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Updating Airspace AWARE directly to SD Card

I recently had to update an Airspace AWARE GPS device in our syndicate’s aircraft. Since the airfield is a long way fromhome, I was interested in a way of being able to update the AWARE at home – without actually having to take it home.

It turns out it’s pretty simple. The AWARE is based on a Windows CE device, with the program and data all being on the removable SD card. The supported method of updating from a Windows machine is to install the Microsoft ActiveSync software on your PC (more bloat, if you don’t use it for anything else), and then run an updater against the .update files downloaded monthly from AWARE here.

However – since everything’s on the SD card, and the update files are actually simple ZIP files of everything to be updated, why not just do it directly to the card using an SD card reader? In fact, that’s the supported method if you use a Mac rather than Windows.

So, what I did was as follows:

  • Buy a spare SD Card on eBay (2GB is more than sufficient – it probably needs to NOT be an SDHC type, since I’m unsure if the AWARE can handle these higher-capacity cards). This’ll set you back at least £6, maybe £7.
  • Remove the existing SD card from the AWARE device, and put it into an SD card reader. Most laptops have one built in, and it just appears as another drive – you’ll see all the files on it
  • Backup all the existing SD card contents to your hard disc – I put mine in a Zip file for safe keeping
  • Remove and replace the AWARE SD card in your AWARE. Check it all still works (no reason it shouldn’t, unless you did something..)
  • Put your new SD card in your PC
  • Copy all the backed up files onto the new card. ie. You’re copying all the program, existing data, onto the new card from your Laptop backup, so you effectively have a duplicate. It also tests whether your backup is OK!
  • Download the updates from AWARE here.
  • Rename the .update files to .zip. If the .update extension is hidden, it’s because your PC is configured to hide them – see AWARE’s help on how to rename it.
  • Open each file – the .update first, then the ns.update, and copy the contents of the zipfiles over the contents of the SD card in your PC. Confirm that you want to overwrite all  files/folders that it wants to (it will).*
  • Eject the SD card
  • Turn off your AWARE – wait until it shuts down, then remove the old SD card, put in your new updated SD card, and power it back up. It should appear exactly the same as the old one did, but with the most recent updates.
  • Walk around and try out your new AWARE. For the first couple of flights, keep your old SD card handy while flying, so that you can swap it out safely in the aircraft if you discover some bug or problem with the new card.

So – in other words, it’s a straight copy of the contents of the SD card, with the updates again copied straight over the top. There’s no copy protection or apparent hidden files (although I have files unhidden by default on my PC). The update files only contain the updates, so you can’t build the SD card from just downloaded update files – you need to have a copy of the original SD card to start from.

Also – you can probably just use one or the other update files (one just updates data; the other updates program, but loses route info). I did both, just for a belt-and-braces approach. The contents seem almost identical, so it could be there are no major program updates yet.

Also, of course, you do this entirely at your own risk; I haven’t fully tested this yet myself, and as this is an aircraft safety device, you may be in breach of the AWARE support/licensing terms, or even in some roundabout way in breach of Air Law! I’ve taken this approach as it permits us to update the AWARE more quickly and often than we might otherwise do, and based on my knowledge and approach it appears to be decent returns for a very low, and then mitigated, risk. Now, whoever has the spare card can update it, and take it in, or post it to whoever’s going to fly next.

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