little daunting, it is actually very easy to use, at least in the area of image registration and working with the PN-40.  In the chapters below, I describe how to create and use custom maps for the Wolsztyn area in the PN-40.

Select the Map.

This, and step 2, Prepare the Map for Use in XMap, are often the most difficult and time consuming parts of creating custom maps for the PN-40.  The easiest map to work with is in a geo-referenced format, such as GeoTIFF.  Geo-referenced map files open directly in XMap, and are placed by the software in the correct geographical location.  So, Steps 1, 2, and 3 become rather trivial.  If you have a geo-referenced map, you just open it in XMap and go to Step 4.

However, in many cases, we’re not so lucky.  The next best scenario is if an electronic format map exists for the area of interest.  A good example of this kind of map is the National Geographic TOPO! State series product.  These are USGS-based 1:24,000 scale topographic maps of the United States that can be used on a PC.  These maps can be exported to image files, in formats such as .jpeg.  And, as any good topographic map, they include latitude and longitude lines.  Any intersection of a marked latitude and longitude line provides a point for the image registration process.  So, if you have software that will generate a raster image of a map with at least two latitude/longitude points you’re basically done with Step 1.  Create the map file that you’d like to use and save it on your PC.  Or, get a raster map file from another source and download it to your PC.

The third option is a paper map, which then can be scanned to create a raster image, typically in the .jpeg format.  This is the most tricky map source to use with XMap.  Scanning is not a perfect art, as it is very easy to skew the image on the scanner flatbed, bend-up the paper map, or not flatten the creases.  Nevertheless, with a little care a good map image can be created from a scan.  I’ve done this before on another XMap project, and got great results.  A downside to scanning a paper map for use in XMap is the limited area that can be included in each scanned image.  If you’re scanning a detailed scale map, such as 1:24,000, you might end-up with a lot of images to run through Image Registration.  And, it is a must that at least two latitude/longitude points are included in each scanned image.

Prepare the Map for Use with XMap.

As mentioned above, there is nothing to do in this step if you already have a geo-referenced map file – just open it in XMap.

If you have other map images, then usually you’ll want to process them a bit, clean them up, before opening the file(s) in XMap.  For example, if you’re using map images created with National Geographic TOPO!, then you’ll notice a border placed around the map, with some ancillary information provided below the map.  Since you’re dealing with raster images, that border and additional data will be included once the map is opened in XMap.  Raster images are pictures, and just like with a picture, all the included information is always part of the picture.  So, typically you’d want to take the map files and open them in an image editing software such as Adobe Photoshop.  Within this application, you can crop away the unwanted border and do any other graphical editing that you desire.  For example, it might be handy to add some notes with a pointer to a specific area of the map.  These notes will be preserved in the map image, and eventually will be displayed on the PN-40.  Once you’re done and have maps that are clean of borders or other information, you can save the clean images to your hard disc.  You can avoid this editing process with scanned images, if you use the scanner crop function to only scan the area that’s needed.

As mentioned earlier, for my Wolsztyn project I used maps from kamap.pl. The one drawback of using these maps is that the Kamap software does not have a map export function.  So the only thing that can be done with Kamap maps is to do screen shots of the application, with the area that you want to use shown on the screen.  Using the Ctrl Alt Print Screen function of your PC, I copied the Kamap window to the Windows clipboard.  Then the image of the Kamap software window containing the map can be pasted to a new workspace in, say, Adobe Photoshop (or Paint, or Fireworks, or any other image editing software).  Within this image editing software, you can use the crop feature to get rid of the window boarder, leaving a clean map for processing in XMap.  To get the best results and accurate maps, you should create these map images at as small a scale as practical.  But this means that you’ll have to work with a number of map files.  For the Wolsztyn project, I created nine separate map files using the Ctrl Alt Prt Scn process.  Here’s an example of a source map file generated by Ctrl Alt Prt Scn of an area around Wolsztyn, and the cropped file that I eventually used in XMap.   Next, I stitched the nine files together in Adobe Fireworks into two files covering the entire area between Wolsztyn and Poznan, as can be seen in the Wosztyn to Ptaszkowo map, and the Ptaszkowo to Poznan map.

Wolsztyn to Tloki cropped
Ptaszkowo to Poznan stitched
This is a critical step; you have to align the map files exactly, to the pixel, or your resultant map will not be accurate.  That’s why it’s good to have as detailed maps as possible created with the Ctrl Alt Prt Scn process, to make it easier to stitch them together.  In my project, it turned out that the Kamap maps have a single latitude/longitude mark at the center of each map view, so once I stitched the nine original map files together into two, I had multiple latitude/longitude points to work with for Image Registration in each map.

If you’re using XMap Editor, which features multi-point image registration, then you can work with large map files.  The two large maps covering the entire area between Wolsztyn and Poznan, which I created for the Wolsztyn project, had multiple latitude/longitude points.  However, if you are using XMap Professional, it’s best to create a number of smaller maps and process them independently.  Once each map file is done through Image Registration, they will all appear in the correct geographical area, and are exported as a single map file to the PN-40.  With XMap Professional, you must remember to create a map file with at least two known latitude/longitude points.  If I used XMap Professional for my project, I would pair-up the original map images obtained from Kamap, to create separate map files with two latitude/longitude markers each.  I would then process each of these files separately through Image Registration, to get the complete map into XMap.

So, now we have map files that are ready for XMap and the next step…

Process the Map through Image Registration.

Image Registration is easily the most important step in this entire process, yet it is amazingly simple and works very well.  With the maps that I created for the Wolsztyn to Poznan area, the first thing to do is to import the map into XMap Editor.  This is done by selecting the Image Registration tab, and then the Work File and Load Image buttons on the left side of the tab area.  The allowed file formats can be identified there, as well as the map file that is to be processed.  Once the file is opened in XMap, the software places it in the left pane.  Now we’re ready to do the Image Registration.  The first step after selecting the image registration tab is to locate one of the known latitude/longitude points on the map, zoom in, and place a marker on that spot.  The marker function is selected with the little triangle/circle button to the right of the Work File button.  Once the marker is placed, it appears in the tab area with blank spaces for latitude and longitude

wolsztyn to ptaszkowo first registration point
Next, the co-ordinates are typed in for the selected marker.  When this is done, the next marker is placed and its co-ordinates are input in the same way.  The process continues until all known latitude/longitude points are marked and their co-ordinates provided.  With all points completed, the Create Data button is pressed and the software processes the image to make it a map.  With XMap Professional, Image Registration is limited to only two points.

When the map is created, XMap places it in the right pane, in the correct geographical location.  You may have to pan and zoom over to the location where you expect to see the map before it appears.  Once you get there, you can zoom in and out to see how the map looks at different magnification levels.  If the quality is not as might have been expected, the most likely reason is the zoom level of the original map that was selected when the original map image was generated.  As a rule of thumb, in order to get the best quality results, the highest zoom level should be used that does not start to distort the image quality.  This results in more steps at the point where map images are assembled together, since there will be more of them.  However, this extra effort will be rewarded with the best possible map quality once it’s created in XMap.

So, now we have a map file that is geographically referenced, and we’re ready to process it for export to the Earthmate PN-40 handheld GPS.

Prepare the Map File for Export to the PN-40 Handheld.

This is another relatively straight-forward step, although it might have to be repeated several times in order to get the best results on the PN-40.  First, we need to identify the area of the map to export.  This is started by selecting the Handheld Export tab and pressing the Select/Edit button.  A grid appears on the map that divides the map into portions.  Each portion that is clicked becomes highlighted;  this way, the complete area for export can be identified.  Note the Grid Size drop-down menu below the Select/Edit button.  This selection identifies the size of the grid that will be used for the selection process.  For my project, I selected 5 minute Grid Size to provide an optimum compromise between the size of the file and the level and quality of detail that will appear on the PN-40 screen.  The Options button in the Handheld Export tab allows you to set various parameters that govern the map file that will be displayed and used on the Earthmate PN-40 device.  I found that it’s best to start with the default options that XMap presents for the selected area.  As you can see, there are a number of choices that need to be made at this stage of the process.  These choices vary for the scale and detail level of the original map files, as do the corresponding results. Once the options are selected, a name is given to the resultant exchange file in the Save your Map for Exchange field, and the Save button is clicked.

As I mentioned above, it might be necessary to repeat this step several times with different settings, and each time view the result on the PN-40 to see if they are satisfactory.  At least the configuration and processing here are not lengthy, except if the grid settings get too fine, so going through this step a number of times is worth it to get the best result on the handheld.
XMap PN-40 exchange window

The final step is to connect the Earthmate PN-40 handheld GPS to your computer and open the Exchange window.  The PN-40 will appear in the drop-down list, in the upper right corner of the window.  And in the center, you will see two panes;  the left one shows the various data elements that are available on the PC and that can be transferred to the PN-40 handheld, and the right one shows the data elements currently on the PN-40.  The map that you created in the prior step will be visible once you expand the Saved Map Packages selection in the left pane.  The name will be the same as you typed in the Save your Map for Exchange box.  The final thing to do to affect the transfer is to left click on your saved map file and then click the Send button between the two panes.  The transfer may take some time, depending on the size of the custom map.  The map that I created for my Wolsztyn project is 20 MB, which is not very large, so transferring this file did not take long.  A progress window indicates when the transfer is complete.  If you’re transferring large data files, it’s faster to transfer directly to the SD card.  To do this, you’d need to take the SD card out of the PN-40 and insert it into the SD card slot in your computer.  It will then appear in the drop-down list in the upper right corner of the Exchange dialog window, and can be selected there for sending map files.

Import the GPS Track Data from the PN-40.

Now, you’re ready to use your custom map in the field.  I travelled in the cab of the steam locomotive between Wolsztyn and Poznan, and then back to Wolsztyn, and recorded the train’s progress on the Earthmate PN-40 handheld, with the custom map file that I created on the screen of the device.  I then saved this recorded track into the PN-40 internal memory.  Once connected back to the computer, the tracks saved on the PN-40 are available to download back into the XMap software.  The process to do this is essentially the reverse of transferring the custom map file to the PN-40.  First, select the Handheld Export tab, and then click the Exchange button.  With the PN-40 connected, the right pane will show the memory contents of the device.  Expanding the Tracks entry will show the tracks that have been saved in the PN-40.  In my case, the two tracks are called 05-Oct-09,181159 and 05-Oct-09,191716.  Next, highlight the track one at a time in the right pane and click the Receive button.  The track is saved on the computer, and is now available to use with XMap.  In fact, if you now look at your custom map, the track will be there.

The track data contains all sorts of interesting information, such as elevation, speed, and, of course, the actual position plotted every second, that is superimposed on the custom map.  As you can see for my project, the track data shows the actual speed of the train, with each station stop clearly identified by the dip in speed down to zero shown in the profile.

Wolsztyn to Poznan track with profile
track on map accuracy
Results.

Custom map creation can become fairly routine with XMap.  As long as the original map that is used to create the custom map file is accurate, detailed, and well made, the results can be quite striking.  As you can see in my project, the actual trip on the train matches the mapped railroad line very accurately.  This can be attributed to the great accuracy, detail, and fine scale of the original Kamap map product, and, of course, to the precision of the Image Registration process in XMap and the PN-40 data collection.

Summary.

Custom map making is now becoming main stream.  While the cost of XMap Editor is in a price range that puts it outside of consideration for most users, XMap Professional is much more affordable.  For this application, the only issue is that XMap Professional offers two-point image registration, vs. unlimited point image registration with XMap Editor.  But again, if the source map is high quality, and you’re working with small map areas, then XMap Professional will do an excellent job of creating a custom map.  And who knows, maybe with enough interest, DeLorme will add the feature of multi-point image registration even to their entry-level software.  Finally, if you have a map file that is already in a geo-referenced format such as GeoTIFF, XMap Professional is all you need to put that map on any DeLorme PN-series handheld GPS.

 

The professional map software products applicable to this white paper and offered by software-maps.com are:

The DeLorme Earthmate GPS PN-series handhelds that accept custom maps generated with the DeLorme XMap software are: