April 3, 2008


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GPS in reverse
Track your kids, your dog and your car
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

If you’re a regular reader of this column, you’re probably the type who’s long since thrown a GPS navigation system in your car. It’s great never being lost, huh?

But even though you always know where you are, your friends and loved ones might not. It’s surely a debilitating feeling, not being able to track your progress on a map with only an Internet connection, having no way to watch a little red dot weave its way around city streets and highways.

Get with the times already.

Yes, you can indeed be an even more nervous parent, an even more heckly spouse, and a much better spunky private investigator with your very own kit of GPS tracking devices. Unlike the navigation systems quickly becoming ubiquitous on dashboards and windshields, these devices typically don’t have screens or a friendly British gentleman telling you when to turn. In many cases, the person closest to the device doesn’t interact with it at all, either because there’s no point or they don’t even know it’s there. It’s often literally a black box.

The newest — and cheapest — of these tracking devices is Zoombak, which really hits you up on the “safety” and “peace of mind” angles. They offer the Car & Family Locator as well as the Dog Locator. The first goes, well, in your car. It can run on its own battery, directly hooked to your car’s battery or, for less covert operation, plugged into the car’s cigarette outlet. You log into Zoombak’s Web site to track your target in real time, or just wait for e-mail updates when a car reaches a specified destination or unexpectedly leaves a “safety zone” you set. It will set you back $250 plus a $15 per month service charge. The dog option tracks Fido for $50 less.

A company called Rocky Mountain Tracking has similar offerings with its line of trackers, but advertises “No Monthly Fee’s.” Aside from the misplaced (ironic?) apostrophe, the claim is dubious at best, since it does charge ongoing fees for fixed numbers of track requests, just not on a monthly basis. They do sell a neat add-on, a gadget that disables the starter of your car with just a command from your online account in case of theft.

Brickhouse Security, on the other hand, is thoroughly on the “your husband/wife is cheating on you” and “you will die alone on a mountain/shipwreck” beat. They offer both covert trackers — which, they note in big red text on their Web site, may or may not be legal in your area — and emergency locator beacons starting around $400. A number of their trackers don’t actually transmit their location at all, but just log it at regular intervals. This increases battery life significantly and eliminates monthly fees, but means you give up real-time updates and have to be able to retrieve the device later on.

Other trackers are targeted more at companies with vehicle fleets — for keeping their drivers safe, you know, and if they happen to find out a driver is stopped at a bar in Candia when they’re supposed to be delivering packages in Keene, well, whatever. Others are at least ostensibly in the business of selling to bona fide private investigators. Which, hey, if a perky blonde can do in high school for four television seasons, you can too..