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September 17, 2008 7:52 PM   Subscribe

Is there a way to track a human being electronically for their own safety and not entirely with the person's consent? I'm asking this for a friend whose father has mild alzheimer's and wanders off. I'm not really asking if it's moral to do this but if you feel the need to give your opinion on that, knock yourself out. I want to know if there is a technology that will allow her to track her father's movements electronically, not through a cell phone or a bracelet or implanting something under his skin. If it matters, this is in New York City.
posted by kenzi23 to Technology (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you don't want it to be something he carries, something attached to him or something implanted in him, what other options would you consider?
posted by box at 7:57 PM on September 17, 2008

Answer 1: No. If it is not in him, and it isn't on him, and it's not around him, I don't think so. I'm assuming (and hoping) "wanders off" doesn't cover a car. If it does, Lo-Jack might be of use, but if and only if he is driving. Otherwise, the specifications make it impossible.

Answer 2: Yes. Spend the next ten to fifteen years climbing the ranks of the various intelligence groups within the United States as a programmer/analyst, working on the various systems that we'll eventually get (think Enemy of the State). Using secret backdoors and hidden processes on these systems, tap into the software that monitors all of the traffic and surveillance cams and spy satellites which have optics far beyond what you can imagine and inject the subject's face into the queue of people for whom facial recognition is activated for and map timestamped matches against some geoserver. Then, as the data comes out of the systems, steathily remove it from the job lists and logs such that no trace of this activity ever happened. Push the location data out through a covert channel and map it against some handy GPS device.
posted by adipocere at 8:18 PM on September 17, 2008

Response by poster: No cars involved. My friend said that in Japan she saw these stickers that you could stick on things (like inside a wallet) and then track the person that way.
posted by kenzi23 at 8:21 PM on September 17, 2008

I would suggest that you Google:

alzheimer's gps

There are a number of links about possible solutions.
posted by seymour.skinner at 8:23 PM on September 17, 2008

My friend said that in Japan she saw these stickers that you could stick on things (like inside a wallet) and then track the person that way.

That might work if you just want an alert when a person crosses a certain point (i.e. through a doorway). But I don't see how anything resembling a sticker would let you track someone at a distance. Well, unless it's radioactive.

I kinda think you want a cell phone or some other device.
posted by meta_eli at 8:40 PM on September 17, 2008

I wasn't able to find anything for my wandering father-in-law in NYC a year ago. I think Project Lifesaver is active in NJ, but not NYC.

If nothing else, definitely get him a Safe Return bracelet. I think you can get them for free in NYC. One of these has helped our family a few times.

My sympathies to your friend. Alzheimer's sucks.
posted by bink at 9:26 PM on September 17, 2008

Does he take the subway? If he has a MetroCard he normally uses, the police might be able to get the MTA to look for places it's been swiped.
posted by oaf at 2:13 AM on September 18, 2008

The technology to do this definitely already exists, but it's certainly not down to sticker size yet. A sticker-sized device could contain a transponder that a directional antenna could detect from a stone's-throw sort of distance - so it could be worthwhile for locating a small territorial animal like a pet cat, for instance - but for general-purpose tracking you need something bigger.

(Steve Wozniak made a company that was working on a proper coin-sized GPS tracking device a few years ago, but found it to be impossible. If he couldn't do it, neither could anyone else. :-)

You can already get bulky "dog trackers", made for the hunting market so that people can tell where the heck their not-perfectly-trained dog has hared off to this time. Similar devices for tracking humans do also exist; I think that basically, they're a combination of a non-removable bracelet (in the style of one of those house-arrest doodads), a GPS receiver, and a mobile phone.

GPS by itself can tell where it is (provided the view to the sky is not severely occluded), but can't report that information to anybody else. Add the phone and you can call the device - or it can call you, if it notices it's far from where it ought to be - whereupon it can report its location.

I don't know how elegant current implementations of this idea are. Expect to pay at least a few hundred dollars for the device, and to have to change batteries every few weeks. There shouldn't be a significant charge for any "tracking service", since it should only need the free GPS signal and cheap cellphone service, but I'm sure at least some vendors will be pleased to charge you lots of money per month anyway.
posted by dansdata at 5:05 AM on September 18, 2008

I have looked for something like this for my autistic son, with no success. I remember looking at a GPS watch a few years ago that looked good (the selling point was that it could be locked on so that the wearer can't remove it), but when I finally found a real one in a store the display model was falling apart. If it couldn't survive a retail display environment, it surely couldn't survive an active autistic boy. I tried another device a few months ago called Loc8tor that combines a hand held device with little transponders that fit on a key chain, and while it worked fine in a controlled home environment it failed completely in a crowded real-life situation (I took him to the park, let him "wander off" where I could still see him, and the device was unable to track him from even ten yards away with fresh batteries).

There is definitely a need (or at least a strong desire) for this kind of device from the families of people with alzheimer's, autism, and other similar neurological disorders. It just seems the technology isn't there yet.
posted by Lokheed at 5:23 AM on September 18, 2008

This company makes a few promises...and the Spouse Tracker is worth a read - at least to witness the use of the word "gallivanting" (misspelled there).
posted by peagood at 6:32 AM on September 18, 2008

This company is making a device for triathletes to carry around during a race. I don't think they've officially launched yet, but I've talked to a few athletes who've used them as beta testers at races and it seems really promising.

It's mainly used for family members to be able to locate their athlete during a 10+ hour race. "Oh, Johnny's at mile 45 on the bike according to my phone's browser, so we can go grab lunch and then drive to that spot where we can see him come by at mile 90". Like that.

You'd have to keep it charged and he'd have to carry it in his pocket, or you could strap it to his shoe or something. If he went indoors you'd probably lose reception, but you'd at least be able to look at the map and see exactly where he went in.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 11:12 AM on September 18, 2008

In the new Duracell commercials, which frequently show how Duracell batteries help with the real devices, there is a kid lost in the park. His mom has some sort of location device that she uses to find him when he's far out of sight. Does anyone know what that device is? Does anyone know if it really exists?
posted by fujiko at 12:14 PM on September 18, 2008

Actually, here it is with three other products. The from the Duracell commercial only works up to a distance of 600 feet.
posted by fujiko at 12:19 PM on September 18, 2008

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