Tracking News

Gizmodo reports: "It's a little disturbing, but next year Coca-Cola is planning to give prizes to people who buy special cans of Coke by tracking them down using GPS tags embedded in the cans and bottles and presenting them with prizes including a Hummer H2 and one million dollars in gold."

And the Las Vegas Sun reports:
TOKYO (AP) - Stunned by the kidnapping of a teenage girl, a rural Japanese city plans to use a satellite-linked tracking system to help parents find their children. The northern city of Murakami has asked two security companies to provide the service for the families of 2,700 elementary and junior high school students, said Kenkichi Kimura, an official on the city's Board of Education.

The abduction of a 15-year-old girl last month prompted the program. A 26-year-old man took the teenager to his home on a nearby island, where she was rescued 11 days later. With the new service, students will carry devices that will send out signals allowing their parents to pinpoint where they are through a Web site on the Internet, Kimura said Thursday.

It will use a combination of technologies provided by mobile phone companies and the Global Positioning System, a U.S. satellite navigation service used by everyone from hikers to ship captains. The device also will be equipped with a button that can be pushed to call for help.

"If you are in a big city, people will come to help if you call for help," Kimura said. "But here, students walk to school in the mountains and rice fields. We need the latest device." The city will pay a small part of the fee for the device. An anti-crime buzzer not linked to a security service will also be offered. Kimura said he believed Murakami would be the first community in Japan to offer a citywide anti-crime service for children. If approved by the city assembly, the service could be in place by year's end.

I guess I should just keep a running tally of these stories. Two things are happening at once: the satellite receivers are getting smaller (now SD sized) and receiver-transmitters are coming out, sending the GPS data over wifi, phone, or radio frequencies.

This tech is more impressive than the current receive-and-log stuff out there now, in which a snoop would have to confiscate and review your GPS location log to know where you've been. The new stuff enables remote monitoring, in short.

What will this change? Maybe not too much. My hospital uses pagers extensively, for instance, and I can't see that proven 10- to 15-year old technology giving way to fancy GPS transceivers (which won't work as well indoors regardless (unless cell signals are used to augment)). I see this new GPS stuff working well for truckers, taxi dispatchers, delivery people, cops... maybe farmers and warehouses. And the military, natch.

Right now people-controllers need to call up their far-flung people, ask where they are, and coordinate movements. GPS s/r will let computers give orders to coordinate more complex movements, and faster. OK, so what else? When they get cheap enough, GPS s/r will let computers track non-human things, like the aforementioned coke bottles and really any product. Would Home Despot like to know if their hardware ends up in a suburban garage or an industrial site? Would LL Bean like to know how many of their backpacks hike the AT?

Eh. Maybe these companies would like that info, but not at great cost. Maybe a decade from now. The real cash cow -- I keep coming back to this -- is tracking people in malls and sending ads to their phones. This can't be more than a few years away, and will pay for itself quickly.

Also -- and there are crude variations on this right now from AT&T and some dating services -- you can subscribe to be notified when you walk by someone with similar interests. Scorpios, say, or Bjork stalkers. You get the signal, look around, and decide if you want to meet the similarly-inclined person within 20 feet. That might be cheaper to implement than the GPSpam concept, but not as lucrative.