Basic RX-TX Test

The first, and simplest test, is just to echo data back and forth using the Feather's USB connection to read the GPS data out. The nice thing about this demo is no library is required.

This doesn't work with the ESP8266, ATmega328P or nRF52832 Feather! It will work on the nRF52840, m32u4, M0, M4, Teensy, ESP32 and others

Upload the following to your Feather, it will work with the Feather 32u4, M0, M4, WICED, etc. Anything that does not have the RX/TX pins used to communicate.

// Test code for Ultimate GPS Using Hardware Serial
// (e.g. GPS for Leonardo, Flora or FeatherWing)
//
// This code shows how to test a passthru between USB and hardware serial
//
// Tested and works great with the Adafruit GPS FeatherWing
// ------> https://www.adafruit.com/products/3133
// or Flora GPS
// ------> https://www.adafruit.com/products/1059
// but also works with the shield, breakout
// ------> https://www.adafruit.com/products/1272
// ------> https://www.adafruit.com/products/746
//
// Pick one up today at the Adafruit electronics shop
// and help support open source hardware & software! -ada


// what's the name of the hardware serial port?
#define GPSSerial Serial1


void setup() {
  // wait for hardware serial to appear
  while (!Serial);

  // make this baud rate fast enough to we aren't waiting on it
  Serial.begin(115200);

  // 9600 baud is the default rate for the Ultimate GPS
  GPSSerial.begin(9600);
}


void loop() {
  if (Serial.available()) {
    char c = Serial.read();
    GPSSerial.write(c);
  }
  if (GPSSerial.available()) {
    char c = GPSSerial.read();
    Serial.write(c);
  }
}

Now open up the serial monitor from the Arduino IDE and be sure to select 115200 baud in the drop down. You should see text like the following:

This is the raw GPS "NMEA sentence" output from the module. There are a few different kinds of NMEA sentences, the most common ones people use are the $GPRMC (Global Positioning RecommendedMinimum Coordinates or something like that) and the $GPGGA sentences. These two provide the time, date, latitude, longitude, altitude, estimated land speed, and fix type. Fix type indicates whether the GPS has locked onto the satellite data and received enough data to determine the location (2D fix) or location+altitude (3D fix).

For more details about NMEA sentences and what data they contain, check out this site

If you look at the data in the above window, you can see that there are a lot of commas, with no data in between them. That's because this module is on my desk, indoors, and does not have a 'fix'. To get a fix, we need to put the module outside.

GPS modules will always send data EVEN IF THEY DO NOT HAVE A FIX! In order to get 'valid' (not-blank) data you must have the GPS module directly outside, with the square ceramic antenna pointing up with a clear sky view. In ideal conditions, the module can get a fix in under 45 seconds. however depending on your location, satellite configuration, solar flares, tall buildings nearby, RF noise, etc it may take up to half an hour (or more) to get a fix! This does not mean your GPS module is broken, the GPS module will always work as fast as it can to get a fix.

If you can get a really long USB cord (or attach a GPS antenna) and stick the GPS out a window, so its pointing at the sky, eventually the GPS will get a fix and the window data will change over to transmit valid data like this:

Look for the line that says $GPRMC,194509.000,A,4042.6142,N,07400.4168,W,2.03,221.11,160412,,,A*77 
This line is called the RMC (Recommended Minimum) sentence and has pretty much all of the most useful data. Each chunk of data is separated by a comma.

The first part 194509.000 is the current time GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). The first two numbers 19 indicate the hour (1900h, otherwise known as 7pm) the next two are the minute, the next two are the seconds and finally the milliseconds. So the time when this screenshot was taken is 7:45 pm and 9 seconds. The GPS does not know what time zone you are in, or about "daylight savings" so you will have to do the calculation to turn GMT into your timezone

The second part is the 'status code', if it is a V that means the data is Void (invalid). If it is an A that means its Active (the GPS could get a lock/fix)

The next 4 pieces of data are the geolocation data. According to the GPS, my location is 4042.6142,N (Latitude 40 degrees, 42.6142 decimal minutes North) & 07400.4168,W. (Longitude 74 degrees, 0.4168 decimal minutes West) To look at this location in Google maps, type +40  42.6142', -74  00.4168' into the google maps search box . Unfortunately gmaps requires you to use +/- instead of NSWE notation. N and E are positive, S and W are negative.

People often get confused because the GPS is working but is "5 miles off" - this is because they are not parsing the lat/long data correctly. Despite appearances, the geolocation data is NOT in decimal degrees. It is in degrees and minutes in the following format: Latitude: DDMM.MMMM (The first two characters are the degrees.) Longitude: DDDMM.MMMM (The first three characters are the degrees.)

The next data is the ground speed in knots. We're going 2.03 knots

After that is the tracking angle, this is meant to approximate what 'compass' direction we're heading at based on our past travel

The one after that is 160412 which is the current date (16th of April, 2012).

Finally there is the *XX data which is used as a data transfer checksum

Once you get a fix using your GPS module, verify your location with google maps (or some other mapping software). Remember that GPS is often only accurate to 5-10 meters and worse if you're indoors or surrounded by tall buildings.

This guide was first published on May 17, 2016. It was last updated on May 17, 2016. This page (Basic RX-TX Test) was last updated on Jul 18, 2019.