Big Brother's getting smarter. A new generation of global positioning system (GPS) tools is making it easier to keep tabs on humans. While the implications of these people-finding gadgets falling into the hands of evildoers are a little scary, the technology available now is pretty amazing. GPS, a 24-satellite network built by the Department of Defense as a military navigational tool, has crossed into the civilian world in recent years, helping fishermen find their prey and hikers find their way on backcountry trails.
This holiday season, GPS gadgets are promising to help you find kids, aging loved ones, and your own exact location in the world. A slew of non-GPS products dedicated to finding lost car keys and other valuable objects are also on the market this year. We must be getting good at losing things, because all of a sudden everything needs finding. We even need gadgets to track our precious gadgets. With this new emphasis on finding people and things and a rapidly evolving GPS technology, it might not be long until we're using GPS finders to keep our socks in pairs. In the meantime, here are a few products you might like to find under the tree this year:
Find People and Pets
GPS Personal Locator for Children, $399.99; Wherify Wireless, www.wherifywireless.com
It's a sporty blue or purple watch for kids, but it's also a tyke tracker. Should a child get lost or kidnapped, parents can track his or her location in minutes by calling an 800 number or logging onto a Web site. The watch includes a built-in pager and a panic button. Requires subscription to a service plan for an additional $25-$35 per month.
Personal Safety and Location System, $399; Digital Angel, www.digitalangel.net
Marketed as a tracking system for seniors, this GPS-enhanced watch can also be used to track kids and pets (pets get a collar attachment, not a watch). Subscribers can get the exact location of their loved ones anytime via phone or Web. The watch includes a panic button and a feature that alerts subscribers if their child or parent has fallen down. Requires subscription to a service plan for an additional $29.95 per month.
Ironman Speed + Distance System, $225
REI (and other retailers), 222 Yale Ave., 206-223-1944, www.rei.com
Yeah, it's nice to know what time it is, but all runners, mountain bikers, and the otherwise speed-obsessed really want to know is how far they've gone and how fast they got there. This watch uses GPS technology to remind athletes just how good they are (or how much they still need to practice). It's got all the usual Ironman features—100-lap memory, dual time zones, Indiglo—and it's just as compact.
eTrex Vista, $350 Garmin,
www.garmin.com REI (and other retailers)
You don't wear it on your body, and it won't alert you if you fall down, but it has a built-in map for all of North and South America, and it's no bigger than a cell phone. This is the GPS handheld that seems to offer the most dazzle for your dollar. With its electronic compass, altimeter, and backtracking feature, the tiny, feature-packed Vista defies you to get lost. Wherever you go, it can tell you where you are and show you a detailed map on its 2.1-inch-by-1.1-inch screen. And, it claims to work in dense forests. Unleash your inner explorer.
Audiovox CDM9155-GPX, $79.99
Samsung A310, $199.99
Verizon Wireless, 1629 Sixth Ave., 206-254-0415; 1255 N. 205th St., 206- 542-4132; Northgate Mall, 206-418-0142; www.verizonwireless.com
Some skeptics say wireless phones limit personal freedom by making it too easy to stay connected anywhere all the time. Naysayers should get a load of this: These new phones have an added dose of connectedness—a GPS enhancement that allows exact user locations to be tracked. They're two of the first such phones released in compliance with a recent government mandate—dubbed "Enhanced 911" (E911)—requiring that wireless carriers have the ability to track subscriber locations when 911 calls are made from cell phones. The catch: The phones are GPS-ready, but Verizon's location-finding technology is still in development. But Verizon and other carriers must have their location-finding networks up and running by spring. So if you get your GPS phone now, you'll be only slightly ahead of the game.
Now You Can Find It, $49.95
Sharper Image, 1501 Fourth Ave., 206-343-9125; www.sharperimage.com
Forgetful? Always late because you can't find your keys, glasses, or handheld computer? Well, you can keep forgetting, but the finding might get a lot easier with a smart little gizmo called Now You Can Find It. It doesn't use GPS, but it can track up to four items within a 30-foot range using radio technology. It comes with a base and four beeping discs that attach to whatever you're prone to losing. Press a button on the base, and the corresponding disc will start beeping. This could make "losing" those sunglasses on top of your head particularly embarrassing.