Calculating distance and speed with the GeoLocation API - PhoneGap (Part 9).

Published on May 23, 2014

Other articles in the Ionic series.

  1. Building an iOS app with PhoneGap, Angular.js and the ionic framework (Part 1).
  2. Building a basic iOS UI using Angular and Ionic (Part 2).
  3. Recording Geo location data with PhoneGap and Angular (Part 3).
  4. Refactoring the js code structure PhoneGap and Angular (Part 4).
  5. Uploading files with PhoneGap and Angular (Part 5).
  6. A few different ways to improve user feedback in our Ionic application (Part 6).
  7. Displaying current and max speed with PhoneGap and Ionic (Part 7).
  8. Deleting files with PhoneGap (Part 8).

Code for this series is available on Github

Home screen changes.

I decided to change the data displayed on Home screen to provide information regarding distance as well.

I also made a few changes on the way we are using the Geo location plug-in. I decided to stop calling watchPosition() and instead use the angular $interval service and call getCurrentPosition() once every second.

I'm not sure if this will work for sports where speed is hight (ski, biking) and I may have to either short the time or revert this changes.

The changes where fairly easy to do and didn't required many changes on the consumers.

    /* globals angular */
      .factory('geoLocationService', ['$interval', function ($interval) {
        'use strict';
        var watchId;

        return {
          start: function (success, error) {
            watchId = $interval(function () {
              navigator.geolocation.getCurrentPosition(success, error, {enableHighAccuracy: true});
            }, 1000);
          stop: function () {
            if (watchId) {

Calculating distances between coordinates.

This is a solved problem, so a quick Google search and a quick visit to this website provides the answer.

It translates to two functions. The meat of the calculation is done inside the calculateDistance function. As a convention, I return -1 in case there is an error due to invalid data.

    function toRad(value) {
      var RADIANT_CONSTANT = 0.0174532925199433;
      return (value * RADIANT_CONSTANT);

    function calculateDistance(starting, ending) {
      var KM_RATIO = 6371;
      try {
        var dLat = toRad(ending.latitude - starting.latitude);
        var dLon = toRad(ending.longitude - starting.longitude);
        var lat1Rad = toRad(starting.latitude);
        var lat2Rad = toRad(ending.latitude);

        var a = Math.sin(dLat / 2) * Math.sin(dLat / 2) +
                Math.sin(dLon / 2) * Math.sin(dLon / 2) * Math.cos(lat1Rad) * Math.cos(lat2Rad);
        var c = 2 * Math.atan2(Math.sqrt(a), Math.sqrt(1 - a));
        var d = KM_RATIO * c;
        return d;
      } catch(e) {
        return -1;

The trick to display distance traveled is to use an accumulator for the distance traveled each time the interval function is called.

    function setSpeed(coords) {
      var KMS_TO_KMH = 3600;
      if (!prevCoord) {
        prevCoord = coords;
      $scope.session.distance += calculateDistance(prevCoord, coords);
      if (duration.asSeconds() > 0) {
        $scope.session.avgSpeed = ($scope.session.distance / duration.asSeconds()) * KMS_TO_KMH;
      prevCoord = coords;

The setSpeed function takes the coordinates received from getCurrentPosition(). I think the code is pretty self explanatory.

Some things that may not be obvious are that prevCoord is an interval variable of the controller and keeps track of the previous position.

You may be wandering where the duration object is coming from. We create it when we click the start button. It's a moment.js duration object, and the asSeconds method returns the total number of seconds in the interval.

The distance is calculated in kilometers so we need to convert kilometers per second to kilometer per hour. It's easily done by multiplying by 3600.

We did change the view to reflect this changes as well, and the session object now looks like this.

    $scope.session = {avgSpeed: 0, distance: 0, elapsed: "00:00"};


The Geo location API accuracy is just not there yet. It's understandable and it will depend on many factors, like location, satellite coverage, interference from buildings and more. In any case I did enable high accuracy and so far the results have been mixed.

I need to do some more testing in real conditions to see how things work. May be this week-end.