Image: Sticknfind Technologies
StickNFind Technologies, a startup using Bluetooth-enabled tagging devices to help people find lost items such as luggage or document boxes, announced Tuesday that it intends to ship its products in April.
The eponymous StickNFind product includes a tracking gadget, about the size of a quarter coin, and a smartphone application for tracking it, inventor Jimmy Buchheim said. StickNFind, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is negotiating to sell the product through Apple and BestBuy retail stores, he said.
Users can attach the tracker devices to anything, such as important boxes, luggage, keys, or pet collar, Buchheim explained. It runs for 1 year on a standard watch battery, Buchheim said, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The show started Monday and runs through Thursday.
Meanwhile, the device's smartphone application tracks the devices from up to 150 feet away to within a few inches, he said. It does not show direction, but that is easy to deduce by moving around and seeing if the tag gets farther or nearer in the application's "radar" screen, Buchheim explained.
"I'm the father of three little kids. … I've got a 4-year-old who wanders off all the time," Buchheim said. On a recent trip to Walt Disney World, he said, "I put StickNFind on them. Who better to test it, if not me?"
Applications will initially be available for Apple Inc. iOS and Google Inc. Android devices, Buchheim said. Plans are underway for Research In Motion BlackBerry and Microsoft Corp. Windows devices, most likely available by May, he added. Current online prices start at $49.99 for two devices. The devices are available in six colors. They include a buzzer and a flashing light for identification in dark places.
For use in luggage, StickNFind faces another issue government and airline regulations. Buchheim said his team of hardware, mechanical, and software engineers are working on ways to deactivate the trackers when a plane is airborne. But it's not clear what would happen when Transportation Security Administration agents find the devices during routine baggage searches. (StickNFind has another product, BlueTracker, that uses a GPS signal. However, personal GPS devices are prohibited on airplanes.)
Another company, GlobaTrac, has a related product and the same legal concerns with its Trakdot system. That product is specifically designed for airline luggage. When an airplane lands, a Trakdot device sends its owner a text message identifying the city it's in. If a traveler uses both products, then he could confirm that his bags are in the right airport, and proceed to track the bags to their exact location. Still another player is LugTrack, which opened on Jan. 1. CEO Mike Allen, in Red Bank, N.J., said his team is considering their options to decide what product to make. He's seeking input from JetBlue, luggage companies, and travel industry technology specialists. But as with StickNFind, the technology could just as easily track a store's inventory or a police officer's sidearm, he observed.
Nick Gates, in charge of baggage products for global transportation technology firm Sita, said personal tracking devices can be helpful. There are also several companies working with airlines and airports to let passengers track their bags after the bags arrive at each check-in point, just like when tracking a shipped package, he noted.
"The important thing to realize is those can help you find your bag if it goes missing, but it doesn't necessarily stop it from being mishandled or going to the wrong place initially," Gates said. Sita, in Geneva, Switzerland, focuses on the latter problem by working with U.S.-based airlines including American, Delta, and United to help track bags as they move through airports and between cities, he said. Delta is notable for supplying its own iPhone application, he said.
About 25.8 million bags were mishandled in 2011, which is about 9 bags per 1,000 passengers, Sita officials said. That figure was somewhat better than 12 percent in 2010, they stated.