April 2008

Latitude and Longitude Lead Visitors to FSEC

Photo of Bill Young holding box and gps unit.
Bill Young with the "treasure" and a GPS unit which is used to locate it.
(Photo: Nick Waters)

If you see some of the Florida Solar Energy Center’s visitors rummaging through the landscaping rather than checking out the solar panel displays, don’t be alarmed – they are just searching for treasure. Unfortunately there is no chest full of legendary gold buried on site, but for these treasure-hunters, called geocachers, the fun is in the chase. Geocachers use hand-held global positioning systems (GPS) and latitude/longitude coordinates to locate prizes all over the world.

This treasure-hunting phenomenon began in 2000, in Portland, OR, when a GPS enthusiast wanted to test the accuracy of his new GPS unit. After hiding a bucket in the woods and noting the item’s latitude and longitude, he posted the coordinates online at a GPS user forum. Within three days, two different forum readers had found the item and others began hiding their own stashes. After that, the concept spread through Internet communities like wildfire.

Eight years later, we have our very own cache here at FSEC. Hidden by Bill Young, senior solar energy research engineer and a geocacher himself, the FSEC cache coordinates were listed in late July 2007. Since then, about 40 geocachers have stopped by and

located the loot, coming from as far as Wisconsin and Connecticut. Inside the lockbox, geocachers can find solar beads, pencils made with recycled money, FSEC information and brochures, and a log book to sign in. Visitors are encouraged to take a look around the center, come inside and learn a little more about the facility and developments in solar energy research.

Photo of treasure box.
Geocache before it was buried.
(Photo: Nick Waters)

The demographics of geocachers are very diverse, with participants ranging in age from middle-school students to senior citizens, and coming from all over the country. This presents a great opportunity to generate solar energy awareness among a wide variety of people while they are simply participating in a personal hobby.

“By setting up a cache here, we’re not just informing people about FSEC and what we do,” Young said. “They’re here, they’ve been walking around the site, and now they’re interested.”