Auriga, cave survey freeware


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Required hardware

Auriga runs on any PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) with Palm OS 3.0 or better, even with limited memory or slow processor (it may be a good opportunity to recycle for underground PDAs otherwise deemed obsolete.)

We have already tried Auriga on the following models:

  • Palm III, IIIe, IIIx, IIIxe, IIIc, V, Vx, m100, m105, m125, m130, m500, Zire, Zire 22, Zire 31, Zire 71, Tungsten T, T2, T3, T5, TX, E, E2
  • Sony Clié S-360, SL-10, SJ-22, SJ-33
  • Aceeca Meazura, PDA32 and MEZ1500
  • Garmin iQue 360
To avoid early OS bugs, Palm OS version 3.5+ is recommended.

If you still use a Palm III, IIIx, IIIxe, V or Vx running Palm OS 3.x, I encourage you to reflash its ROM to 4.1
(and file CondMgr.dll sometimes required in the Windows\System directory).
It fixes various OS problems that can affect Auriga.

If you still use a Palm m500 or m505 running less than Palm OS 4.1, you may reflash its ROM to 4.1

Any Palm running Palm OS 3.5 can at least be patched to version 3.5.3

Criterias for selecting a Palm OS PDA for Auriga:

  • PDAs with replaceable batteries are more convenient when electric power is not available, or when the length of survey days exceeds the battery life of rechargeable devices. Laubrass offers an independent study on the battery duration of various devices. However, solar panels can be used, as well as emergency chargers fed by a 9V battery or hi-capacity rechargeable batteries

  • All PDAs with Palm OS 3.0 or better offer infrared data beaming; therefore this is not a choice criteria

  • To connect a DistoX, a SAP or a GPS under Bluetooth, you may choose a Tungsten T3 (fastest), a Tungsten E2 (current model; best battery life), a Tungsten TX (current model; large screen), or an obsolete but cheaper model among the Tungsten TT, T5, T2 or LifeDrive

    Attention: It seems that on some Palm TX, not all, the Bluetooth controller has problems with waiting between data messages, and that some measures taken with the DistoX never get received by Auriga; try it before you buy one!

  • PDAs with more memory can contain more caves and compute or display larger caves or networks of caves. See these limits in the Auriga reference manual

  • While different PDAs may share the same screen resolution, some models have a bigger physical screen than others (like the Palm III series over the Palm m100/m105) that reveal more readable in low-light conditions

  • Many m100 and m105 Palm PDAs, while being interesting cheap devices, are plagued by a well-known capacitor problem that causes total RAM loss when changing batteries (problematic if a HotSync cannot be performed before)

  • Auriga uses the serial port to receive data from a GPS or other acquisition devices. PDAs with a USB port actually have a dual USB and serial connector when used with the proper cable. (except the models with a mini-USB port like the Palm Zire and Tungsten E.) Device-specific connectors and cables can be obtained, among others, from PC-mobile (www.pc-mobile.net)

  • Auriga overrides the 4 hardware application buttons (found on most PDAs) for special actions. On 2-button Palm Zire models, Auriga must prioritize the most often used features

  • Auriga makes use of most hardware features like color, high-resolution or tall landscape screens (for map display), Sony Jogdial, external cards (for data backup), Bluetooth (for Distos, GPS and other acquisition devices) or faster CPUs (for computations)

  • High-end PDAs offer better features at the price of more expensive risk underground...

  • For computing large caves or networks, the Palm Tungsten T3 remains the fastest device thanks to its 400 MHz CPU an its (volatile) RAM much faster than the non volatile memory (NVRAM) in newer models.

PDA32 In August 2010, Aceeca introduced the PDA32, a semi-rugged Palm TX equivalent, but with a double capacity battery (229 $ with IR and Bluetooth).


Advices: A Palm IIIxe is an interesting dirt-cheap choice: this robust device can be had for less than 20$ on eBay, yet its monochrome screen with 16 shades of gray is the best of the III series (others are greenish with 4 shades) and it features an upgradable ROM that can be reflashed to Palm OS 4.1. In Mexico, its 8 Mb of RAM would easily hold our 29 caves totalling 5200 survey shots (and 45 km). This memory was just barely below the limit to display the whole network at once, but smaller ad hoc networks could be built with neighboring caves when a connection was expected. In a month of use, we changed batteries only once. Another interesting cheap device is the m125: a rare combination of color, SD slot and replaceable batteries. If Bluetooth is required, the Bluetooth-enabled PDA32 has the best battery duration among such PDAs (20 hours), the Tungsten E2 is second, but by far.

My personal choice? My "city" Palm is a Tungsten TX, but underground I use an Aceeca PDA32.

An Android or PocketPC version of Auriga?

No port of Auriga towards Android or PocketPC (Microsoft's OS for handheld computers) is considered for the moment.

Runs on StyleTap But it is possible to run Auriga under Android or PocketPC in emulation mode with StyleTap. Things work well, up to Bluetooth and access to the internal GPS. Only Palm OS conduits are not supported, but with Auriga's import/export features, it is not a problem.

Carrying a PDA underground?

It is possible to keep a PDA dry and clean in a wet or muddy cave by using proper protection, as illustrated here.

I Hate This Cave (Searcy County, AR, USA); Jeff Bartlett & Bryan Signorelli


Drypak The waterproof PDA case from DryPak (15 $) can be screwed inside a regular survey notebook to allow simultaneous input of numeric data (on the Palm) and sketching (on paper.) Writing is done through the vinyl window, without taking the PDA from of the case. The closure is positionned at the bottom to allow IR beaming.


Homemade case A homemade solution with clear vinyl and a slit tube closure is indeed possible. In a dry and easy cave, a Ziploc may sometimes be enough.


Armor box Armor offers a water-tight protective case (50 $). It only lacks an easy-to-build hard cover (wood, metal or plastic) to protect the write-through screen.


Paperclip alert

Despite my best efforts to find and fix possible bugs, Auriga can sometimes crash. According to all reports received, no data loss was ever noted, only the device had to be reset. When a program crashes under Palm OS, the system displays an alert with a Reset button. Depending on the nature of the problem, this button may not work, requiring to depress the microswitch on the back of the device. The device will remain on (and cannot be turned off) until it is reset, a situation that could drain the battery and then cause a data loss. It is thus wise to carry a paper clip, taped to the back of the device (to avoid damaging the waterproof case.) The pencil lead can indeed be used to depress the microswitch, at the risk of ending up with a piece of (conductive) graphite on the circuit...

©Luc Le Blanc, MMXIX