Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on January 24th, 2012 at 6:25 am
(Photos courtesy Kris Akins)
A few years ago, I called a GPS bike tracker the "Holy Grail" of bike theft. If someone could just develop a discreet, affordable GPS device that would allow someone to track their bike after it was stolen, I thought, we would have a potent weapon against the scourge of bike thieves.
Now a Portland company says they've done just that.
Veteran entrepreneur Kris Akins has started several successful companies over the past 33 years. After having two bikes stolen from her garage, she looked for a device that would allow her to track the bike on her mobile phone. When she couldn't find one, her entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and BikeTrak was born. Akins bills the patent-pending product as, "the first GPS-powered security device for your bike."
Akins won the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network Seed Championship earlier this month, and after keeping the product secret while it was developed over the last year, she says it's finally ready for public attention.
Here's how Akins describes the device:
"... a GPS-cellular device, covertly attachable to bikes, that will alert owners if their bike moves when it is not supposed to and track it if stolen. A BikeTrak [software] app will send the bike’s location directly to a map on your cellphone and a report button will allow you to send a picture of your bike, serial number and other data directly to the police along with a hot map of the bike’s location. You may also set up to have the theft information sent to your neighborhood watch group or cycling group, etc."
Akins says they'll also offer a special version of the app for law enforcement officials. That app will allow officers to see pop-ups on their in-car computers or on their smartphones when they enter an area that contains stolen bikes. Imagine it like this, as Akins explains,
"A cruiser can be driving down the road and as they approach a house with tracker bikes registered as stolen those bikes will pop up on their computers just because they are within say 500 yards of the stolen bikes."
To turn her idea into reality, Akins teamed up with Monty Goodson, n Electrical Engineer and an expert at high speed circuit board design and miniaturization. Over the last year or so, Akins also put together a board of advisors make up of "Portland bicycle experts" and she has done extensive testing and surveying to make sure the product hits all the right chords.
Akins says the first version of the device will mounted externally, but will be discreet and "as imperceptible as possible to thieves." Product version 2.0, she adds, will be installed inside a bike's frame tubing. To save battery life, the unit will be turned off unless an event triggers it to come on. For instance, Akins says "If your bike is parked outside the coffee shop and someone starts messing with it, an immediate alert will be sent to your cell phone."
Another cool feature is a proximity fob that will automatically arm and disarm the device so that if you are on your bike it turns off, but when you walk a few yards away it is automatically armed.
The duo are doing final testing on prototypes and they've already got commitments lined up from local manufacturers and retailers. Akins says BikeTrak will be available in bike shops by this summer. Akins says retail price will likely be $299, which she realizes is "way too high" so they hope to have it down to $199 within a year.
With her win at the Oregon Seed Championship, Akins has earned a chance to pitch the product at the Angel Oregon investors conference in April where she hopes to win much-needed investment that will help catapult BikeTrak to market.
The BikeTrak device holds a lot of potential; but it also brings up several issues.
Just today, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a GPS device attached to a vehicle of a drug dealer by the FBI was not legal because they didn't have a warrant. In case you're wondering, that ruling wouldn't come into play in the case of a citizen attaching a GPS unit to their own property and then providing the data to law enforcement officials.
Also, while BikeTrak (if it works as advertised) will alert you that your bike has been stolen and tell you where it is, there's still the issue of getting your bike back. Would you have the guts to approach a thief? If you think the police will simply roll up and get it back for you, you might be disappointed. We're lucky here in Portland that our police bureau takes bike theft seriously and they will assist citizens in recovery of stolen bikes; but only under certain circumstances.
And what if the GPS only gives you an approximate location? In a dense city, will it be able to pinpoint someone in a crowd? Or a specific apartment unit in a multi-story building?
Akins says they are always tuning the algorithms to be more precise; but right now they can get to within a single-family house and they're "aiming at being able to pinpoint which apartment in a complex, although if it's multistory we'd need to add altimeter data."
In the end, more technology to help thwart bike thieves is a very good thing (we'd love to see RFID used); but it will never solve the problem on its own. Our best advice is to do everything you can to prevent theft in the first place. Then, if you still lose your bike, use any means necessary to get it back!
— Read more about BikeTrak in today's edition of The Oregonian.