Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Using the OsmAnd app to find earthen roads in Nebraska

Background Info
Turquoise = earthen road

In previous posts I mentioned that I have building a downloadable collection of the earthen roads in Nebraska.  If you've not read the previous posts, "earthen roads" refer to those roads classified as minimum maintenance roads (MMRs) and primitive roads. Finding them while riding a bicycle or a motorcycle is often a treat because they tend do be in a condition that tests your riding skills and take you where few other tend to go, which is why they are unsurfaced.  Here in Nebraska, you might find abandoned homesteads, giant washouts, small graveyards, expanses of never-tilled pasture, and a wide array of wildlife. Consequently, when out on my bicycle or moto, I like to find and ride as many of these as possible.  Unfortunately, they often extend only one or two sections at a time and are not linked, rendering the discovery of one somewhat deliciously serendipitous, but at the same time frustrating. 

Fortunately and major thanks to the Nebraska Department of Roads, I am slowly but surely building up a collection of routes that can be downloaded and imported into any number of GPS navigation devices from a Garmin to the multitude of phone-based apps. If you do this, you'll be able to easily  locate these roads.  I will cover using this data to create continuous routes maximizing the use of earthen roads in another post.

A little technological context:
The files:
The .gpx file is compatible with more apps, but the .kml file is Google's format - Keyhole Markup Language and works with Google Earth, both on the desktop/laptop and in the mobile version. Because I find Google Earth to be my preferred tool for managing data related to location, my process often involves "Saving Place" as a .kml file then using GPSBabel to convert the .kml to a .gpx that can be imported to a wider variety of sites and apps.

The Android app I want to introduce to you today is called "OsmAnd" which stands for OpenStreetMap Automated Navigation Directions.

One of the coolest features is its use of vector-based maps from the OpenStreetMap project, which means that the maps can be used offline - no need for a data connection. Between that and the GPS chip in most modern phones, you've got a full-fledged GPS unit that's not going to run up your data bill.  To be fair, most apps of this type offer other ways of caching maps for offline use, but they involve the use of "tiles," which are graphic images that must be downloaded at a variety of magnification/size so that you are able to zoom in and out while in offline mode. To me, that seems an unnecessary use of space if the vector-based maps have the data you need.(More info: vector, tile/raster maps)

Putting OsmAnd to work
1 Download and install the app.  OsmAnd is the free version, OsmAnd+ is the paid version.  There is no difference in functionality and there are no ads in the free version.  The only restriction is that you may have only 10 vector maps downloaded at any one time.  This is not a big deal.  I have the paid version because I use the app all the time and it doesn't code itself. 

Download the Nebraska and World overview map
2 Start OsmAnd > Settings > Manage Map Files
You will see a link "Click here to download or update offline map files".  There is a search at the top of the screen. Type in the names of the maps to locate them quickly. The vector maps are based on OpenStreetMap data and are updated about every two weeks.  Recommend regular updates.

Download the Earthen-Roads-2014-10-20.gpx file.  This link is a share link. In working with these map files, I have found the easiest way to load and export data to be by using cloud storage, specifically Google Drive and Dropbox. So here are the options:
  1.  Use your laptop to download the file to whatever cloud storage you use and which is installed on your mobile. Google Drive and Dropbox both work well.
  2. On your mobile, open the cloud storage app, find the .gpx file, select it and you will be prompted to select an app to open it. Choose OsmAnd.  
(If you are accustomed to connecting your mobile to your desktop/laptop via a usb cable, you can also drag and drop the .gpx file into the net.osmand.plus/files/osmand/tracks/import folder on your mobile.) 

After selecting OsmAnd to open the file, you will be taken to the map view in OsmAnd and you should see a bunch of small turquoise lines.  These lines are the stretches of road that are classified as "earthen."

 Configure the interface
Preferred settings in bicycle mode.

Although OsmAnd does turn-by-turn directions, that's not how I like to use it. I prefer to set a destination and then have an indicator that let's me know if I am going in the general direction of my destination. It seems to allow a bit more freedom exploration on the way.  These types of apps are incredibly configurable because the people that use them have such varied purposes, so if you don't like something, the app probably does it the way you want, but you have to figure out how to set it. My prefs:
In the lower left of the screen or from one of your menu buttons, you can open the menu. Select

Configure screen
These are the ones I have checked:
Street name
Where am I
GPX recording
Show destination direction
Display position always in center
Show cycle routes

I also like the lines to be shown with more contrast. They are easier to see at a glance.
Under the heading of Map rendering:
select Map style > Touring view

  • Return to the map.  
  • Press near one of the earthen roads. A little bubble will appear with location info, press that and select Set as Destination.
  • Return to your current position by pressing the location icon (circle with blue dot) in the upper right corner of the screen.
  • You'll see that the checkered flag (your destination) has the distance to the spot beside it and that there is a red triangle pointing in its direction.
  • Now set your compass view.  Your options: fixed, north always up, direction of travel, or compass. I prefer north always up.  It seems to help me keep a mental map in my head as I travel around. 
  • If you want to record your track, press the button under the destination flag in the upper right corner. 
Now, go try it out.
While you're out traveling, press in any spot to create a waypoint . There are a few different kinds. If you want the waypoint to be added to the track you're recording, choose "Add GPX waypoint."  If it's a spot you want to return to frequently, consider adding it as a "Favorite" which you can locate under "My Places" in the future.

Where to go from here:
Ok. That seems like a lengthy tutorial to just open a single file. It is, but like I said before, these types of apps are quite powerful and used for diverse purposes, so they have quite a lot of options. Play with it, put questions in the comments, and I'll keep posting about various features and uses.


Scott Redd said...

The links to the GPX and KML files appear to be broken, but I find that I am actually having an enormous amount of fun poring over the PDF files of the county maps. Thank you so much for sharing!

Sydney Brown said...

Scott, yes, I was too hasty in my keyboard shortcuts. I have fixed the links. They should work now. If you try them, please let me know.