Brad Feld

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The Z Axis

Sep 10, 2008
Category Technology

As I was hiking up Quandary Peak on Saturday, I regularly looked at my Garmin 305.  I had four data fields displaying – distance, total time, heart rate, and lap time.  After about two miles, I asked Dave how high he thought we were.  He pulled out a topo map, looked at it for about 15 seconds, and said "around 12,500 feet." 

Up to this point, I was doing a simple calculation between distance and elevation based on the assumption that there was approximately a straight line between the start of the climb at 10,750 feet and the peak 3.3 miles later at 14,270 feet.  While I was doing this calculation in my head at the two mile mark, I looked at my watch and realized it had a data setting for elevation.  Doh.  And yes, we were at about 12,500 feet.

As I climbed the rest of the way to 14,270, I checked my watch on a periodic basis.  My rough guess is that the elevation accuracy was +/- 30 feet at any particular moment.  Pretty cool.

I’ve been intrigued with mapping and geolocation for a long time – one of our investments is Quova, the market leading geolocation data provider.  I run into lat and long all the time in geotagged data but I rarely run into altitude (aka elevation).

Anyone that flies an airplane knows how critically important altitude is.  As airplanes start to have Internet access, the jetpack that NASA promised me as a kid arrives, and IP-based flying robots start to appear, altitude will emerge as an important part of geolocation.  Today, geolocation is still mostly just x and y data.  Our friend the z axis is starting to make an appearance.