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GPS obsessed

11 September 2018

Building Safe Jobsites

By James Neely/Guest Author

For residents in urban areas, construction is a part of life. Almost all city dwellers will encounter a construction site at some point in their day, and some will see bulldozers and dump trucks when they look out the front window. But where does all that construction equipment go at the end of the workday? It’s not feasible to pack everything up and cart it back to a warehouse or secure parking area, and for that reason many contractors will leave vehicles and equipment in place on the jobsite where they become tempting targets for theft. In order to reduce the chances of losing equipment and materials over the course of a job, more and more companies have begun protecting their construction equipment with GPS tracking systems.

A GPS tracking device placed inside a vehicle or on a piece of equipment or material will send signals at intervals to a computer, allowing construction managers to monitor their assets even when away from the job site. If a piece of equipment is stolen, law enforcement officers can recover it much more quickly with the information provided by the tracking unit than they could without that information. Companies that choose not to implement GPS tracking technology on the job site see thousands of dollars in losses each year due to theft since many of the vehicles stolen will never be recovered, while those that do monitor their equipment with the technology see savings in the thousands.

In addition to location monitoring, GPS tracking also provides construction managers with information about their employees’ driving habits. They can tell which drivers maintain the speed limit in their company vehicles, which ones leave equipment idling over the lunch break, and which ones take a detour for personal reasons while driving the company vehicle on the clock. Information can be viewed in real time or as a report at the end of the day, with each stop noted along with the length of time spent at each place. With this information in hand, managers can implement training programs that teach drivers how to conserve fuel and they can address any problem behavior that crops up.

Companies across the nation currently face economic struggles, but GPS tracking provides construction businesses with the knowledge and resources they need to make the most of every dollar. Savings garnered by conserving fuel and protecting assets from theft will quickly justify the cost of implementing GPS tracking units for the jobsite.

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Into the Blue

From elementary school on, children and adults alike display a fascination with paper airplanes. There’s something about the ability to build a flying machine with nothing more than two hands and a piece of paper that ignites the imagination, leading to some really fantastic creations. While most people limit their paper plane construction to simple projects constructed during idle moments, some take the hobby much further. One of the most daring paper plane projects is set to launch this summer in the United Kingdom. The aircraft will be carried aloft by a weather balloon with a GPS tracking unit attached and then released remotely, with the intention of setting the record for the longest paper plane flight in history.

The GPS tracking device carried by the Vulture 1, as the plane has been dubbed, will send signals every couple of minutes to a computer, allowing viewers to watch the plane’s progress and also to locate it once it has reached the ground. Dedicated plane watchers can follow the flight in real time via their computers as the GPS unit sends each signal rather than waiting for a complete report at the end of the flight.

The masterminds of the project have already given their GPS tracking unit its first test run by carrying it in a vehicle through some remote parts of the country, with outstanding results. Despite traveling through various terrains, the GPS tracking unit continued to transmit and produced an accurate log of its travels. The technology works by sending a signal from the transmitter to a computer and then plotting the unit’s location at each transmission on a map. As launch day approaches, fans of the project can expect a progress map that reports location at each transmission accurately within a few feet.

While most of us will never send a paper plane launching into the sky with a GPS tracking unit attached, still, almost everyone can benefit from the technology that will be carried by the plane. GPS tracking devices can assist in care for the elderly, keep children safe, protect your vehicle, monitor criminals on parole, and keep an eye on the family pet. They provide a measure of safety and peace of mind that can’t be achieved any other way, since they provide another pair of eyes to watch out for the people and things you care about most when you can’t be there.

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Private Eye in the Digital Age

By James Neely/Guest Author

Private investigators make their living by spying on people. They use legal means to follow a given person throughout his or her day with the goal of finding out whether he or she might be guilty of engaging in illegal or unsavory activities. Many private investigators work for legal teams, while others work with private individuals to monitor the activities of a spouse or business partner. Cramped offices, smoke-filled rooms, and long hours waiting in the car paint a picture that most associate with private investigation; however, the investigators of today use much more sophisticated techniques to gather information. Many rely heavily on GPS tracking to follow an individual. By placing a GPS tracking device under the car, they can follow a person’s movements from a remote location as the device sends signals at specified intervals.

Concerns over privacy violations have surfaced in many states as GPS tracking has become more common. In light of the controversy, the seventh circuit court of appeals ruled that placing a GPS tracking device in a vehicle did not constitute an unreasonable search since the information gathered could have been observed in the public sphere. Some states, however, have begun drafting their own laws to protect the privacy of their citizens. Georgia, for instance, is preparing to discuss a bill that would make it unlawful to place a GPS tracking device on a vehicle in a public place. The intent is to protect citizens from stalkers or from unreasonable surveillance.

While discussions about privacy concerns have repeatedly surfaced around the nation with regard to GPS tracking, the benefits of using the technology far outweigh its potential problems. Police can use the technology to monitor movements of suspected criminals and to follow the activity of parolees. Parents can monitor their children when they’re away from home or walking to and from school. And private investigators can legitimately use the devices to help them do their jobs, providing essential information for legal teams and private citizens. Even if states do begin passing privacy laws that prohibit the use of GPS tracking in certain situations, P.I.’s would still be able to monitor the car of a client’s spouse if the vehicle was registered under both names. Since the property belongs to both individuals, no violation of privacy would take place.

Private investigators have come a long way since they were stereotyped in black and white movies. With the help of GPS tracking, they will continue to play a vital role in providing information to their clients.

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GPS On the Job

By James Neely/Guest Author

The word construction brings to mind hard hats, heavy equipment, and long hours spent on the job site as each new project takes shape. While these stereotypes are accurate, building contractors also deal with employee time management, theft protection, and other administrative duties in order to keep the job site functioning smoothly. In the past, some of these issues could be difficult to control, but now more and more construction site managers are turning to GPS tracking devices to solve problems at work.

Theft prevention is one of the primary uses for GPS tracking among construction companies. By equipping vehicles and expensive materials with GPS tracking devices, managers can keep an eye on the valuable equipment housed on the job site. Thieves target construction equipment because they can make a lot of money quickly on each sale. They also steal materials such as wire or metal that has inherent value. One police department in Idaho used a bait technique in which they put a GPS tracker in a roll of wire, left it on a construction site, and waited for thieves to pick it up. When they did, the officers were able to apprehend them almost immediately. Equipping each vehicle and piece of equipment with a GPS tracking device can prove to be a wise decision since it enables police to recover stolen items much more quickly.

Another way that GPS tracking can aid managers on construction sites and at other businesses is by keeping track of employees’ whereabouts in order to determine accurate time clock punches. State and federal regulations demand that accurate records be kept of hours worked, meaning that employers must have a reliable way to determine in and out punches for breaks, lunch hours, and for beginning and ending the day. Software programs allow employees to clock in via smartphone once they reach the job site, but some employers have encountered problems with employees clocking in before they leave home and logging travel time on the clock. To remedy this problem, companies can use GPS tracking technology to determine where the employee is when he clocks in or out, making accurate record keeping much more feasible.

Many companies have already discovered that GPS vehicle tracking devices can save them money by monitoring fuel usage, fleet vehicle routes, and employee time usage. By creatively applying GPS technology to other areas of the workday, they can continue to save thousands of dollars each year and operate their businesses more efficiently.

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The Life You Save Could Be Your Own

By James Neely/Guest Author

Seventeen-year old Brittanee couldn’t have predicted that the GPS tracker located in her cell phone would become a crucial piece of evidence in a police investigation. But when she disappeared on April 25, 2009, authorities used the signal to determine her last known location, giving them a starting point for investigation. While the search continues nearly one year later, still, investigators say that evolving GPS tracking technology has been key as they seek to discover what happened to the missing girl.

No one likes to consider the possibility of a son or daughter going missing, but unsolved disappearances occur every year. While the GPS tracker in Brittanee’s cell phone did provide aid to investigators, cell phone GPS tracking can be uncertain since cell phone towers tend to be less concentrated in remote areas, causing signals to drop. Parents who want a more dependable way to keep tabs on their kids can find what they’re looking for in a wearable GPS tracking device. Personal safety trackers have gotten progressively smaller and easier to conceal, so that if a kidnapping does occur, the perpetrator is less likely to discover and remove the device.

Clipped onto clothing or carried in a purse or backpack, the GPS tracking device will send a signal at intervals to a computer receiving device, enabling parents to check in on their children or teens at any time throughout the day. Many models also come equipped with perimeter alerts, allowing parents to designate “safe” areas. If the wearer crosses the perimeter, the GPS tracking device will send an alert to the parent’s email or cell phone.

People who live alone or who must travel at night frequently should also consider purchasing a tracking device and asking a trusted friend or family member to check in on them from time to time. If they do become a target for foul play, investigators can locate them and send help much more quickly with the information provided by a GPS tracking device than would be possible without one.

While Brittanee’s friends and family still hope for closure to her story, doubts remain as to whether the exact occurrences will ever be fully known. By taking the initiative to purchase GPS trackers for themselves and their families, parents can give themselves peace of mind in knowing that they’ve done everything in their power to keep them safe.

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Stepping Up the Pace

By James Neely/Guest Author

Individual sports enthusiasts can seem a little obsessed to the average couch potato. Runners carry gadgets to monitor heart rate, keep track of pace, determine routes, and analyze performance. Then they go home and enter all the information into a spreadsheet so they can refer to it later when they blog about their goals and share accomplishments on Facebook. True exercise devotees, however, believe that it’s important to watch performance every day in order to gauge readiness for that next 10K or marathon. That’s why GPS tracking companies have developed tracking devices specifically geared toward monitoring exercise capacity and accomplishments.

A GPS tracking device such as Nokia’s Sports Tracker or the Garmin Forerunner watch can perform all the functions that traditionally required five or six gadgets strapped to the wrist, clipped to the waistband, or hung around the neck, and can also let friends and family members know where the wearer is at any given time. The best trackers monitor speed, distance, pace, and heart rate in addition to location and some can also store data for comparison purposes. Athletes in many different sports have come to rely on the technology, including runners, bikers, skiers, and windsurfers.

Sporting events use GPS tracking for non-athletic purposes as well. This year’s Super Bowl incorporated highly publicized tracking capabilities to monitor the location of players and vehicles en route to the game, as did the Winter Olympics. Fleet tracking enabled security personnel to keep closer tabs on the athletes and their vehicles with the goal of preventing potential terrorist activity or even petty theft.

While most people will never be an athlete at the Olympics or the Super Bowl, they can still benefit from GPS tracking. Even those who don’t run five miles every day can keep track of their exercise progress with a GPS. Beginning exercisers who just want to know how far they’ve walked can use a simple tracker to monitor location and view a printout of recorded activity throughout the day. Those who want more detailed information can purchase one of the specialized watches that offer physical exertion information in order to compare performance on any given day with progress over time.

Sports enthusiasts, people exercising to lose weight, and people who just like being outdoors can all benefit from the technology GPS tracking brings to their activity of choice. Simply strap on your watch, step up your pace, and let your tracker do the rest.

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Breaking the Addiction

By James Neely/Guest Author

Much has been made of the ability of GPS tracking units to monitor paroled criminals or to help convict suspected criminals by pinpointing their location at a given time. Lawyers handling drug cases, for instance, can use GPS tracking devices placed in a suspect’s car to follow that suspect to suppliers, making the apprehension of the entire drug ring possible. Now, a new study being conducted by David Epstein of the National Institute on Drug Abuse seeks to attack the problem from the other direction by determining whether GPS tracking data can help drug users break their addictions.

The study follows 25 heroin addicts by giving them GPS tracking devices and asking the participants to answer questions sent to them via PDAs to determine where they are when they use drugs. Each participant must sign a consent form in order to be involved in the program. Epstein hopes to determine how environment plays a role in addictions and to use that information to help addicts break the cycle of addiction.

GPS tracking devices can give much more information than simple location. They can also record how long a person stays in one place, what direction he is currently traveling in, and the speed at which he is moving. All of this information can prove vital when trying to determine how a person’s location influences the actions he takes. By transmitting location data every 25 meters or every 25 minutes if the carrier is standing still, the GPS unit may indicate whether a person always relapses in the same neighborhood. If so, that information could be used to help recovering addicts better plan their movements in order to avoid pitfalls.

Drug addiction has long been considered a neurological disorder, and Epstein’s study does not seek to displace that idea. If his findings conclude that relapses often occur in particular types of neighborhoods, the GPS tracking devices his participants carry could be a jumping off point for helping not only drug addicts, but also recovering alcoholics to avoid places that could cause them to relapse.

The war on drugs continues to fight battles for the health and well-being of countless drug users and those at risk for using drugs. With the help of GPS tracking, significant strides may be made toward creating a program that helps recovering drug addicts take control of their lives by making choices that will increase their chances of success.

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Law and Order and GPS Tracking

By James Neely/Guest Author

The outcome of a courtroom trial usually depends on which side has the majority of hard evidence to support the case they are trying to make. The prosecution may be able to make a logical case against the defendant, but without physical evidence, conviction is nearly impossible. As GPS tracking systems have become more prevalent over the last few years, more and more lawyers have begun to introduce data from the devices as evidence to prove a person’s location at a given point in time, which can either support or contradict witness testimony.

In one well-known case, William Jackson was convicted of murdering his daughter, Valiree, and was sentenced to 55 years in prison, primarily due to the evidence gleaned from a GPS tracking device in his truck. The data gleaned from the device showed that, although the man denied visiting the location where the body was found, he had in fact been very close by. The case was appealed, but the conviction was upheld since officers had obtained a search warrant before gathering data from the tracking device.

As GPS tracking evidence becomes more common in lawsuits, more and more cases will depend on the data availability. This also means that rules for admissibility will need to be defined more clearly. For instance, in order for GPS data to be considered evidence for or against a person’s involvement in a particular situation, council must demonstrate that the person in question was carrying that GPS tracking unit. In some states, a warrant must be obtained in order to track someone or to use data gathered from an already present tracking device. GPS tracking units can provide very specific data, but unless that data can legally be connected to a particular person in a material way, it may not bring about the desired result.

Cases that can benefit from GPS tracking evidence vary widely. A person accused of a crime can use GPS tracking evidence to show that he or she was elsewhere at the time; a drug ring might be apprehended by means of a GPS device placed in a suspected vehicle; family courts might use GPS devices to monitor placement exchanges and behavioral issues such as unsafe driving or drinking while driving in order to decide child custody cases.

Despite the privacy concerns that have surfaced regarding GPS admissibility in court, legal use of GPS tracking can help convict criminals that might otherwise go free. Although the lives of people like Valiree Jackson can never be reclaimed, GPS tracking can help protect others from encountering the same fate.

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Scientists Track Dolphins with GPS

by Greg Bartlett / guest author

After an unprecedented rescue of 11 dolphins stranded in the Wellfleet peninsula’s mud flats near Boston, MA, scientists associated with the New England Aquarium have placed GPS trackers on the freed mammals to ensure their safe return to the ocean. Experts say that after such a traumatic experience, dolphins will require some time to recover before they venture back into open sea. Causes for such a stranding are still difficult to determine, but current theories point to confused echo-location, which occurs more frequently in areas of higher human activity. But for now, the rescued dolphins are swimming cautiously within Cape Cod Bay, though rescuers are hoping that they resume normal activity soon.

The use of GPS tracking systems to monitor marine life has increased rapidly in recent years, thanks to advances in accuracy and miniaturization. For scientists working on limited grant funds, the improved affordability doesn’t hurt, either. Commercially available GPS trackers can be outfitted to collars which can be comfortably placed around larger marine life. The technology is temporary and may be removed after scientists are sure the animal is safe, or when a particular research project is complete. Some trackers are small enough to be placed internally, though the cost and complication of such a method makes it unpopular.

Back in 2008, rescuers in Australia performed a similar operation to the one in Wellfleet. After a pod of pilot whales was rescued from a beach in Tasmania, scientists placed GPS trackers on several to ensure their safe return to sea. The GPS trackers provided clear location data to those shadowing the whales, giving them peace of mind about the whales’ safety, as well as valuable insight into their behavior.

The opportunity to study marine life is also certainly an appealing feature of GPS trackers. Earlier this year, researchers at the Hatfield Marine Science Center made some interesting discoveries regarding the behavior of sperm whales while tracking them with GPS technology. Location data provided by the trackers seemed to show the whales cooperating to herd in groups of squid. The whales would take turns covering the different positions of a 3D perimeter—effectively creating an inescapable ball where squid would be trapped until eaten. Simply no other tracking technology would have been able to gather this data. Non-GPS solutions may have altered the sperm whales’ behavior or not given the scientists the flexibility and mobility they required.

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GPS Tracking and Employee Accountability

by Greg Bartlett / guest author

Employer surveillance of company employees has long been a source of debate in the corporate community. Advances in technology provide many options for employer monitoring, but some types may be a violation of employee privacy, or have other inherent disadvantages. How do you balance privacy rights with the company’s need to make sure employees are behaving ethically on the job? What is acceptable and legal, and what crosses the line?

While questions of legality still loom over e-mail, recorders, cameras, and phones surveillance, GPS tracking devices are generally considered legal and reasonable (read about a case of GPS tracking and what the administrative law judge decided). This type of device might be particularly useful to companies or small businesses that require employees to make deliveries or trips without managerial supervision. While honesty is expected in employees in every type of work, sometimes the temptations inherent in delivery or travel style jobs may be too strong for even your best employees.

Statistics show that over the past three years, 33% of employees admit to stealing from the company, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce blames 30% of failures in business on theft by employees. There is an old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure—and one of the best ways to prevent dishonesty in traveling/delivering employees is to implement a GPS tracking device in the company vehicles. This is also a way to prevent uncomfortable confrontations and loss of profits in your business. Simply knowing that this device is present may help employees to think twice about “that one little errand only a little bit out of the way,” and may help keep them honest about travel log reports.

There are two types of GPS systems—active and passive. Both systems utilize satellites that orbit in outer space. Generally, groupings of three of these satellites compile data about the latitude and longitude of the individual/vehicle/object wearing the receiver. An active GPS tracking system allows you to download information to the internet or a mobile device for constant surveillance. A passive GPS tracking device is more of a record of what occurred (where the vehicle went, where it stopped, etc.). Depending on the way your company operates, either system would provide valuable accountability and prevention for employee theft whether it is a pizza delivery route or delivering more valuable products.

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