What is APRS?
The Automatic Packet Reporting System has, quite literally, from the time of its inception in the mid-1990’s, taken the Amateur Radio world by storm. Ironically, storms like hurricanes and other weather disasters, were the first crucibles that proved the value of a simple, reliable communications system that allowed both “tracking” of individual stations as they moved about, and also the simultaneous transmission of all kinds of important data, from weather updates to medical emergency information, in a way that could be shared by every station equipped with the basic level of equipment, whether they be mobile, or fixed stations. Whether you simply use an old 2-meter HT and a tracker module along with your GPS unit to fix your position on a map back home while hiking, or pass on vital emergency information during a public event or weather emergency, chances are you already have most of what you need to get into APRS.
APRS was developed by Bob Bruninga, WB4APR. From his website:
"The Automatic Packet Reporting System was designed to support rapid, reliable exchange of information for local, tactical real-time information, events or nets. The concept, which dates back to the mid 1980's, is that all relevant information is transmitted immediately to everyone in the net and every station captures that information for consistent and standard display to all participants. Information was refreshed redundantly but at a decaying rate so that old information was updated less frequently than new info. Since the primary objective is consistent exchange of information between everyone, APRS established standard formats not only for the transmission of POSITION, STATUS, MESSAGES, and QUERIES, it also establishes guidelines for display so that users of different systems will still see the same consistent information displayed in a consistent manner (independent of the particular display or maping system in use)."
APRS, quite simply, is the transmission and reception of digital location data obtained via GPS over an amateur radio frequency. This information can be viewed through the use of a TNC (Terminal Node Controller) and a computer terminal (desktop, laptop, or even a PDA). The tracking information is processed by any number of freely available programs, and superimposed on a map of the area. Your call sign, and those of other operators online, show up on this map, and will track along the map if you are in motion. In addition to this basic location information, APRS can pass along many different kinds of data along at the same time, ranging from messages (from your station to other individuals, or the whole network), to weather information ( you can even interface weather stations to APRS), and even such specialized information as emergency beacons and National Traffic.