Tracking devices for children and the elderly could prevent tragedies

07/10/2014 11:27 PM

07/10/2014 11:27 PM

Jason Hicks’ biggest fear is losing track of a child.

As parents looking for a way to calm their worries, the Leawood man and two other fathers a couple of years ago set out to develop Kidsport GPS. The device, a wearable, waterproof tracker band that fits like a bracelet, will allow parents to monitor their children while still giving them some freedom.

Recently, a bevy of devices, from pendants to smartphone apps, has been developed with the ability to track the location of loved ones. The technology could help avoid tragedies, like this week’s loss of a young boy with autism who drowned in a pond near his home in rural Cass County.

Children with autism can be inclinded to wander off, Hicks said, and “a lot of them wander to water, and that’s the parent’s biggest fear.”

With a tracking bracelet, “they can just look at their phone and see, OK, he’s over there and heading that way. We hope we can prevent some of those tragedies.”

Jennifer Smith, the executive director of the Shawnee-based Autism Society of the Heartland, saw a television news story about the band and knew she had to get in touch with Hicks. She thought it would be perfect for children with autism and other special needs, and adults with Alzheimer’s or dementia, who are prone to wandering.

“So many people, families, talk about, ‘What else can we do to keep our child safe?’” Smith said. “You’ve got four locks on the door and locks on the windows and you’re doing everything you can. This is kind of the next level, the full package.”

Smith and the developers of the bands — Hicks, Brian Sullivan and Eric Long — worked to make the tracking device more accessible for children with special needs.

The bands are available for pre-order for $129 at kidsportgps.com. The full retail price is $199, but the discount for children with autism will keep that cost at $129. There is also a $10 per month data plan subscription.

Kidsport GPS’ website also offers the option to donate a band to a child with autism. Those donations go to the Autism Society of the Heartland, where Smith helps get them to families with financial need and a child who wanders often.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is among those who see great benefits in tracking devices.

“We don’t endorse specific products, but the technology is available to find a child within minutes instead of hours, days or weeks,” said Robert Lowery, vice president of the center’s missing child division. “A tragedy may still happen, but a family doesn’t have to agonize over a long time.”

Lowery said the decision to use tracking technology should always reside with parents and guardians, based on their “best judgment about the possible risks” to their child. But he said his group is working with Autism Speaks to educate people about the special risks to children with autism, particularly because experience shows that many are drawn to bodies of water.

Other devices that can track the location of children and the elderly are available from several providers. Many tracking apps are available for the smartphones that some people already carry with them daily.

Using the GPS capabilities in a phone, the apps can show whether someone has reached a destination, send an alert if a person travels outside pre-determined boundaries or show the locations someone visited over the last few days. Apps that can locate other smartphones include Footprints, Family Tracker and Life 360.

Many service providers offer their own tracking systems, such as the Sprint Family Locator, AT&T FamilyMap and Verizon Family Locator. Apple also provides Find My iPhone. Activating these services can let the account holder see where other phones on the plan are at all times.

For tracking people who don’t have cellphones, GPS devices that fit into a pocket or clip onto a backpack are an option. The PocketFinder Personal GPS Locator is a small, circular clip and the Securus eZoom is a small device that can be put in a child’s backpack or in a car. Both will send location information to a caregiver’s phone. These devices offer similar features to tracking apps, such as the ability to pinpoint locations and set up virtual boundaries.

As helpful as technology might be in some regards, the possibility of misuse “horrifies” Doug Bonney, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas.

He notes that law enforcement must get warrants to attach GPS devices to vehicles and that there would be constitutional questions if a government agency — such as a child-protection agency — ordered a tracking device to be attached to an adult or child.

“Parents would have the right to have their children wear a GPS device, but it’s a different matter as to whether they would have the right to, say, insert something under the skin,” Bonney said. “And it’s a whole different matter if you’re dealing with an adult who hasn’t been judged mentally incompetent legally.

“Adult children have no legal right to track their parents unless the adults consent to it or unless a guardian, in long and well-established guardianship proceedings, decides the question of adult competence.”

To reach Molly Duffy, call 816-234-4072 or send email to mduffy@kcstar.com.

Other tracking devices

Besides using tracking devices to find people, more and more products are coming to market that will help you find personal items.

Tile: A small square that can be stuck to or placed inside an important item. An app will alert you if the item is out-of range of your phone.

Bike Spike: A water bottle cage that emits location tracking to the bike owner.

HipKey: A device that can fit in a purse or on a key ring that sounds an alarm if it’s too far from your iPhone.

Find by SenseGiz: A tag that can be attached to key rings to tell you when bags, keys or pets are too far from you.

Stick N Find: Quarter-size stickers that can tell your phone how far away an item is.

Source: PC Mag

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