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.

EmSeeQ

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.

GPS Tracking and Teens — Recommendations

    I get a lot of searches on "Tracking Teens" and "Teen GPS" so I thought it was time to do a comprehensive rundown on the subject.

    It’s certainly a hot item these days.  One of the first issues that always comes up is privacy and legality.  These amazing days parents seem to have to live in fear of their children suing them.  Of course, parents who let their teens get in trouble also are often in a legal bind as well.  Here’s a very interesting article on FindLaw teen tracking Legalities .  In general it’s about what you would expect from a lawyer not working directly for you … a confirmation that there is currently very little actual law on the subject and that in general, parental rights are going to trump any rights that children might have.  I’ll have bit more to say on this subject in my recommended techniques and implementations at the conclusion of this piece.

    Given that you have the right, and the duty, how can you go about it?  There are a number of common techniques and services available and I’ll give you my professional opinion on the pros and cons of each one:

      • Cell Phone tracking:  this is currently a big commercial venture by a number of major carriers.  GPS-enabled cell phones are readily and cheaply available and many of the plans are quite inexpensive.

          • Pros: 

            • Cheap

            • Readily available

            • Commonly known (the kids won’t have to feel like geeks)

            • No installation, software installs, etc.  Buy the phone, buy the service, track the phone

              • Some of the many vendors:

                • ULocate: Available for Motorola Phones on Nextel or Verizon only ~$15 extra per month

                • Mobile Locator this service offered by Sprint is also tied to the Nextel network ~$15 extra per month

                • Sprint also offers a separate Family Locator Service which has been talked about a lot but is hard to find hard data on.

              • Cons

                • Cheap … un the GPS world it’s still very much a case of you get what you pay for.  These services use very cheaply-built consumer grade cell phones, somewhat of a "catch as catch can" tracking "back end" and are offered by companies to whom tracking is a very foreign thing.

                • Reliability … poor.  In addition to cell phone coverage issues, most of these phones make it amazingly easy to defeat the tracking application.  Merely receiving a phone call requires the phone user to manually re-enable tracking … “Ooops, mom, I forgot”.

                • Premise … backwards.  You want to track your teen and keep him or her safe.  So instead you track their phone.  Well if I’m going to drag race at two in the morning I’m going to leave my phone with the ‘stake holder’ in the drive in while I go out an run a hundred and fifty through traffic.  If I don’t wind up killing someone from the Tongan Royal family, mom will just think I have been in the drive-in drinking Diet Doctor Pepper.

                 

                  • In Car dedicated GPS Tracker, Live: These typically are the same units used by many small businesses to track employees and trucks.  They can be mounted out of sight and semi-permanently so at least you know you’re tracking the kid’s car and not his phone in his girlfriend’s handbag.  They send reports back to parents at regular intervals and thus have some sort of monthly subscription fees.

                      • Pros:

                        • Significantly better reliability.  Most install easily and just plain work

                        • Much better resolution.  If these units say Jane is driving on Maple Street, she’s driving on maple Street.

                        • Long-life.  One of these systems will last through several teen’s driving careers.  A cell phone is out of style in 6 months.

                        • Cons:

                          • Upfront investment

                          • Monthly fees

                          • All require some installation work

                          • Only track the car and not the driver if s/he goes "walkabout"

                           

                            • In car dedicated GPS Tracker, Historic (data loggers):  These are offered in both consumer and commercial grade.  they report the driver’s activity after the fact, such as when the car returns home for the night.  This doesn’t sound as "sexy" as real time units but they are preferred by many businesses, security fleets, school districts, etc.  they offer the most "bang for the buck" in reporting.

                                • Pros:

                                  • Low initial cost

                                  • relatively simple installation

                                  • NO monthly cost

                                    • Some typical suppliers:

                                      • Travel Eyes2 The Internet’s low-price leader.  List price ~ $200 USD, no monthly cost

                                      • Shadow Tracker  About $500 USD.  Reports for free at home on a wireless link

                                      • GO RF or Key About $500 USD, reports by key chain fob or private wireless

                                    • Cons:

                                      • Not real time, only report after the fact

                                      • Installation is required

                                      • All cost more than cell phone based solutions

                                       

                                        • Non-GPS Services:  Typically these revolve around bumper stickers and 1-800 numbers asking fellow motorists to report egregious or even exemplary driving behavior.

                                            • Pros:

                                              • No equipment required

                                              • Cheap .. costs can be as little as the price of a bumper sticker if the parent wants to use their own phone number

                                              • Many eyes are watching:  Parents may get reports of behavior that wouldn’t be noticed by GPS … riding friends on the hood, basting their 20,000 watt stereos in public places, having sex in the school parking lot, etc.

                                              • Cons:

                                                • Very much hit or miss.  Who among us hasn’t seem a driver doing something dangerous and just shaken our head and gone on our way.  In my own experience I would _never_ call one of these numbers on a private car, because the typical parent will want to argue about how good his or her little angel is … not worth my time or blood pressure.

                                                • Subject to abuse:  teens are always getting into disputes with each other … it’s a part of growing up.  Billy gets pissed at Frankie, Frankie has a "how’s my driving" sticker, Frankie’s dad is going to get a call … facts of life.

                                                • Responsibility:  If I want reports on my child’s behavior, I am going to gather the data.  It is not the responsibility of others to look after my child, nor is it my responsibility to monitor yours.  It may "Take a Village" in today’s world, but it takes individual responsibility within that village to make it work.

                                              • Hope some of these meanderings have given you some insight into the issues and what’s available.

                                              GPS Child Tracking — Keep Them Safe

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                                              I’ve been actively in the GPS industry for more than 10 years now. Long before it was practical to track even large vehicles using GPS, let alone small children.

                                              For years now, people have been asking me where they could find a simple, afforadable system to track their child with.   There have been some on the market, but mostly theyhave been too heavy, too exspensive, too limited in range or features … and most of all, just too darn hard for the average aprent to use.

                                              Now there is a whole new supper-simple system on the market that I highly recommend

                                              (disclosure …I report on my honest opinion.  If you check the product out and decide to buy, Imake a commisison … should be fair enough, correct?)

                                              It’s called Amber Alert GPS and frankly, I have never before seen so many features packed into one, dirt simple, package.  Amber Alert GPS is the leader in the emerging US child location GPS technology industry. Rated a 4 out of 5 as the Editor’s Choice by gpsmagazine.com in their new “The Ultimate GPS Child Tracking Buyer’s Guide” and recently reviewed in MSNBC.com’s article “A Good Find: GPS to locate the kids”, Amber Alert GPS has created a product that gives parents peace of mind using the latest in GPS and cellular technology.

                                              Here is how it works:

                                              A parent’s phone call or text to a GPS unit, located on their child, will return a text within seconds to their cell phone containing the actual address and latitude and longitude coordinates of their child’s whereabouts, along with a map pinpointing the location of their child.

                                              This innovative technology also provides:

                                              * Maps on your Mobile Phone AND computer – When you call your GPS unit to request a location, you will receive a map URL along with the exact address right back on your mobile phone. (Note: you must have a Smart phone or an Internet data plan on your mobile phone to view the URL.)

                                              * Safe Zone – Define an area in your neighborhood, school district or any where you choose and receive an alert when your GPS is carried outside that location.

                                              * Web Tracking – you can go right on your desktop or laptop computer anytime to see the whereabouts of your child at any given moment!

                                              * SOS Button – Teach your child to press the GPS SOS button when they need help or when they are in danger and you will immediately receive an alert with their location.

                                              * Speed Alert – Receive a notification when your GPS surpasses a specific speed that YOU have set and know immediately when your child is in a car. Great for speeding teenagers!

                                              * Bread-Crumbing – You can have the Amber Alert GPS unit send you messages on a regular time schedule, set by you, to tell you the exact whereabouts of your child from moment to moment. This will save you time of having to call the GPS unit every time you want an update (only available with “Unlimited Plan”).

                                              * Temperature Alert – This is a completely new feature that will allow you to be notified when your child and their new GPS unit are in an environment that is too hot or too cold…i.e. in a hot car in the summertime.

                                              * Page Command – If you misplace or lose your unit or if you can’t find your child while you are in the same store or building, simply use the page command and a unit will emit a loud noise which will help you locate your unit.

                                              * Destination Alert – Want to know when you child has reached a destination, like school or a friend’s house, this alert will let you know.

                                              * Low Battery Alert – Nobody wants to run out of battery power when they are tracking their child. So, now we have an alert to let you know if the unit is low on power.

                                              * Voice Monitoring – for an additional fee, the voice monitoring will allow you to listen in to the situation your child finds him or herself in.

                                              Currently, the Amber Alert GPS 2G units come in a very simple design, with popular color schemes. It is so small that it fits in the palm of your hand and it can fit in virtually any pocket, backpack, purse, jacket, etc. Some parents have even created their own accessories to make it “blend in” with their child’s clothing or other accessories.

                                              What else can I say, friends?  You have asked me for help in finding something simple, safe and powerful like this for years.  I found it for you.  The ball is in your court.  Just click on the banner and your child monitor worries will be over.

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