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From “Lost And Found” To “Search And Rescue”: Harnessing The Strength Of Community And Crowd GPS

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From “Lost And Found” To “Search And Rescue”: Harnessing The Strength Of Community And Crowd GPS

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 of 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.

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In 2013, Avonte Oquendo, an autistic boy 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. This GPS tracking devices includes ;

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Amber Alert GPS

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.

Safety Anchor

These were the problems that Sanjay Chadha, CEO of Safety Labs set out to solve by creating Safety Anchor, a tiny and 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 “safety zone” which then functions as digital boundary for their dependant. Once the dependant wanders outside of a zone, an alert is sent to the caregivers. Although these devices are accurate, a downside to these systems 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, The Tile App, Pebblebee, and Wuvo. The lost-and-found devices from these companies 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 member of the Tile’s network comes within the range of the device, whose owner will be notified with the location of their keys.

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Inspired by this technology and the strength of the community, Chadha’s goal for Safety Anchor is to apply crowd GPS to help locate wandered or lost people. 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 within range of a lost person wearing a safety button, their devices will automatically send the location of the lost person to the person’s caregiver.

Only time will tell if crowd 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.”


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Featured photo credit: Pexels via static.pexels.com

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Nabin Paudyal

Co-Founder, Siplikan Media Group

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