Airline lost your luggage? Track it on a map with this cellular device

7 Jan

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Dealing with an airline that’s lost your luggage and doesn’t even know what city it’s in is always a frustrating experience. One startup at the Consumer Electronics Show says it has the answer: a $50 cellular device that sits in your luggage and pinpoints its location.

The product is called Trakdot and was made by a company called GlobaTrac, which says it’s in a pilot production run and will be sold to consumers in March. The device will cost $50 and require a $12 yearly charge to use the service, which lets you track the device on a website and get text message alerts about your luggage’s location.

If a bag doesn’t reach its intended destination, “the airlines don’t know where it is,” GlobaTrac CTO Joseph Morgan told Ars at the CES Unveiled event Sunday night. “If it ain’t where it’s supposed to be, they’ve lost it, they don’t know where it is. They will eventually find it, but that doesn’t give you peace of mind.”

Morgan contends that using cellular signals is better than GPS, because with GPS “if you don’t have a good view of the sky it can still get lost.”

To locate itself using cellular signals, the device has to communicate with cell towers, of course. So how does Morgan pull that off? He said he operates a small wireless carrier called Aspenta, and has roaming agreements with the major carriers allowing the Trakdot device to work worldwide. We couldn’t find a website for Aspenta, but there is a Federal Communications Commission filing listing Morgan as the owner of Aspenta in Georgia.

“We are a cell phone carrier. These devices only communicate with my carrier, and I have roaming agreements with the world,” Morgan said.

Morgan is a 40-year veteran of the communications industry with experience at NASA, IBM, Delta Airlines, and more, according to the GlobaTrac website.

Besides simply locating your luggage on a map, Morgan has a couple other tricks up his sleeve. The device will also use BlueTooth to communicate with an app on your iPhone or Android. That way, you can watch its progress along the conveyor belt as you’re waiting for your luggage. If it works, that’s a neat trick given how similar most pieces of luggage looks these days, but certainly isn’t as useful as locating luggage that’s been lost altogether.

Using double-A batteries, the device should keep a charge for about three weeks if it’s running constantly, Morgan said. It should work in nearly any suitcase, but perhaps not ones made of metal.

The device also temporarily shuts itself off during a plane’s takeoff and landing, using an accelerometer to sense speed. “Right before the airplane takes off it goes into auto shutdown. It stays off for 20 minutes and then it comes back on in receive mode only,” Morgan said.

While Morgan said “There are no guidelines about devices that ride in the belly of the aircraft today,” he’s worried that won’t always be the case. “We didn’t want to spend millions of dollars creating something that could get outlawed.”

 

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2013/01/airline-lost-your-luggage-track-it-on-…

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