Offline mapping with lists of waypoints (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Fri, 16 Aug 2013

Offline mapping with lists of waypoints

Dave and I have been doing some exploratory househunting trips, and one of the challenges is how to maintain a list of houses and navigate from location to location. It's basically like geocaching, navigating from one known location to the next.

Sure, there are smartphone apps to do things like "show houses for sale near here" against a Google Maps background. But we didn't want everything, just the few gems we'd picked out ahead of time. And some of the places we're looking are fairly remote -- you can't always count on a consistent signal everywhere as you drive around, let alone a connection fast enough to download map tiles.

Fortunately, I use a wonderful open-source Android program called OsmAnd. It's the best, bar none, at offline mapping: download data files prepared from OpenStreetMap vector data, and you're good to go, even into remote areas with no network connectivity. It's saved our butts more than once exploring remote dirt tracks in the Mojave. And since the maps come from OpenStreetMap, if you find anything wrong with the map, you can fix it.

So the map part is taken care of. What about that list of houses?

Making waypoint files

On the other hand, one of OsmAnd's many cool features is that it can show track logs. I can upload a GPX file from my Garmin, or record a track within OsmAnd, and display the track on OsmAnd's map.

GPX track files can include waypoints. What if I made a GPX file consisting only of waypoints and descriptions for each house?

My husband was already making text files of potentially interesting houses:

404 E David Dr 
Flagstaff, AZ 86001
3 Bed 2 Bath
1,673 Sq Ft
0.23 acres

2948 W Wilson Dr 
Flagstaff, AZ 86001
3 Bed 2 Bath
1,908 Sq Ft
8,000 Sq Ft Lot 

... (and so on)
So I just needed to turn those into GPX.

GPX is a fairly straightforward XML format -- I've parsed GPX files for pytopo and for ellie, and generating them from Python should be easier than parsing. But first I needed latitude and longitude coordinates. A quick web search solved that: an excellent page called Find latitude and longitude with Google Maps. You paste the address in and it shows you the location on a map along with latitude and longitude. Thanks to Bernard Vatant at Mondeca!

For each house, I copied the coordinates directly from the page and pasted them into the file. (Though that got old after about the fifth house; I'll write about automating that step in a separate article.)

Then I wrote a script called waymaker that parses a file of coordinates and descriptions and makes waypoint files. Run it like this: waymaker infile.txt outfile.gpx and it will create (or overwrite) a gpx file consisting of those waypoints.

Getting it into OsmAnd

I plugged my Android device into my computer's USB port, mounted it as usb-storage and copied all the GPX files into osmand/tracks (I had to create the tracks subdirectory myself, since I hadn't recorded any tracks. After restarting OsmAnd, it was able to see all the waypoint files.

OsmAnd has a couple of other ways of showing points besides track files. "Favorites" lets you mark a point on the map and save it to various Favorites categories. But although there's a file named favorites.gpx, changes you make to it never show up in the program. Apparently they're cached somewhere else. "POI" (short for Points of Interest) can be uploaded, but only as a .obf OsmAnd file or a .sqlitedb database, and there isn't much documentation on how to create either one. GPX tracks seemed like the easiest solution, and I've been happy with them so far.

Update: I asked on the osmand mailing list; it turns out that on the Favorites screen (Define View, then Favorites) there's a Refresh button that makes osmand re-read favorites.gpx. Works great. It uses pretty much the same format as track files -- I took <wpt></wpt> sequences I'd generated with waymaker and added them to my existing favorites.gpx file, adding appropriate categories. It's nice to have two different ways to display and categorize waypoints within the app.

Using waypoints in OsmAnd

How do you view these waypoints once they're loaded? When you're in OsmAnd's map view, tap the menu button and choose Define View, then GPX track... You'll see a list of all your GPX files; choose the one you want.

You'll be taken back to the map view, at a location and zoom level that shows all your waypoints. Don't panic if you don't see them immediately; sometimes I needed to scroll and zoom around a little before OsmAnd noticed there were waypoints and started drawing them.

Then you can navigate in the usual way. When you get to a waypoint, tap on it to see the description brieftly -- I was happy to find that multiple line descriptions work just fine. Or long-press on it to pop up a persistent description window that will stay up until you dismiss it.

It worked beautifully for our trip, both for houses and for other things like motels and points of interest along the way.

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