Finding Fifi: GPS for Dogs, Keychains, and More

April 2016

GPS is great. I never get lost, and I always get to where I want to go.

But what about Fifi? Little Fifi wanders off, and you're heartbroken. You put up posters around town, you put ads in the newspaper. "Please help me find Fifi."

Technology to the rescue, of course. You can buy Fifi her own little GPS collar, and then you'll always know exactly where in the world Fifi is. In 170 countries.

My friend Joe was visiting from Arizona, and his wife said to him, "Why don't you check and see what Lola is doing?" So Joe takes out his smartphone, opens an app, and says, "She's in the backyard."

They got Lola a GPS pet tracker because she has a tendency when they're walking her off-leash to suddenly get frisky and run away fast, and then run quickly back. They were afraid she'd run away, get distracted, and then get separated from them. So they bought a Tagg GPS Plus pet tracker. (Now a part of the Whistle line of products.)

Lola, Joe says, has never actually gotten lost, but they feel more at ease knowing that she has the Tagg, especially when they're traveling cross-country. In the instance above, they had left Lola at home in the care of their daughter, and were finding it useful to see what Lola was doing.

As with all pet trackers, the Tagg works in conjunction with their smartphone and the GPS system. At any time, they can look at a map and see where Lola is. The Tagg costs around $75, with a monthly fee of $6.95.

Why the monthly fee? The Tagg not only communicates with the GPS satellite system to identify its location, but then it needs to have some way to communicate that location to your smartphone. So the monthly fee covers a connection to the cellular data network.

Pet trackers have many additional features, of course. The Kyon Pet Tracker ($250, $5/month), which bills itself as "the world's smartest" (and thinnest), not only has GPS that tells you exactly where your pet is, but also has an altimeter that pinpoints how high your pet is within 3 inches — to identify which floor Fifi is on.

The Kyon's accelerometer monitors Fifi's activity levels, and a heat sensor tells you if she's overheating and at risk for heat stroke. If Fifi gets too far away from home, an LED display on her caller says, "I'm lost, please call 5551234."

Another pet tracker is the $150 Nuzzle smart collar, which has the advantage of not having a monthly fee.

Of course, if you have young children, you may also want to make sure they don't get lost. One of the best rated is AmberAlertGPS ($125, $15/month), which comes with black carrying pouch, colored faceplate, lanyard, and wrist/ankle band. You can track your child online or via the mobile app, with 5-ft. accuracy. It includes two-way calling so you can call your child. Or he or she can call you with the touch of a button.

And then there are all the other objects in your life that you would rather not lose: keychain, billfold, purse, luggage, etc. Yep, there are trackers for them, too. These trackers use Bluetooth wireless and are generally in the $20–$50 range, with no monthly fee.

The Tile, a thin, postage-sized wafer, was among the first such Bluetooth trackers. You can attach or stick Tiles to everyday items, or place inside. If you can't find the item, use the app on your smartphone to make the Tile ring if it's within 100 ft. Or if you lose your phone, you can press the Tile, and it will make your phone ring (even if it's on silent).

What if it's not within 100 ft.? The Tile app on your phone automatically records the last time and place it saw your item. Also, if your object is within range of the smartphone of any other Tile user, you'll be alerted to its location.

Tile, however, doesn't have a replaceable battery, which most of these do. It also doesn't have geofencing, which is something that most of these gadgets have. For example, with the Pally Smart Finder ($29), its Virtual Leash feature alerts you if your specific object becomes too far separated from your smartphone, e.g., you walk off and leave your keys behind. Or you can set it to alert you when your object comes in range, such as your luggage at an airport.

Trackers help give you peace of mind — and give Fifi peace of mind, too.

This month's hot tip:

You can buy a 4-pack of Tiles for $70 and an 8-pack for $130. The battery lasts a year, and you can get replacement Tiles for $13 each.

© 2016 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen