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Monday, Jan. 21, 2002 at 12:23 PM
More about that satanic chip published by AP news wire
PALM BEACH, Florida (AP) -- You might call it Big Brother meets guardian angel.
At least that's the idea behind a new device that promises to track your every move and notify whomever is monitoring from afar of your location and, eventually, your vital signs.
The Digital Angel combines global satellite positioning, wireless technology and a monitoring service. It's designed to keep track of people who might tend to stray: children, parolees, elderly people who live alone or are afflicted by Alzheimer's.
When its wearer wanders off or falls, the Digital Angel promises to provide notification by e-mail, phone or pager. Someone can also piece together a person's movement by scrolling through a log of data.
If I had Digital Angel technology, I'd like to use it to track:
My kids at play.
My teens on dates.
My spouse or lover.
My dog -- is there a collar-watch available?
The device has two components: a wristwatch and a unit worn on the waist. It costs 9, plus a .95 monthly monitoring fee.
The wrist unit looks like a standard digital watch with a couple of extra buttons. On the test model I used, most of the buttons were inactive. One was used to turn on the ambient temperature sensor. The watch does tell time, though -- no need to wear two wristwatches at once.
The waist unit is about the size of a pack of cigarettes and clips on like a pager. It weighs no more than your average PDA, although it houses a quarter-size GPS transmitter along with sensors to record ambient temperature and signs of disequilibrium.
It also has an emergency button and a battery-charge reading.
Batteries in the waist pack are good for about 12 hours and can be recharged through an electric outlet or a car's cigarette lighter (chargers included). The wrist unit uses a standard watch battery.
Watching you watching me
Keith Bolton of Digital Solutions with a watch manufactured to tell time and to read body temperature.
I played the part of the watcher first, tracking someone wearing the device as he drove through Palm Beach, over a bridge spanning the bay and back. I spied his whereabouts from up to a mile away.
I used a laptop with a 28.8 kbps wireless dial-up connection -- about half as fast as a standard phone modem. The computer was set up to simulate what technicians at Digital Angel's monitoring station in California see.
The display showed longitude and latitude, along with readings for the sensors, although in this case, the ambient temperature sensor was inadvertently left off by the subject.
The wearer showed up as a red dot on a zoomable road map, similar to one you'd find at MapQuest. The dot blinked in and out every few seconds, clearly showing the direction the car was traveling.
The makers of the Digital Angel claim accuracy to 20 feet. That appeared to be the case -- the dot showed up on the proper street, not in the middle of the bay.
Most people won't have this specially equipped laptop. So using a different laptop, I tried out the Web site that people would normally use. The site is secured with 128-bit encryption and requires a user name and password.
I had to hit the "refresh" button on the Web browser often to see the dot move on the map, since what you get is essentially a still picture.
I also tried wearing Digital Angel, using a Compaq iPac handheld with a dial-up wireless Internet hookup to see if I could track myself on the move. Connecting to the Web site proved frustratingly slow, taking about 20 minutes.
I wouldn't recommend this unless you have a newer handheld and can live with an often spotty connection. The company warns it can take anywhere from three to five minutes and a couple of tries.
The wearer must generally stay outside or near a window to achieve the best signal. Wandering deep into concrete and steel buildings, basements or even walking among tall buildings in downtown areas can hamper signal quality.
Paw enforcement: Bomb-sniffing dogs head to airports as tougher bag-screening measures are implemented nationwide.
The fall-down sensor is advertised as being able to sense specifically the "posture and gait of the wearer," but it requires strong inertial movement. In other words, it will register if an octogenarian takes a sudden, hard fall, but not if he gently lies down for an afternoon nap.
Ultimately, you can opt to avoid the Internet altogether and rely on the monitoring service to contact you by phone, e-mail, PDA or text pager if the wearer wanders beyond a certain point, suddenly falls or presses the emergency button.
But you get only two free calls a month; after that it's .
For now, I question the usefulness of sitting in front of the computer, tracking your target like a CIA operative on a mission.
I'm inclined to wait for future models.
Digital Angel should become even more useful once sensors are added to check blood sugar levels, pulse, blood oxygen, EEGs and EKGs. There's also an upcoming model that's self-contained in the watch unit but lacks the fall-down sensor.
If you can't wait to get one, the Digital Angel is currently available only through the company's Web site. Expect to wait about 90 days for delivery.
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