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Portland company to launch GPS bike tracking device

Posted by on January 24th, 2012 at 6:25 am

Kris Akins
(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.”

The transmitter is at right, encased in a carrier.

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.

A screenshot of the map BikeTrak would provide owners to track the location of their bike.

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.”

Testing the tracking system.

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.

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Comments
  • browse January 24, 2012 at 6:31 am

    I believe the expression is “shut up and take my money”.

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    • Kris Akins January 24, 2012 at 10:55 am

      Does that mean you want me to take your money and give you the device :) ?

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      • q`Tzal January 24, 2012 at 11:25 am

        meme

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        • Kris Akins January 24, 2012 at 1:02 pm

          meme!! How embarrassing not to know Futurama any better 

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  • eli bishop January 24, 2012 at 6:37 am

    “…our police bureau takes bike theft seriously and they will assist citizens in recovery of stolen bikes; but only under certain circumstances.”

    what circumstances are those?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 24, 2012 at 9:47 am

      Hey eli,

      I’ve written several stories over the years of people who worked with the police to help recover their bikes. If you have proof of ownership and have a hot lead on the thief, and you have gotten in touch with the right person at the police bureau (which I realize isn’t always easy), they will help you. Many officers ride bikes and they know what a big deal it is to lose your transportation.

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      • Kris Akins January 24, 2012 at 10:59 am

        The BikeTrak APP will have a REPORT button that will send the picture, serial number, data and a hot map to the RIGHT person with a single tap. We want to simplify the whole process!

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      • eli bishop January 24, 2012 at 3:45 pm

        “If… you have gotten in touch with the right person at the police bureau…”

        Ah, that’s the trick! Is there a list of sympathetic officers to report to? When my bike was stolen I swear I heard the officer yawning.

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  • DK January 24, 2012 at 7:40 am

    Great idea!
    Where’s a picture of the transmitter? Is it the device in the right hand of the second picture? …Seems kind of big to covertly install on anything but a cargo bike. I look forward to following development.

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    • Kris Akins January 24, 2012 at 8:14 am

      The transmitter is in the right hand, next to the iPhone. It is however in a bulky test container, just to screw to the bike frame at the bottle cage area to test and get data. It will be slimmer and elegantly designed to be as covert as possible in Product 1.0. 2.0 will be in the tube :)

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      • q`Tzal January 24, 2012 at 11:27 am

        In the “tube”?
        As far as I know GPS signals will not go through metal frame tubes.

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        • Kris Akins January 24, 2012 at 11:36 am

          That’s why it is version 2.0 but we have the answer :)

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          • q`Tzal January 24, 2012 at 4:21 pm

            I’ve always though you could embed the device inside the metal frame and run the antenna wires out a frame vent hole. Laminate them to the outside surface rather than attempt to get a sat lock inside a Faraday cage.
            Not everyone is running carbon fiber frames.

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        • sorebore January 24, 2012 at 12:01 pm

          FBI tracking devices send signals through all kinds of steel. I am sure that there is technology that exists to due just that.

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          • q`Tzal January 25, 2012 at 8:43 am

            Many tracking devices work by transmitting a signal which can be followed with an antenna. The distance from which you can track it is based on frequency, terrain and power output.

            GPS is a receiver based tracking system that uses precise time to calculate time delays for signals received from satellites in orbit. The signal strength was designed with unobstructed outdoor use. Among the things which blocks these frequencies are most building materials and metal.
            Metal especially because this phenomenon that is called Faraday cage will block electromagnetic radiation. If you could put a radio station inside of a continuous metal box with ZERO openings you would receive nothing outside. A metal bike frame will be very much like this. This is compounded by the fact that the GPS signal you are trying to receive is already weak; attempting to lock through metal is not practical.

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  • Eric in Seattle January 24, 2012 at 8:09 am

    Great idea. Version 1.0 looks a little cumbersome, but this appears to have great potential.
    On another note, I went to the Oregonian article. If you look at the photo, it appears that the inventor’s bike (at least the one in the picture) is worth about 1/4 what this device is likely to cost, though.

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  • John January 24, 2012 at 8:28 am

    Fantastic idea, especially if later versions are virtually invisible, as just the notion that some bikes have these devices could deter theft dramatically! I’m all for it, and kudos to Kris and her team for making this a reality!

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  • Kris Akins January 24, 2012 at 8:43 am

    The tracker IS only PART of the solution. We intend our database to be an extensive pre-registry for bikes (for free) that will allow entire communities to be involved in reporting suspicious activity or checking suspicious bike ownership. An open API will allow developers to write code to match bikes to those on Craig’s List or eBay. We plan to develop an online community for all those interested in helping to thwart bicycle theft.

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    • q`Tzal January 24, 2012 at 11:28 am

      Big Brother is us and that is good because WE control it.

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  • dirt_merchant January 24, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Hi Kris- The debate over the size and visibility of the device is missing the most important argument: if the device is recognizable, it will act as a deterrent to theft. Making it invisible in 2.0 will erase that benefit… The real challenge is “How do you make it good at both deterring theft and recovering a bike afterwards?”

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    • Jram January 24, 2012 at 10:39 am

      maybe a sticker on the bike, much like many home security systems could help with this? “this bike protected by BikeTrak so keep your paws off”

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    • Kris Akins January 24, 2012 at 11:15 am

      Yep, a continual debate by the team. Bikes at UofO with security stickers are stolen less, bikes at Ekerd College in FL have “This bike may have a GPS tracker inside” and they claim little theft. A hybrid solution seems the answer… Thanks Jram too

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  • Gabriel Amadeus January 24, 2012 at 10:20 am

    So cool, looks like they’ve really thought it through and are delivering on every practical aspect (love the proximity fob!), can’t wait for the in-frame version.

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  • rootbeerguy January 24, 2012 at 11:56 am

    if I had a $15,000 bike, the little thingy might be worthy investment.

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  • PorterStout January 24, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    My road bike didn’t cost $15,000 but it didn’t cost $200 either. I think it’s worth it now, esp. when you look at the time you’ve invested getting it to fit right and the right components on it, etc. Plus the priceless satisfaction from seeing the jerk caught. The cool thing here is we all could benefit from even a relative few riders installing these, as 1) habitual perps get taken out of operation and 2) others maybe start to think twice about stealing bikes once they’re not perceived to be such an easy target. Very cool idea.

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    • Kris Akins January 26, 2012 at 12:57 pm

      Yes, one of our big aims is to corral the cycling community, police and neigborhoods to keep an eye on bikes and report suspicious activity. Our database should be as much a deterent as the tracker itself in the end.

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  • Aaron January 24, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    Include altimeter data, take advantage of A-GPS over the cell network, and do GLONASS in addition to GPS and I bet you could just about pick out an apartment.

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    • Aaron January 24, 2012 at 4:12 pm

      (especially if the bike is stationary in a room and the device samples over time)

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  • Tom January 24, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    LoJack is $700-$1000. Why can’t this be implemented for stolen cars?

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  • Mike Schwab January 24, 2012 at 6:15 pm
  • Opus the Poet January 24, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    Yehuda Moon had it first: http://www.yehudamoon.com/index.php?date=2009-12-01

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  • Zaphod January 24, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    I’ll purchase several!

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    • Kris Akins January 26, 2012 at 12:59 pm

      Yeah! We’ll keep you posted!

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  • CaptainKarma January 25, 2012 at 11:44 am

    I am all for it unless there are monthly fees and/or I have to have an iPhone or AT&T.

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    • Kris Akins January 26, 2012 at 1:01 pm

      You can have any phone: android, i, or old fashion, which will get a text message. A report will also go to your computer. There will be an ANNUAL fee for the communication. We are aiming at $ 29 a year.

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  • Brian T January 26, 2012 at 8:38 am

    Bicycle GPS tracker in steerer : http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=dEeQCe2F_1I

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    • Kris Akins January 26, 2012 at 1:18 pm

      Well, we knew we wouldn’t be the only one working on this idea! We just hope to have considered cyclists so fully and developed our database communications so well that we will be THE bicycle solution. The cyclists, police and community is to be an active part of our solution.

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  • Frank Blackstone August 29, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    Great idea and Concept , Needs work , But I have lost several Bikes to theft , And it is expensive and have alwayse thaught it would be grand to track them and retreve them .they arent kids any more serious theivs stealing expensive bikes and components for re sale

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  • Manituo Backet September 12, 2012 at 4:55 am

    I have a question. How you gonna receive the transmission from this device if it will be fitted in to the bike frame? I understand, that the antennas will be integrated on main PCB? Or you gonna take them out of device?As I know the bigger problem is with the GSM signal than GPS. Newest GPS that I’ve been tested are strong enough to catch the satellites signal and position but placing both GSM and GPS antennas close to which other creating serious disturbances of the GSM signal. It is very important to immediate catch the theft. What if he’s gonna hide the bike to the basement already after stealing? Than device need to transmit online,or at least transmit to send position information. I am really very interesting how did you solve this problem. Is there available somewhere picture of the new unit or some description about that?

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  • Adeline October 23, 2013 at 11:05 am

    My daughter’s bike was stolen from her university campus last week. She was devastated. My husband and i delivered the bike to her for a surprise birthday visit. The thief was able to cut through the bike lock. I am obsessed with finding something like a phone app tracker. I hope your device takes off soon. Adeline

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