GPS Bottle

Snoopy Sailing

Home . GPS . Download . Business . Partners . Contact . Family . AVL . Links . History . AsOnTV . Forum

the GPS Bottle page

found a strange bottle near the UK south coast ? please click here

Robin from Robin in July 2011: Can it really be 7 years ago that the artist Layla Curtis launched those GPS bottles into the sea ?

We've made some more, for the BBC, based on more recent electronic and GPS tracker products.

When my long-suffering wife June and I were in Sicily, on holiday we got a 'phone call from Helena, a journalist at BBC Radio Solent, who had found this "GPS bottle" page - not to be confused with my hobby page on robot sailing boats. There is a special "Summer Splash" event on the UK south coast starting on 4th July, and lasting several weeks. They hope to launch three GPS bottles. I set up a new "BBC bottle" page, linked from this, as an aid to the BBC, myself, suppliers and friends, communicating and testing the new GPS bottles. You will find it linked from the Where are the bottles ?

GPS Bottle in a bottle from Robin in May 2015: An art exhibition called "Message in a bottle" caught my eye, and this provoked me to add this bit of my own "Art" - created years ago, using one of those bottles used by Layla. It seems I was inspired in squeezing the GPS bottle into a larger one. The label on the "stand", holding the bottle, reads, "GPS Bottle in a bottle - a 'work of art' by Robin Lovelock" :-) The label inside the GPS Bottle reads, "GPS Bottle 4... an Artwork by Layla Curtis..." as in pictures below.

The GPS Bottle Story - from 2004

if you find a GPS bottle please visit - also shows latest reported bottle positions.
to report a bottle find, or see Laylas' GPS Drawing, visit

this page updated 1300 Sunday 11th July 2004 UK time

Robin with GPS bottle at Deal Layla and Dominic Hi Folks ! the links above will take you to pages automatically updated with the latest GPS bottle positions and to Laylas' web site. This "GPS Bottle Story" page has been changed into what may best be described as a "notebook and diary" of information we used during development of the GPS bottles as part of this Layla Curtis art project. That's Layla on the right, holding GPS bottle 1 and standing with Dominic in front of the "GPS Drawing" at Droit House on 26th May, when the exhibition opened. Dominic is the man behind Laylas' web sites. On the left you can see me, crouched proudly beside GPS bottle 1 where it came ashore at Deal, a few miles south of Ramsgate. This was no big surprise - as you will see below - since it was one of the first to be dropped, and not so far out to sea as the others. This bottle was fixed then re-launched, to help the other four GPS bottles show us how the other smaller 45 bottles holding messages are likely to move with wind and tide. I will end this introduction with some quotes: "The 'message in a bottle' work, by Layla Curtis, is much better than a pickled cow or a pile of bricks" - Robin Lovelock, May 2004. - or as someone else said, "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like" :-)

I hope you enjoy our little "bottle story" and maybe you will be one of those who find a bottle and report its progress to the Chatham Islands :-)

Robin Lovelock
Sunninghill, May 2004.

Sunday 4th July: last day of exhibition and bottle 4 bits tracked down ...

Robin and June at Droit House bottle 4 bits location On the left you see Robin and June, in front of Layla's display, on the last day of the exhibition at Droit House, Margate. What's that Robin is holding up ? It's the electronics for bottle 4, collected from an address in Deal where they have been for several weeks. Robin will not reveal names here - to protect both innocent and guilty - but will simply say that the long story of tracking down the bottle - or rather the electronics that had been in the bottle - had a happy ending for all concerned: in fact Robin even gave him a bottle of his favorite tipple - Bacardi, and a box of chocs for his wife. Robin always did believe carrot more effective than stick, and would like to thank all those who helped - you know who you are ;-) final bottle Maybe this will remind anyone else who finds a GPS bottle that it may be simpler to contact Robin or put it back where you found it. You never know who might be listening to your 'phone calls or reading your text messages ;-) We hope to re-launch a reconstructed bottle 4 in the not-too-distant future. Here is GPS bottle 2, before we added the label. "Every bottle has a story" may become an important saying - note those other GPS bottles that have not reported recently: I wonder where they are now ? :-)

Please see for maps showing the last reported GPS Bottle positions, and what to do if you find a GPS Bottle.

Sunday 30th May: GPS Bottle 1 re-launched from Deal ...

Dave Robin Neil Neil

Many Thanks to Neil, pictured here on the left with son Neil and friend Dave, who kindly re-launched GPS Bottle 1 at 4:45pm near the buoy perhaps 200 metres beyond the end of Deal Pier. Conditions were perfect with a strong offshore breeze. Note from Robin next day: now 5 miles east of Deal - going in right direction - as you can see on

Robin and June took the re-charged and mended bottle 1 back to Deal where they had found it a few days earlier. They also spent most of that day searching beaches from west of Folkestone to Sandwich Bay - but without success: did not even see any of the 45 little bottles. It would be nice to find and fix the three GPS bottles that are no longer reporting. However, GPS Bottle 1 and 3 are OK - and heading for the other side of The Channel.

By Sunday all bottles were expected to have washed up due to inshore winds since launch earlier in the week. Bottles 2, 4 and 5 stopped reporting on Friday - possibly due to flat batteries or a fault. Bottles 2 last reported from Folkestone - and may still be on beach, or possibly in someone's house. Bottle 5 last reported from Sandgate, west of Folkestone, and was picked up by a beach cleaner who kindly returned it to the sea - he was not to know that it needs fixing. Inshore breezes mean we think it soon came ashore anyway - so still time for someone to take good care of it and contact Robin.

Tuesday 25th May '04: bottles launched today !

bottles ashore Robin at 1215: Layla just 'phoned me to say they were on boat; left Ramsgate a bit before midday; working to original launch plan, sailing due east towards the Goodwins. Latest guess from the DRIFT model is on right: shows bottles coming ashore between Ramsgate and Deal. Winds shift to offshore later in the week, so should then take them out to sea - if someone gives them a helping hand off the beach :-) But computer predictions can be less reliable than the weather - so let us see where they go for real. Note that there will be typically an hour delay before you see updates on the map here

Robin at 1415: Layla called with details of last bottle drop. the five groups of bottles were dropped at 1235, 1258, 1307, 1334 and 1352 UK local time (1135, 1158, etc GMT). These times and lat/lon positions have been fed into the model resulting in the picture on the right. Real positions at sea are starting to appear on our automatically updated maps.

Robin at 1820: picture on the top right is our best guess at bottle paths up until the opening at Droit House tomorrow, Wednesday evening. June and I are now off on two days holiday - hunting bottles ? :-)

Robin at 2230: it seems the wind is 180 degrees out: don't believe the weather men :-)

Launch date is today, Tuesday, with Tony's boat planned to leave Ramsgate at 1000am. The latest wind predictions from Weather Online for Dover for this week show: Tuesday 5 knots from north west (i.e. offshore), Wednesday and Thursday 10 from east (onshore). The recent launch plan, sailing east to north of the Goodwins meant lot of bottles may soon be hitting the UK shoreline between Ramsgate and Deal. It was planned to take the boat to the Goodwin Sands, dropping the bottles so that some go aground on the sandbanks and wait for a better wind direction. Another alternative might be to go north-east past Broadstairs so that some bottles are taken north and past Margate, staying at sea longer. Later drop times might need to be used, so that the tide is moving north rather than south. e.g. 3 hours later. bottles at 22 However, there are many constraints Layla must deal with - including late changes of plan and how long children will want to bounce around in a small fishing boat :-)

bottle case What's been happening here in Armitage Court ? Well, the five bottle systems have now been running for several days, and an automatic process which is updating a few map images and web pages, every hour on the hour. The process seems to be reasonably reliable, with most messages getting through, with GPS positions within yards or a few tens of yards of the true position. On Sunday 23rd May Layla collected the bottles and a rather tatty suitcase to transport them in. Some of these images are those specified by Layla, including the one projected by the PC at Droit House onto a large screen display. all this will become public on Laylas web site which is launched on Wednesday 26th May. Robin will also be providing links here to some of his less artistic maps and automatically updated pages for those who are interested.

the original introduction ...

Robin bottle map Hi Folks ! Robin Lovelock here. Anyone out there able to help Layla Curtis with her project for tracking some bottles soon to be thrown into the sea by schoolchildren ? Sounds crazy ? When I read her first email to me to the rest of the family, we all thought that the April 1st launch date sounded very suspicious. However, in a long 'phone call to me later, Layla assured me this was not an April Fools Day Hoax. Also, the completion date on the exhibition building and the launch has now been slipped to 26th May. You may read the details of this project in the recent Press Release from Turner Contemporary, and Laylas' first email to me, both at the bottom of this page.

Layla at Museum Here is Layla outside Ramsgate Maritime Museum, taken on the day of our first sea trial. I set up this page to support Layla and myself in our discussions with others. The page provides practical help to those of us involved in making and tracking the bottles. Those technically inclined may be able to help Robin with tracking predictions for the bottles based on wind and tide. Sponsors of expensive items such as GPS/GSM hardware, mobile 'phone air time, or batteries, will be welcome - although it looks like Laylas' budget will already handle five bottles being tracked for several weeks or months. Near to May - if her project floats - we will track the bottles here, on and Laylas' web site, the URL for which will be put here when it is ready. I'm sure you will all agree that the real challenge to Layla was obtaining the required hardware solution at a suitably moderate cost, within her very limited budget. I promised free use of the GPS Software and a little of my hobby time - since this sounded like fun :-) She wants to track 50 to 100 bottles and I think we can - by a combination of GPS tracking and computer modelling. The obvious solution was a GPS/GSM package, such as a GPS 'phone, or one of the many GPS/GSM "box" products able to send a regular SMS position such as the Falcom STEPP product on the lower right, described on the CHASE page - and the hardware we are now using. Many other solutions are probaby possible, all capable of support by GPSS for the large screen display in the gallery.

from Ramsgate to the Chatham Islands ?

Snoopy Sailing "...before it reaches the Chatham Islands..." in the Press Release below may sound a tad optimistic - for one or more bottles to reach these islands on the far side of the world east of New Zealand: but stranger things have happened: hear of those plastic ducks that were in a shipping container that went overboard in a storm and have now done at least one world trip - with the help of just wind and tides ? Unfortunately we do not have the budget to fully develop and test something like what you see Snoopy sailing here on the right - that's a worried looking Bart Simpson below decks at the back. Crazy at it seems, such a "sailing bottle" programmed to survive months or years at sea, then sail into a chosen harbour in the Chatham Islands - is feasible. You may read of a much more difficult challenge that was met by Joe Foster in the USA and his buddies, who flew a model aircraft across the Atlantic in August 2003. See the TAM page. This was more difficult for many reasons, including the fact that the miniture onboard computer had only a day or two to guide the 'plane to Ireland before it ran out of fuel. We have no such problem: our existing solar panel with timer might keep the system running for years. Of course, the onboard software would have a few significant differences, such as adjusting the sail and rudder every hour or two, after a test to determine wind direction, to choose the best heading, in whatever wind, to get near the next waypoint. A likely route to the Chatham Islands would probably be similar to the recent world record beating sail - out of the channel into the Atlantic, round the west coast of Africa, and across to Australia then New Zealand. Our existing GPS system would feed the onboard computer and be used to report progress whenever the bottle was near coasts with GSM. Maybe this will be one of Laylas' future projects :-)

Falcon STEPP Frascati Robin and June You will see from below that I soon took an enthusiastic interest in this project, starting with some initial tests of bottles in our garden pond. I would not say we were all boozers here, but each week we throw out a lot of empty bottles from this house :-) On the left you can see the 2 litre Frascati bottle being emptied by myself and long suffering wife June. This was only just discovered recently in the Italian shop in Maidenhead. Early in the project I suggested Layla look into the safety and legal aspects of throwing bottles into the sea, including those that have small flashing lights, and those that include mobile 'phone systems. I thought that every bottle might have a low cost light, flashing it's own unique code, visible through binoculars from the coast - but these must not present a confusion hazard to shipping. A few of these "flashing bottles" would carry the more expensive GPS/GSM electronics and be tracked by GPSS. Initial investigations on these aspects looked OK so we advanced into the details of what hardware to use, and how to allow the software to use tidal currents and winds to provide predictions for bottles that do not have GPS tracking. More recently we've shelved the idea of flashing lights and on the right you can see the Falcom STEPP GPS/GSM product we finally selected, after the important tests at sea.

first sea trial a big success !

bottle trial bottle trial Our first sea trial was Monday 29th March from Ramsgate and was a great success. All three prototype bottles, including Snoopy, Tweetypie and one made by Layla, worked brilliantly: we could not get them to fail despite the boat taking them out nearly 5 miles. These tests were intended to prove that the prototype bottle systems continue to operate reliably when floating in the sea, including the combined GPS and GSM 'phone antenna which were only an inch or two above the waterline. On the left you see the boat with Verity from Turner Contemporary taking pictures, crew members, and Layla dropping "Tweetypie" into the water while still inside the harbour. The first three hours of the trial consisted of leaving the bottle(s) in the water for the few minutes needed to check that they replied with their GPS position when interrogated by mobile 'phone. Layla and bottle This started within Ramsgate harbour - so we got our procedures ironed out: Layla would drop the bottles in the water at the new spot, ring Robin's mobile (he stayed safely on shore the whole time :-), so he could text one of the bottles, get the automatic reply, and note the details including time and lat/lon. Snoopy on beach He then 'phone Layla to confirm all was working, and she conducted similar tests using 'phones on the boat. Note that all 'phone communications have to go through the masts on the shore, so there is no advantage in being within a few yards of the bottle. GSM coverage was our main worry, since the bottles will be masked from the GSM cells based on shore by even the smallest of waves. The trial also provided valuable data such as the drift resulting from tidal currents and wind. Bottles without tracking systems dropped on the way out were found three hours later, and some three miles from where they were dropped - so the tidal currents DO follow the rules ! :-) It seems that we do not need to adopt the more cautious "Tweetypie" design, with 12v of batteries, but can go for the more radical "Snoopy" solution - seen here on the right. This trial boosted our confidence that it will all work on the big day.

do you really want to see more ? :-)

You can see LOTS more nitty gritty detail on our "Bottle Story" by clicking here

Press Release from the Turner Contemporary ...

Internationally renowned artist tests GPS technology
Message in a Bottle: From Ramsgate to the Chatham Islands

Artist Layla Curtis has been commissioned by Turner Contemporary to develop a new piece of work inspired by Ramsgate Maritime Museum. Fascinated by mapping, differing world-views, time zones and the origins of place names, Curtis was drawn to the museum, its meridian line and its associations with seafarers and journeys. Through discussions with scientist and software expert Robin Lovelock, the artist has identified a device that will enable her to track bottles containing messages that she will release at sea off the coast of Ramsgate. An exhibition in Droit House, Turner Contemporary’s Visitor Centre, from 27 May to 4 July, will enable visitors to chart the progress of the bottles as they journey through the water, carried by the tide to their destination. On March 24 and 25, the artist will launch test bottles from a boat off the coast of Ramsgate.

If you drove a stake through the middle of the earth from Ramsgate, the other end would appear in The Pacific Ocean. The nearest inhabited landmass would be The Chatham Islands, 11,961 miles from Ramsgate.

Whilst researching this remote set of islands on the other side of the world Layla was amazed to discover that her findings led her directly back to Kent. English explorer Lieutenant William Broughton discovered the inhabited Chatham Islands on 29th November 1791. The islands took their name from the ship Broughton captained, HMS Chatham, which was built in Dover, Kent.

A fleet of bottles will be released into the sea at Ramsgate. Each bottle will be numbered and include an individual message to the Chatham Islands (each from a local resident), a world map, information about Ramsgate and a pencil. Each bottle will also contain instructions for anyone who finds the bottle before it reaches the Chatham Islands to throw it back into the sea to continue its journey. Before doing so they may add the date and location of the find on a list inside the bottle and will also be encouraged to visit a website and log their find.

A small number of the bottles will be tracked using GPS technology and will be programmed to automatically send their longitude and latitude co-ordinates back to Ramsgate once an hour for the first few days of their journey (possibly indefinitely depending on outcome of current solar power experiments). The information will be used to create a ‘live’ drawing of progress of the fleet of bottles which can be seen in Droit House.

Robin Lovelock worked as a NATO scientist for 10 years before 13 years as a senior manager in the UK Defence Industry. He set up his GPS Software business in 1995, and has taken an enthusiastic interest in Layla’s work. Robin’s expertise, enthusiasm and software has enabled Layla to realise this ambitious and exciting project.

Layla Curtis studied at Edinburgh College of Art (BA Painting) and Chelsea College of Art (MA Fine Art) and went on to spend a year as artist in residence at Akiyoshidai International Arts Village in Japan. She has exhibited widely in the UK and abroad and her work can be found in numerous collections, including Tate Gallery Collection, The World Bank Collection and The Government Art Collection. Layla Curtis is represented by Rhodes and Mann.

For further information contact Turner Contemporary on 01843 294208

Laylas' first email to Robin...

"I am an artist specialising in making artwork that investigates the subjects of geography, cartography, travel, global relations and global communications. I have recently been commissioned by the Turner Centre Contemporary Art Gallery in Margate, Kent, to make an ambitious public artwork in collaboration with Ramsgate Maritime Museum. (Please see project description from the Turner Centre at end of text.)

"The project I am embarking on requires the use of GPS technology /tracking devices. In my efforts to familiarise myself with potential technological solutions for my project, I came across your very helpful and user-friendly website. I am writing to you in the hope that you can offer me some specialist advice on how I might realise my project.

"My artwork requires that I release a number of messages in bottles into the sea off the coast of southern England (the number is dependent on costs). The bottles will house some kind of tracking device that will enable them to be tracked from shore, in near real time (again, flexible according to costs) and a visualisation of their progress will be projected onto the wall in the gallery space (the frequency of the updates is flexible). There will also be a website which finders of the bottles will be encouraged to visit and give details of the date and location of the find as well as access information about the whereabouts of the other bottles. The bottles will be released with the help of local school children, on April 1st.

"I am currently researching the hardware needed to achieve the tracking and the software needed to process the data in the way I intend. I have looked into tracking devices using GPS/GSM technology, VHF packet radio telemetry, and satellites. However I am finding it difficult to determine which technology would be the most appropriate/ cheapest/ most easily installed system for my purposes. I have a very small project budget from Kent County Council/ The Turner Centre of £2000 (Although it is possible this may increase substantially through corporate sponsorship).

"If you are able to advise me on what technology/hardware/software you think would be best suited to my project I would be most grateful. Alternatively if you have any collegues who you belive might be able to advise me I would be grateful if you could pass on their details. You can contact me at:

" Should you wish you can obtain further information about my work, CV and previous commissions at:

"Thank you for your time,
Layla Curtis"

The Turner Centre is a major international venue for the visual arts which will open in Margate in 2007. The centre's name celebrates the artist JMW Turner's links with Margate, a town which inspired more than one hundred of his works. JMW Turner (1775-1851) is one of Britain's best known artists and his legacy continues to be felt today. Designed by internationally renowned architects Snøhetta and Spence, the Turner Centre will be built partly on Margate's stone pier and partly in the sea. The galleries will show temporary exhibitions of work by Turner, his contemporaries and artists working today. Education plays a key role in the centre's activities and an extensive education programme has been running since 2001. Events and exhibitions held in Droit House, The Turner Centre's Visitor Centre, enable visitors to find out more about the project, meet artists and discuss their ideas and exhibitions. Layla Curtis is working with The Turner Centre on one of three residencies entitled Unearth. Unearth enables artists who make work of the highest quality to unlock the creative potential of venues in Thanet, and for their ideas to inspire teachers, local artists and members of the public. Based at Ramsgate Maritime Museum, Curtis will explore the museum's collection and will use it as a starting point to create a new piece of work which will be exhibited in Droit House from April to May 2004. Curtis will also work with teachers and their pupils to enable them to explore her work and ideas. Ramsgate Maritime Museum is housed in the early nineteenth century Clock House, a Grade II* listed building which, for nearly two hundred years, has maintained strong associations with the sea-faring life of Thanet and the East Kent Coast. Work created as part of this residency will contribute to an inspiring Alternative Guide to Thanet which will celebrate Thanet's heritage, and encourage visitors to explore several attractions in the area. Layla Curtis has a BA (Hons) in Painting from Edinburgh College of Art and an MA in Fine Art from Chelsea College of Art. She has exhibited her work widely at galleries in the UK and abroad, including The New Art Gallery, Walsall, Milton Keynes Gallery and and Fondation d'art Contemporain, France. Her work is also included in collections at the Tate, the Government Art Collection and the World Bank Collection, USA. In 1999 Layla was also commissioned for an artist's residency in Japan.

visits to this page counted by Web Counter