In which TLP futurist Zoe Brain peers into the tea leaves and tries to foresee our tech future.


My mommy has fallen down and I can’t wake her up! Help!

It’s going to be all right honey. Just tell me where you are.

We’re in the woods. We went camping. I can’t wake her up!

Honey, it’s going to be all right. Now, I want you to do something for me, Ok? Open the yellow door on the phone, press the yellow button and hold it down… That’s right. Good girl!

Search and Rescue, Search and Rescue… This is 911 Control. Child reports woman unconscious, map and co-ordinates follow…

The convergence of mobile phone technology and GPS navigation systems is just starting to happen, with the first dual systems coming onto the market.

The systems will first try to get a cellphone signal – and, if that fails, try to communicate via a constellation of quasi-military satellites in low earth orbit. The first option costs pennies per cal. The second can cost hundreds of dollars — but that’s still less than the cost of sending search parties and helicopters.

So how will this affect you?

Within the next decade, expect all wilderness hikers to be required to carry a satellite/cell phone and GPS system that will send out an emergency distress signal when required, pinpointing their position within a few metres. These will be available for private purchase or on loan through park authorities for a small refundable deposit.

Improved models will also carry a fold-out solar panel and a small homing beacon for when communications fail, to guide search parties.

Of course, wilderness trekkers won’t be compelled to carry them — but, if not, they had better have their insurance paid up or they will have to repay in full the costs of any rescue effort.

Although there are physical limits to accuracy due to antenna configurations, a watch band-style device suitable for small children will also be available, in a variety of bright colours and designs. All the worried parent will have to do is dial a number, enter a safety code — and an SMS message giving the location history of the child will be sent. When the calling phone is connected to a computer or, if it has an integrated map display, the program will show where the lost child is within a few metres and display its movements over the past few hours.

This capability will also be useful for travellers in less safe areas, and could be used by embassies to locate and evacuate citizens on short notice in time of crisis. Government regulations could make it mandatory to wear one in certain areas. If you’re unlucky, it will be the government of a country you’re visiting that will mandate this, to keep track of aliens.

2 Responses to GPS will track us everywhere

  1. Jessica C
    Nov 08, 2008

    “If you’re unlucky, it will be the government of a country you’re visiting that will mandate this, to keep track of aliens.”

    And of course the inevitable backlash will see crackers subvert such tracking programs. Some will be as simple as attaching the tracker to a stray animal and others will be as sophisticated as possible, relying on brute force or virus-style infiltration of the unit’s software to force it to broadcast what the cracker wants it to show. There will be an “arms race” of escalating attempts and counters.

  2. Zoe Brain
    Nov 09, 2008

    Indeed. And tamper-resistant wristlets and the like, similar to tracking devices in use today for enforcing “house arrest”.

    The really interesting ideas are not so much the mechanics of the technology – though they’re interesting enough to a Geek Girl like me – but the implications on society and our daily lives. Mobile phones, SMS messaging and social networking sites such as Facebook have already revolutionised the Dating Game amongst teens.

    More on social and legal effects of The Next Big Thing in technology coming in the next column….

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