Using GPS Technology To Track Down Wayward Pets… And Straying Spouses?

An American manufacturer has come up with a device that allows people to “track what’s important.” For some that could mean pets or property. But what happens when the tracker’s target is of the two-legged variety?

GPS trackers can help owners reunite with thier beloved dogs
GPS trackers can help owners reunite with thier beloved dogs
Anouch Seydtaghia

Pet owners are often tormented by the thought that their beloved companion might one day go astray and disappear. It's understandable, therefore, that they might be interested in buying a device that promises to keep track of their potentially wayward animals. But are they the only ones who might be intrigued by such a gadget? Don't bet on it.

An American company called Garmin has recently come out with a tiny GPS tracker called the GTU 10. Like something out of a James Bond film, the high-tech gadget could indeed be a godsend for someone desperately hoping to bring Lassie home. But it's not hard to imagine people might find some other interesting uses for the tiny tracker. Ethical issues aside, a GTU could be just the thing for a controlling boss keen to know the whereabouts of his employees, or a suspicious spouse worried about his or her partner's wandering ways.

Garmin markets its device as a way to "track what's important," but limits its suggestions to "children, pets and property." No mention of cheating husbands. One can assume, however, that the company has considered some of the device's more questionable "alternative" applications. In one of its press releases, Garmin warns customers that "for data security reasons, it is forbidden to keep a watch on someone without his or her consent." Minors can only be tracked if the parents have a reasonable reason for doing it, such as in kidnapping cases.

Impressively small and light – about the size of a disposable lighter – the GTU 10 would make any professional private detective green with envy. Under its shock-resistant plastic shell, the device contains a GPS chip and a SIM card. Completely invisible, the latter informs the Garmin servers about the device's GPS location, which is then available for users to see on their computer or mobile phone screens.

The device is also quite user-friendly. The first thing you need to do is download a software program that enables the computer to detect the GTU 10; then you have to register it and set the desired parameters. After 10 minutes, the device is ready for use. The GTU 10 is sold with a small pouch and clip that can be easily attached to a dog collar.

With the push of a button, the device is turned on or off. GTU 10 owners can set their own individual parameters by logging into the website and creating up to 10 "geo-fences," or virtual surveillance zones. Whenever the GPS locator exits a geo-fenced area, Garmin will notify its owner by sending an e-mail or cell phone text message. Creating a geo-fence only takes a few mouse clicks, and surveillance areas can be as large as a soccer pitch, a city or even a country.

Users have the possibility to set the frequency with which the device updates its location: every 15 minutes, every 5 minutes or every 30 seconds. Information about the device's remaining battery life is permanently available. Depending on the chosen update frequency, the battery can last up to several days between charges.

Users receive an e-mail or a text notification whenever the battery is low, or as soon as the device enters or leaves a certain geo-fenced area. Thanks to the high-precision maps provided by Navteq and Microsoft, it is possible to zoom in on the GPS tracker's location to know exactly where it is. Obviously enough, the device does not perform very well if it is in a building or onboard a train, because the GPS signal – which is relayed through a satellite – cannot be detected. But then again, do lost dogs often take the train?

In cities, the GTU 10 sometimes has trouble connecting to Garmin's data network if surrounded by high buildings. But the signal is detected often enough to indicate an accurate location of the device, and the system provides access to a daily track history.

The most interesting (or entertaining) aspect of your GPS tracker is that you can follow it through your iPhone or Android phone. But the fun comes at a rather steep price. The device costs $347, which includes an annual subscription covering 20 European countries. Owners then have to pay for a 60-dollar annual subscription in order to continue to track down their Labrador or their spouses' attaché cases.

Read the original article in French.

Photo - Protographer23

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!