The idea behind this project was born when a friend asked me too take a look at he’s broken GPS unit (MyGuide 3000) to see if I can fix anything. I started checking various parts like voltage regulators, but found nothing wrong. The gps unit was still not powering up so I checked the cpu, an ARM9 from Samsung and found it broken. Of course I couldn’t do anything about that, because of the BGA package and the bootloader needed after replacing it so the gps unit became a source for parts. The most useful and interesting parts from the GPS were the LCD display and the GPS module.
The GPS module is a RoyalTek RGM-3550LP which has an integrated antenna and is powered by SiRF Star III technology. I immediately connected the gps module to my computer’s serial port(using a max232) to test if it was still working. To my surprise the gps module was working and sending NMEA compliant sentences. Then I had this idea of using the gps module as a navigation system together with a notebook computer, but notebooks don’t have a serial port so I had to use a UART to USB bridge.
The most common used UART-USB bridge is the FT232 manufactured by FTDI which is about $4 which is a fair price because you don’t need any external parts for this chip except some bypass capacitors and that saves you time and money. I never used the chip before but it was really easy to get it working. It even has this custom utility that let’s you program some features saved in the internal EEPROM like the maximum bus power and the product and manufacturer descriptor strings. Anyway these are the only two settings that I tinkered with, but the utility let’s you change some more stuff.
The next thing I had to worry was where to get the power for the GPS unit, because it needs 3.3V and the acquisition current is 50 mA. The FT232 has an internal voltage regulator which provides 3.3 V and 50 mA but I decided not to use that in order to extend it’s life so I ended up using the TPS2148 which is a 3.3V LDO from Texas Instruments. It’s specifically designed for USB peripheral power management, and it’s tiny package(MSOP-8) made it ideally for my application. The TPS2148 handles the current limitation so I didn’t had to worry about that either.
After figuring out the parts I was going to use and the schematic, I had to chose an enclosure for this project. The main target was to get it as small as possible but the limit was the gps module size, I couldn’t of got it smaller then the module :). So I went and searched for a plastic enclosure, and I found one just perfect for what I needed, the PP85D from Supertronic. The gps module fits just nicely between the screw channels.
Then after I got the enclosure, I made the pcb using the photo etching technique.. I assembled and tested it, and to my surprise everything worked just fine from the first try. I’m usually not that lucky when I make stuff using new IC’s that I haven’t used before. Sometimes I don’t pay enough attention to the datasheet and I get some small stuff left behind and that messes my entire circuit. Anyway, happy as I was that everything worked from the first try, I put everything inside the enclosure and snapped some pictures of it. As a final note, this was a great project which I enjoyed making, and I really recommend you do something like this if you have a gps unit laying around.
- RGM-3550LP gps module x1
- FT232RL x1
- TPS2148 x1
- capacitor 10uF x3
- capacitor 100nF x3
- led x1
schematics and board files were designed in Eagle and can be downloaded here.