The GPS with my magic modification that makes it into a 1ms-accurate time source over USB arrived here last week. And…wow. It works. Not only is it delivering 1PPS where I can see it, it’s the best GPS I’ve ever handled on a couple other axes as well, including superb indoor performance. Despite the fact that it’s been sitting on my desk five feet from a window blocked by large trees, it acquired sat lock in seconds and (judging by the steadily blinking LED) doesn’t appear to have lost it even transiently at any time since.
(Fun fact about that blinking LED on your GPS – that’s actually being lit up by the 1PPS pulse! Yes, the dumb flashing LED telling you your GPS has a fix is actually marking top-of-second with 50ns atomic-clock accuracy – kind of like using an F16 to deliver junk mail.)
I’m kind of boggled, actually. This device, my very first hardware hack, went from from mad gleam in my eye to shipping for production in less than ten weeks. No, you can’t easily buy one yet, but that’ll change within a few weeks when the first U.S. retailer lands a shipment.
Um, so maybe I really am Manfred Macx after all? I have spent an awful lot of time pulling people into agalmic positive-sum games, and the hypervelocity hack of the market I’ve just done (make a bunch of other people rich and empowered with a simple idea and some connective juice) is very much the same sort of thing Manfred does all through Charles Stross’s novel Accelerando. The guys on the thumbgps-devel list think this is hilarious and have talked the Chinese into nicknaming the device the Macx-1. Two of them are now addressing me as ‘Manfred’ in a ha-ha-only-serious way; I am not sure I approve of this.
The Chinese we’re dealing with (the company is Navisys) seem to be enjoying all this. Of course they make agreeable noises at customers as a matter of commercial reflex, and it’s not easy to be sure through the slightly stiff Chinglish they speak, but…I think they actually like us. I think they’re not used to having customers that are interesting and know their engineering and make jokes at the same time. It seems to have been a fun ride for all parties involved.
The non-Plain-Jane concept designs that the thumbgps list was kicking around haven’t completely died as topics of discussion, but the existence of real hardware for cheap does tend to concentrate minds on it. The other company I was talking with, UniTraq, hasn’t been heard from in a couple of weeks; perhaps they lost interest after we downchecked the CP2101 USB adapter in their prototypes.
Dunno what the quantity-one retail price in the U.S. will be yet, but a little birdie tells me Navisys is quoting less than $30 qty 100, so make your own guess about retailer markup. No, it’s not on the Navisys website yet, but they are taking bulk orders. Ask for the Macx-1 by name – formally it’s a revision of the GR601W, but they had to shift from a dongle to a mouse enclosure for the prototypes at least and it’s unknown to me whether the older designation will survive. I suspect the Chinese are still thinking out how exactly to market this thing.
There’s an opportunity here for anyone in the retail consumer-electronics biz. This is a great product – inexpensive, well designed, almost uniquely capable, My opinion of uBlox (the GPS chip’s vendor) has gone way, way up; this beats the snot out of the SiRF-II- and SiRf-III-based designs I’m used to even if you ignore the timing-source use.
It’s pretty hard to see how this project could gone better, actually. Now it’s time for phase II, where we use a hundred or so copies of the Macx-1 to build the Cosmic Background Bufferbloat Detector and fix the Internet.