GPS bracelet ups the ante for person surveillance

GPS devices are becoming increasingly sophisticated and packed with features that at the very least create a sense of being, well, findable. One newcomer to the scene, the Laipac S-911 from Adiant Solutions, may be among the featuriest of them all.

Adiant is marketing the device to those who'd like to watch over children with autism or monitor elderly loved ones with dementia. But let's face it, this bracelet can do much more. Have teenagers you'd like to set virtual fences around? Aid workers to reach more easily in disaster zones? Registered sex offenders to keep outside of prohibited zones?

Look no further. The Laipac S-911 features a GSM cell phone with phone book and SOS button; AGPS for indoor tracking; G-sensing to alert when the wearer falls; and geo-fencing to alert when the wearer leaves--or enters--a given zone. The device even comes with a tamper detector in case said bracelet wearer does not want to, well, wear it.… Read more

Geek's Guide to Route 66 tech wrap-up

I'm back in Albuquerque at my office, just five blocks away from where Route 66 runs through the center of town. I made the journey along the Mother Road up to Chicago with a memorable side trip over to Carbondale, Ill.

I've been inside a dome home, craned my neck up at a fiberglass giant, walked into the belly of a whale, raided a Dungeons & Dragons castle, and got tangled in the history of barbed wire at the Devil's Rope Museum.

Miles traveled: 3,221

MB of 3G data used: 346MB

Photos taken: 296

A good collection of gadgets is the icing on any road trip. Some of mine performed adequately and some performed admirably. Some managed to do both. Here are my Geek's Guide to Route 66 awards.

Best (and most frustrating) gadget: 32GB iPad 2 Verizon 3G I barely made a dent in the ambitious 3GB data plan that I bought for $35 before heading out. Running the GPS and constantly surfing for Route 66 information didn't add up to much. I was impressed with Verizon's coverage. I never found a place where it didn't work. The iPad's small size and versatile apps made it an ideal road companion.

But not all is roses in the world of iPad. The video camera coupled with iMovie is a great combination. The still-camera capabilities, however, fall short of acceptable. The image quality just isn't there (the iPad 2 provides a middling .7-megapixel resolution for still images. That's almost as retro as Route 66).… Read more

Police use sat-nav data to place speed cameras

Those worried about what location information their phones are gathering might want to scrutinize their car navigation systems first.

Police in the Netherlands have used aggregate data from TomTom's satellite navigation systems to install speed cameras where drivers tend to exceed the speed limit, TomTom said yesterday. The practice doesn't involve any individual data, but TomTom is barring it in the future after customers objected.

The company's sat-nav systems can send position data back to TomTom, and the company uses the information for purposes such as routing people around traffic jams and providing accurate estimates of journey … Read more

D'oh! D'oh! Homer Simpson now on TomTom

"Doughnuts. Is there anything they can't do?" OK, that isn't one of the famous Homer Simpson quotes drivers will now find on the TomTom GPS app for the iPhone. But with Homer as a co-pilot, drivers need to get in the spirit of Homer-isms: "Make a U-turn. Ha ha, you've goofed. D'oh!"

TomTom today announced that the voice of Homer Simpson, (Dan Castellaneta) of the long-running TV series "The Simpsons," can be downloaded for $5.99. The Homer Simpson voice requires version 1.7 of the TomTom App (available for $49.99) installed.

"Homer's skills will help keep drivers and fans entertained in a light-hearted and familiar way. It's exciting to have him onboard!" said Alain Pakiry, senior vice president of marketing at TomTom.

The Homer Simpson voice for the TomTom App is available in the U.S., as well as Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, and Sweden. And, of course, Springfield.… Read more

Report: iPhone collects location data, even with Location Services turned off

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that despite Apple's Location Services being in the off position, iPhones are still collecting your general location data. National media outlets have been analyzing recent reports that Apple's iPhones and iPads with 3G are tracking location data and storing it in an unsecured location on the iPhone.

According to tests performed by The Wall Street journal, those location data collection practices are not disabled even if all the Location Services (which are turned on by default) are completely turned off.

Related links • Your iPhone's watching you. Should you care? • Tools wipe location data from (some) iPhonesRead more

Personal-safety GPS device presents security risk

After thieves tried several times to steal a friend's car, Don A. Bailey bought a Zoombak personal GPS Locator device so that if the thieves ever succeeded, the car's owner would be able to track its whereabouts and get it back.

He never got to try it out on a theft, but Bailey hacked the device and learned that by exploiting security weaknesses in it, he could monitor the movements of a known device, impersonate it to the Zoombak tracking system, and even look for devices in his immediate vicinity to target.

The potential for abuse is not … Read more

T-Hawk MAV, helicopter drones join Japan effort

TOKYO--Japanese authorities are planning to use a Honeywell T-Hawk micro air vehicle to check radiation levels at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, while unmanned drone helicopters from France are also joining the effort.

Small enough to fit in a backpack, Honeywell's T-Hawk can do vertical takeoffs and landings and hover in place while monitoring a target. The U.S. government apparently proposed it for checking radiation levels at spent nuclear fuel pools at the plant, according to a Kyodo News report.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has been trying to cool the spent fuel in the pools with water. Radiation around the pools is believed to be very high, hindering workers' efforts to restart cooling systems. There are over 10,000 spent fuel rods at the site.

Related links • Qinetiq robo-loaders heading to Fukushima • Where are the robots in Japan's nuclear crisis? • Nuclear-site app pinpoints plants • From Tokyo to California, radiation tracking gets crowdsourced • Poll: Do nuclear power plants scare you?

The 17-pound T-Hawk can fly to 10,000 feet and work in 20-knot winds, with a top speed of 46 mph and operating time of 56 minutes. It can operate autonomously or by remote control. Check out the vid below for details. … Read more

Nuclear-site app pinpoints plants

I live in New Mexico, land of the atomic bomb. The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History is a few miles from my house. The state is chock full of nuclear reminders like the Trinity Site and Los Alamos National Lab.

One thing we don't have is a nuclear power plant. I know this handy little tidbit thanks to the new Nuclear Site Locator app for iPhone and Android. It comes from developer LogSat Software, the same company that brought you Sex Offenders Search and Family Tracker.

For $1.99, you can see where the closest nuclear plant is to your location, check up on the proximity of nuclear power to people in your contact list or just simply browse a stream of nuclear sites around the world. The closest plant to me is 500 miles away: the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station just outside of Phoenix. I don't think that will fly as an excuse to cancel my next blazing-hot summer trip to Arizona.

There is a little more than just mapping involved with Nuclear Site Locator. Clicking on a nuclear site's name pops up a picture and lists the total number of reactors, how many are active, when they were built, and what their capacity is.… Read more

GPS mortars make Army debut in Afghanistan

The average American uses GPS to navigate a road trip or find cheap gas on the way home from work. Meanwhile, the U.S. Army has long been busy coming up with ways to harness GPS for warfare. Soldiers in Afghanistan have a new, very dangerous GPS gadget in their arsenal: 120mm GPS-guided mortars.

The Army loves acronyms, of course, and as such the GPS shells are known as APMI, or Accelerated Precision Mortar Initiative cartridges. Translation: Fast Accurate Bombs, but FAB wasn't going to fly as a nickname for these weapons.

The usual method for using mortars is … Read more

FLOW Android app primes pump for clean water

Here's what I can tell you about the drinking water situation in the tiny Rwandan village of Mwite. The few closest spring catchments--basically cement basins with a pipe of flowing water--are working, but not producing as much water as they should. The catchment further to the west, a handmade system nearly a century old, is no longer functioning, so the best bet will probably require a walk to the northernmost safe water source in the area, the newest cement-encased spring catchment, built in 2007.

I didn't speak to anyone in Rwanda for this story, or to anyone who had recently been to Mwite, north of the capital city of Kigali, but I can confidently relay details about the water situation in that far-flung rural village thanks to...what else? An Android-based app.

The agencies and nonprofit organizations that work to ensure that places like Mwite have clean drinking water will tell you that infrastructure is just one challenge, among others being highlighted today on World Water Day. After the pipes and pumps are installed, there's the never-ending task of monitoring and maintaining thousands of sites spread across the challenging terrain of places like Rwanda, Liberia, or Bolivia.

For years, teams would go into the field with pounds of paper questionnaires, cameras, and maybe an expensive GPS, and gather data on individual sites--all of which would then be stuffed in a file cabinet somewhere back in the capital city, spending most of its time collecting dust.

Today's high-end smartphones combine all those monitoring tools into a single, inexpensive, convenient device that not only collects data on water projects but can also analyze, map, and share it--tasks that would have in many cases taken an unthinkable amount of time just a year ago.

That's when Water for People, a Denver-based nonprofit working on water and sanitation projects in 11 countries, started thinking about an easier way to monitor its projects. The group brought in developer Dru Borden of Gallatin Systems to design an application that could handle survey results, photos, and geolocation data in a single package. The result is Field Level Operations Watch, better known as FLOW. Water for People deployed a team equipped with smartphones loaded with FLOW for the first time in Rwanda last August. … Read more