GPS technology isn't just a way to navigate your way through an unfamiliar city. It has many other applications, and as costs go down, entrepreneurs are finding new and innovative ways to use the technology. One rapidly expanding field is tracking devices, or locators. Using various combinations of existing GPS, RFID and cellular telephone technologies, these devices make it possible to track everything from pets to high-value merchandise.
Losing track of your kids in a busy or unfamiliar place is a parent's nightmare. With GPS technology and tracking devices available from several companies, it's possible for parents with smartphones or an Internet connection to quickly locate a missing child, whether a straying toddler or a willful teen. Most return a signal that can be mapped onto your GPS or smartphone app, and one responds to text messages with the location of your missing person. A variation on this system sends a warning when the tracked person leaves an approved zone. This is especially useful with Alzheimer's patients, who are prone to wander away and get lost.
The same technology can be used to track pets when incorporated into a collar-mounted GPS device. Losing Fido isn't quite as stressful as losing track of an elderly parent, but it can still be emotionally wrenching. In the case of pedigreed animals, a missing or stolen pet can also represent a substantial financial loss. Trackers work in much the same way as for humans, returning a set of coordinates that can be located with a GPS device. Like tracking services for humans, most require a monthly subscription.
GPS-based systems such as GM's OnStar product have been available for several years. Parents can now use similar technology to track their teenagers' vehicles and receive an alert if they stray from a preset zone. Locators can also be used to keep tabs on high-value equipment or merchandise, either in their customary location or while they're in transit. In physically large installations, GPS/cellular devices can be used to monitor a number of individual items equipped with RFID tags, providing an accurate real-time picture of inventory or resources by location.
GPS-based tracking devices can provide consumers with peace of mind and give law enforcement a valuable tool. In some cases, however, tracking can be invasive or even illegal. Some car dealerships place GPS trackers in vehicles sold on high-risk credit offers to simplify repossession if necessary. Stalkers could do the same, tracking the GPS locator chips found in modern cell phones. Police had surreptitiously used GPS locators for years to track suspects. In January 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that this constituted illegal search and seizure, requiring police to obtain a warrant for GPS tracking.
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- Wall Street Journal: Stalkers Exploit Cell Phone GPS
- USA Today: Supreme Court Rules Warrant Needed for GPS Tracking
- Computerworld: GPS Tracking of High Credit-Risk Drivers -- Good Practice or Privacy Violation?
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