From “Lost & found” to “Search & Rescue”: Harnessing the strength of community and crowd GPS

Giang Nguyen

Parents of young children, children with Autism (ASD), and adults who care for elderly parents with Dementia share a common fear: that their dependants will wander off into precarious or downright life-threatening situations. Parents and adult children struggle with providing their young children or elderly parents with the independence they need, while also living with an undercurrent of fear that a moment’s preoccupation will result in their dependant finding themselves permanently out of reach.

Their concern is not surprising when one considers how common it is for dependants to wander off onto unfamiliar grounds. Risky “wandering” behaviour (as described by Alz.org) is exhibited by over 60 percent of those with Dementia and about half of those wanderers will experience a serious form of injury or death if not located within 24 hours. 48 percent of children with ASD will attempt to wander or run away from safe environments and find themselves in dangerous places such as traffic zones or at risk for drowning. This accounted for 91 percent of US deaths in Autistic children following a wandering attempt. 

However, not only those on the spectrum are at risk. In 2015, the FBI recorded 460,699 (almost half a million) entries for missing children in the NCIC. Although many of these cases are resolved thanks to the help of watchful neighbours and local police, the numbers indicate an alarming rate at which children are routinely removed from their caretaker’s reach. Furthermore, tragic cases like that of toddler Clayton Foskey from Florida shows that not all lost children are lucky enough to be found in time, and factors like weather conditions can exacerbate danger threats immensely. 

In 2013, an autistic boy named Avonte Oquendo drowned in New York City’s East River after he wandered away during school hours. This event prompted Sens. Charles Schumer and Charles Grassley to propose a legislation that would provide funding to make GPS tracking devices available to special needs children in order to help prevent similar disasters. Advances in technology have enabled many companies to offer safety devices that respond to this problem with creative and diverse solutions. One such solution is offered in the form of pressure-sensor based devices that alerts when a person prone to wandering gets up from their bed, or motion-sensor devices that detects and alerts caregivers based on the motions of their wander-prone child or elderly parent.

After someone has already wandered off though, locating them without being able to intelligently track their location inevitably amounts to dubious guesswork. Like Sens. Schumer and Grassley, many others see the potential in GPS tracking devices for locating and saving lost loved ones. Amber Alert GPS is among many new wearable trackers that keep everyday people in mind by creating GPS tracking devices that can be worn around the wrist like a watch, worn as a pendant, or sewn into clothing. Currently, GPS tracker based solutions provide the best possibility of locating people who have wandered off. However, they have not picked up in popularity because of issues such as short battery life, clunky design and high monthly costs. 

These were the problems that Sanjay Chadha, CEO of Safety Labs set out to solve by creating Safety Anchor, a tiny, cost effective device that can be worn in a variety of discreet ways. Amber Alert and Safety Anchor both offer the innovative technique of enabling caregivers to define a number of “safety zones” which then function as digital boundaries for their dependant. Once the dependant wanders outside of a zone, an alert with location data is sent to caregivers. Although this device is very accurate, a downside to this system is that once a person wanders away from a safety zone, they can no longer be tracked.

A viable solution to this issue is being effectively used by companies like TrackR, Tile, Pebblebee, and Wuvo. The lost-and-found devices that these companies have created offers a community-based solution for finding lost things using what is sometimes called crowd GPS. For instance, if someone loses their keys containing a Tile device, its location will be picked up once a user in Tile’s network comes in its range, whose device will then notify the owner of the location of their keys. 

Inspired by this technology and the strength of the community, Chadha’s goal for Safety Anchor was to apply crowd GPS to help locate lost people in our communities. When the entrepreneur created Safety Anchor Wandering Protection, he envisioned a “community of communities” that extends beyond the idea of a watchful neighbour. People would help each other find their wandered loved ones by simply downloading a Scanner App on their smart devices: when users with a Scanner App come in range of a lost person wearing a safety button, their devices will automatically send the location of the lost person to the person’s worried caregiver which would provide them with the information necessary to find and recover their loved one. 

Only time will tell if crowdsource GPS devices will catch on widely enough to turn the community of communities that Chadha envisioned into a reality. One thing is for sure, though—if it does, it would change the meaning of Tile’s slogan from “find what matters” to “find what really matters.” 

Related Articles:

Why Phone-line Medical Alert Systems are being replaced by Internet-based Systems

How has IoT brought on an Evolution in Safety?

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Sources:

http://www.alz.org/norcal/in_my_community_18411.asp

http://nationalautismassociation.org/resources/autism-safety-facts/

https://www.autismspeaks.org/sites/default/files/docs/general_awareness_letter.pdf

https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/2015-ncic-missing-person-and-unidentified-person-statistics.pdf

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3411122/Desperate-search-missing-two-year-old-Noah-Chamberlain-ends-tragedy-boy-s-body-week-vanishing-hike-grandmother.html

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/queens/family-avonte-oquendo-drowned-autistic-student-2-7m-article-1.2730180

http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Avonte-Oquendo-Law-Proposed-Schumer-Tracking-Devices-Autistic-Children-242062931.html

https://www.amberalertgps.com/products

http://www.wareable.com/internet-of-things/the-best-kids-trackers

https://safetylabs.org/default/working#how_does_safety

https://www.thetrackr.com/

https://www.thetileapp.com

https://pebblebee.com/

http://www.wuvo.com/

https://safetylabs.org/b2c/autistic#autistic

Photo Courtesy:

https://pixabay.com

https://www.amberalertgps.com/products

https://safetylabs.org/

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