GPS Tracking Alternative — For the Infirm

Wow, months go by and I don’t see anything new in this area and then bang, bang, news of new devices comes out on the market.

Last post I detailed a very neat and compact GPS child finder (which would also work very well for an individual of any age who tends to wander.)  Today, thanks to the New York Times Gadgetwise Blog I came across this alternative system:

The idea of using an electronic device to monitor the movements of people and pets is not new. Several products exist that use GPS technology to keep an eye on kids, animals and those with some form of dementia.


Now a new company has created a monitoring device with a twist: instead of GPS, it uses the GSM cellular network to locate those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Down syndrome, or other ailments that may cause people to wander off.

EmFinders‘ (”Em” for eemergency) device, called EmSeeQ, looks like a black watch without a face. It’s placed on the user’s wrist just like a watch. (It’s unlikely that a user can remove it, as two hands are needed to do so.) So as not to agitate an individual who needs to wear one, the device remains silent and passive with no beeps or lights.

If an individual does wander off, a caretaker calls the EmFinders center. It in turn calls the 911 dispatch center, and a recording gives the operator the location of the individual. According to company head Jim Nally, by using cellphone technology, the company can pinpoint the location of someone within 10 to 20 feet, or about 1,000 feet in rural areas.

The EmSeeQ charger “GPS has a hard time operating in urban canyons,” Mr. Nally said, explaining why his company chose to use a mobile network for monitoring. According to a company spokeswoman, the EmSeeQ can operate on a much weaker signal than required for an actual cellphone call….

Now some may already be wondering, what the difference is and why would one be better than another?  To answer this question for yourself, you have to consider two things.

GPS and GSM (or other cellphone technology) are actually two completely different systems.  GPS works all the time, world-wide, even in the middle of the ocean or at the North or South poles.

But GPS, itself, doesn’t “track” anything, ever.  The receiver in the decide you are using reads one-way signals that come down from the GPS satellites in space and determines where it is on the surface of the earth.  To ‘track’ somehting, the person who wants to do the tracking has to get a message back from the GPS reciver to his or her own location.  To do this, any system that provides digital communication can be used.

For most of us in the developed world, thatsystem turns out to be the cellular phone system.  It covers a large portion of every developed counttry and provides relatively cheap and depndable data messages from the GPS reciver to whatever device (or web site) the ‘tracking person’ is using.

That’s the principle being used in the Amber Alert multi-use tracker I wrote about recently.

Now here is the fact that seems to get missed in a lot of literature on this subject.  Not only does GPS itself not provide any tracking service on it’s own …you do not need GPS to track any person or object if they are carrying an operating cellular phone.  (by operating, I mean turned on … no calling or any other action is required for your cell phone to be tracked)(Many folks didn’t know that, did you?)

This fact has nothing what-so-ever to do with GPS.  Whatever your cell phone is, even if it is an older model that doesn’t come equipped with GPS (that tells you where you are), whenever a cell phone turns on, it searches a certian frequency range for the closest cellulr base site and registers itself with the cellular network.

This is a ‘fact of cellular life’ which many people are unclear on.  It’s just the way the network operates.  It can only be avoided by not turning on a cell phone.  Depending on the model of cell phone and the service you are using, your phone can be located to a precision ranging from one hundred meters or so down to just a very few feet.

Federal law requires all cellular carriers to be able to do this … and this information can be accessed by a lot of people.

Law enforcement … with or without a warrant, depending on state law and circumstances, agencies with names we can’t talk about here, and commercial services that provide emergency assistance (like EmSeeQ), who have the owner of the phone’s permission.

That’s how the EmSeeQ provides a person’s location.  The device is, at it’s heart, a cell phone, with a phone number like any other cell phone number assigned.  EmSeeQ ‘owns’ the number and thus has the right to purchase the location of any of their phones, on demand, from the cell phone carrier.  No GPS is involved at all.

So which system would be the right system for you?

If you want the ability to monitor a person’s location, on demand, yourself, then you want the Amber Alert system. This system allows you, the owner of the device, to use it any time you wish.  It also allows you to monitor pretty much privately.  You don’t need to involve the 911 Emergency system, the police, or any other outside agency.  Particularly useful if you want to just make sure your child went to band practice and not the video arcade, or to reassure yourself that grandpa is still in the park on his afternoon stroll and not wandering off … things you would not want to involve 911 with.  It’s by far the most powerful system in that respect.  You could even use it to monitor your dog, or even a package you shipped to a client.

However, power always comes with responsibility.  If you are a third-party, responsible for a person’s safety but unwilling or unable to keep personal track of folks, but only to assist them in emergency situations, then you are much better served by the EmFinders device.  A prime example might be a nursing home with a hundred residents.  Trying to monitor all their movements would be a full-time job for a dedicated monitoring technician, 24/7/365.  Very, very seldom could this level of monitoring be required.  And for privacy reasons you really don’t want to monitor their every move.  You just need a way to locate people who are actually astray, and you want the emergency services folks involved from the first sign that a client might be in danger.  That makes the EmFinders system a clear choice.

So there you have it.  A nice run down to start the new year with.  Two different systems to locate an Alzheimer sufferer, a straying child, or anyone else important to you or your business.  Both intelligent, both economical and both worthy of a tip of the hat from the GPS ROI blog for seeing a real-world need and coming up with a smart, user-friendly solution to a well documented need.  Kudos.