11 Gadgets for Keeping Tabs on the Valuables in Your Life
Purses, keys, wallets, socks. This article looks at 11 of the most commonly misplaced items and how technology has stepped in to find them.
We all lose stuff -- it's inevitable. Sometimes it's inexplicable -- "I could have sworn I put that smartphone there a second ago." And while a classic Twilight Zone episode "A Matter of Minutes" may offer one remarkable explanation of why our stuff sometimes vanishes into thin air, the point is it's easy to lose things. Luckily, technology has come to the rescue with a plethora of gadgets to help you hang on to everything from your purses to your pets.
1. Purses and Keys
Bluetooth trackers have only been around for a couple of years, but judging from the number of competitors jumping into the category, they are quite popular. Here's how they work: Each tracker pairs with your smartphone, and then you affix it to some personal possession you don't want to lose. When you eventually misplace it, simply open the app and locate the missing item via Bluetooth. The tracker, usually a small coin-sized device, also contains a tiny speaker that emits a loud noise to help you zero in on it.
Bluetooth trackers generally also work in reverse. If you have a tracker in hand, you can find your smartphone. Simply press a button on the tracker and your smartphone will ring, even when in silent mode. Some trackers also have a "leash" feature to alert you when an object you've tagged moves out of a certain range. These devices might be the cure to separation anxiety.
Sure, you can stick a tracker on anything, from coats to bicycles. But we think the sweet spot is purses, keys, the TV remote (and we have more to say about TV remotes later), and other things you commonly misplace around the home. Why? They rely on Bluetooth, limiting their range to less than 100 feet. Tracker companies also tout the ability to find objects you've lost away from home through their "community networks" or "crowdsource GPS." How this works: once you identify an object as lost, every tracker goes on alert. Then, if someone else's tracker passes within 100 feet of your lost item, you automatically receive a notification. To work effectively, however, these networks require a large number of people using the same brand of tracker you do. It's questionable whether these devices have saturated the market to that degree.
Among the more popular tracker makers are Tile and TrackR. Other contenders are Duet and Pebblebee, which also has a neat built-in LED. Bluetooth trackers will continue to improve; already, Wistiki is introducing a tracker with a range of 328 feet, three times the distance of other trackers.
If you've lost a smartphone in your house, Bluetooth trackers work just fine. But what if you've lost it on a trip, or worse yet, it was stolen? You'll need a method that work reliably at great distances. Fortunately, smartphones have built-in tracking capabilities. For Apple phones and tablets, there's Find My iPhone. Once enabled, you can track the device via the iCloud website. For Android devices, there is Android Device Manager. Unlike with Apple phones, this is not a built-in service (you will need to download the app from Google Play). Here are all the details about how to get Find My iPhone and Android Device Manager up and running.
Another way to track a lost phone is through its IMEI number, a unique number hardwired into every cellphone. There is also third-party software like Cerberus anti theft for Android phones, which offer advanced features, such as recording audio from the microphone or getting a list of the last calls sent and received.
If you're nervous that your bags won't arrive with you every time you fly , then this tech is for you: Special trackers specifically for luggage. These devices use cellular networks to keep tabs on your belongings. FCC and FAA approved, they contain built-in accelerometers to automatically go into low power mode as the plane takes off and reawakening as the plane lands. These luggage trackers also use Bluetooth to help you find them at the the carousel. Two luggage trackers on the market now are Trakdot and Lugloc.
If you're ready for a total baggage upgrade, there is next-generation luggage waiting for you. Yes, they do have location tracking, but, oh, so much more -- including built-in digital scales, USB charging, and digital locking. One even includes a retractable speaker. If you're curious what the future of luggage will look like, visit Trunkster, Bluesmart and Delsey Pluggage.
Who hasn't misplaced their car in a parking lot? With the right device, this problem becomes a thing of the past. Companies like Zubie and Automatic are turning average cars into smart cars with small gadgets that plug into the on board diagnostics (OBD) port already in your car -- provided the vehicle was built after 1996. These adapters provide real-time location services. With Automatic, for example, you will see a map with your parked car's location. You can even see it on your Apple Watch or Pebble smartwatch.
Another great feature is that you'll receive a mobile alert if you're away from your car and it starts moving unexpectedly. If you've just sat down to watch a movie at the mall and you're notified that your car on Level B has moved to Level A, it's time to call the cops.
It's worth noting that these devices provide a wealth of features beyond location services -- everything from collision alerts and vehicle diagnostics to in-car WiFi.
With the amount of information we keep in our wallets, it's a wonder we don't chain them to our belts. Fortunately, technology has opened new ways to keep track of them. The 2-Way RF FOFA Find One Find All Wallet Finder was one of the first, coming out way back in 2010. It's a 2.75-inch by 1.95 inch credit-card sized device that flashes and beeps when you press on a locator button attached to a key fob.
A neat feature of the FOFA Wallet Finder is that if your wallet is buried so that you can't hear the sound or see the light, your key fob will give you a clue that you're getting closer by it's own LED which will flash more evenly as you head in the right direction. The radio transmitter works to a distance of 30 feet. Its coin cell battery will last about a year. More recently, Woolet is a wallet designed from the ground up to let you track its position from your smartphone. It includes an integrated rechargeable Bluetooth module with a 6-month battery life.
Bluetooth trackers have also jumped in. Their initial offerings were key fobs, but they have since come out with wallet finders. The TrackR wallet and ProtagG1 are card-sized trackers that slide easily into your wallet. They work together with a smartphone app just like other trackers.
One noteworthy difference between these trackers is battery life. The Protag GI is rechargeable via USB and will go for 6 days active and 14 days standby on a single charge. The TrackR, however, uses a coin cell battery like the FOFA Wallet Finder and as a result will have a much longer battery life.
Microchips are great. The trouble is they're not tracking devices. You have to pray that Fido ends up at an animal shelter where they'll check the chip and ID him. Thankfully, there are a variety of pet tracking devices that can help you be more proactive. These gadgets work with GPS and operate in conjunction with your smartphone. They can locate your pet's location to within 20 meters. In some cases, these devices will set up a virtual fence so if your pet strays too far you'll receive a mobile alert.
Pet Trackers offer a variety of other features, like body temperature readings, water presence sensors and heartbeat readings. There are many products to choose from in the pet tracking category. These include Whistle GPS, DogTelligent, Nuzzle and Buddy (which also incorporates LED lighting).
Keeping an eye on your kids is stressful. Put technology in your corner with one of the various trackers that have come on the market. These devices work via GPS and link to an app on your smartphone or tablet. They boast several features, including the ability to set up geofences, receive alerts, and pinpoint your child's location, speed and direction.
The number of alerts you get will speed up the faster the tracker moves. So if little Jimmy decides to make a run for it, you'll be on him. No one leaves the playground, no one!
In some cases, these devices offer augmented reality, such as the Trax GPS Tracker, which lets you scan an area with your smartphone camera and see your child's location overlaid on the screen. Other child locators to check out are Pocketfinder and Amber Alert GPS.
8. TV Remotes
The big game is about to begin and you can't find the remote! Yes, you could stick a Bluetooth tracker to the back of it, but why stick something to the exterior when you can put something inside the remote? We like the simple, elegant solution that was the brainchild of Texan Rick Tennyson. He created the EasyFinder.
It's a battery that contains a low-power Bluetooth transmitter and communicates with your smartphone. Just replace one of the batteries in your remote with the EasyFinder and you're good to go. Watch this video demonstration which is also really cute as it appears to feature Mr. Tennyson's family as the principal actors. If this isn't already on QVC, it should be.
The National Bike Registry estimates over 1.5 million bikes are stolen in the U.S. each year. If you don't want yours to be one of them, a GPS tracker from Spybike might be just what you're looking for. This U.K.-based company embeds GPS transmitters in conventional-looking bike parts, like the top cap of the steering column, a rear bicycle light, and even the seat post. Spybike does such a good job incorporating its tracker into normal parts that it's impossible for thieves to know where the tracker is hidden.
Spybike uses both GPS and GSM (so it can be tracked indoors). You activate it by pressing an included key fob after you lock the bike. If the bike moves before the tracker has been deactivated, vibration sensors initiate tracking and you receive a text message. If you forgot to activate the tracker before you locked it, you can still activate it remotely.
Other GPS bike trackers are on the way. An Italian company is due to release its Sherlock tracker in the summer of 2016. And Oregon-based BikeTrak is also also working toward its first product launch.
Why do socks always disappear? It's one of the mysteries of life. Finally, someone has decided to do something about it. From the company that brought you the sockscription, Blacksocks introduced smart socks in 2012. These socks are equipped with an RFID chip that looks like a button. You also need an iPhone app, (there isn't an app available for Android) and an RFID communicator. Not only will you be able to find your socks in a pile, you'll be able to match socks that belong in a pair.
Watch the following video from Blacksocks to see its founder Samy Liechti explain the importance of smarter socks to the world.
Software is the best solution for finding lost or stolen laptops. The easiest place to start is with your computer's own operating system. If you're an Apple user, Find My Mac will help you locate your laptop. If you think it's nearby, you can even make it play a sound. You can also remotely lock or wipe your Mac if you're convinced it was stolen.
Microsoft only recently introduced a similar feature. It's November 2015 update to Windows 10 included Find My Device. You can locate your laptop on a map with this service. However, unlike Apple's Find My Mac it won't allow you to lock or erase your computer.
Third-party software may be your best best for Windows-based laptops. Prey is theft protection software that works silently in the background of your PC, allowing you to lock your computer, erase stored passwords and even secretly snap pictures of the criminal who stole your machine. There's also LoJack for Laptops. Its software will even survive a factory reset or hard wipe.