GPS: Cool Devices That Know Where They Are

Location data helps track fitness, thrill seekers, and vulnerable kids and seniors.


Slide Show: Cool Devices That Know Where They Are

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Cellphones that can also track a caller’s whereabouts once seemed at the leading edge of GPS. Now all sorts of devices can chart their travels as the chips that get location data continue to get smaller and cheaper. From still cameras to fitness watches, a new assortment of gadgets knows where they are, which can also translate into speed and distance readings.

Some combine global positioning receivers with other sensors, including altimeters and timers, that can give fitness buffs and thrill seekers a wealth of data on their progress. Others focus more on safety for kids, seniors, or hikers who like to wander off the beaten path. Here are five of our favorites:

[Slide Show: Cool Devices That Know Where They Are.]

Heads-up skiing. Ski eyewear is no longer just about protecting the eyes and looking good. The Transcend Goggle from Zeal Optics will fill eyes with a wealth of action info using GPS and other sensors. The goggles offer data on speed, altitude, distance traveled vertically, stopwatch timing, temperature, and location. Future versions might display maps, text, or caller ID info from a cellphone.

The Transcend uses technology from Recon Instruments that splashes the data on the inside of the antifog panes, similar to heads-up displays on planes and some cars. With a six-hour battery, the goggles enable skiers and snowboarders to go “bigger, faster, longer, and safer,” a promotional video says. All that, and they still look fetching. The goggles will sell later this year at a list price of $350, or $450 for a pair with photochromatic lenses that change tint depending on light conditions.

[It’s again possible to get an instant photo even while outdoors.]

Tracking kids. The Amber Alert GPS 2 is an extra small tracker that kids can wear and that parents can actually use, says the maker. The device can be carried in a pocket or attached with optional pouches or a band on the ankle or arm. Besides GPS, the Amber Alert device relies on cellphone signals for sending and receiving location data. It sends an alert if the child holds down the SOS button.

Parents can send a text message from their cellphone to request location information, which comes back as a text message. Or they can track the wearer through a Web portal. Monthly fees depend on how many location requests they want. Unlimited plans that start at $30 a month are probably best for “bread-crumb” tracking, when the phone routinely pings its location to the website.

There are paging functions, and you can even monitor voices around the child. Thirty minutes of voice monitoring costing $10 a month. Prices for the devices start at $200; the cheapest plans cost $13 a month for monitoring 75 location requests.

Kid-tracking watch. Another approach is to build the GPS tracking into a watch that kids can wear. The Nu-M8 is from a U.K. company called Loc8u. It combines location data with a wireless link that can send the location data to a Web portal or as text messages. The watch also sends an alert if it’s “forcibly removed.” Parents can set up “fences” on a map and get an alert if the child wanders beyond the safe zone. The watch’s battery lasts up to a week on standby mode.

Loc8u also is launching a similar device in a watch for adults. It could be used to monitor impaired seniors or wandering sports enthusiasts. The kids’ version is available now; the adults’ will come out this summer. Both go for about $180, plus plans starting at $10 a month for unlimited Web monitoring and $18 a month for unlimited Web and text tracking.

Workout-tracking watch. Another watch with GPS comes from Timex and is aimed at fitness jocks. The Ironman Global Trainer watch isn’t the first GPS watch, but it is relatively sleek and better looking than a lot of its competitors. The watch can track speed, pace, and distance while also measuring location, altitude, and ascent and descent rates. The data syncs later with computers and can include readings from other Timex sensors, such as heart monitors. It can also link to bike meters that can add power and cadence readings using ANT+ technology, a standard for low-energy wireless links.