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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.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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

eli bishop
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eli bishop

“…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?

DK
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DK

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.

Eric in Seattle
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Eric in Seattle

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.

John
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John

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!

Kris Akins
Guest

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.

dirt_merchant
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dirt_merchant

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?”

Gabriel Amadeus
Guest

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.

rootbeerguy
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rootbeerguy

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

PorterStout
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PorterStout

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.

Aaron
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Aaron

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.

Tom
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Tom

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

Mike Schwab
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Mike Schwab
Opus the Poet
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Zaphod
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I’ll purchase several!

CaptainKarma
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CaptainKarma

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

Brian T
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Brian T
Frank Blackstone
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Frank Blackstone

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

Manituo Backet
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Manituo Backet

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?

Adeline
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Adeline

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