I'm hesitant to come down too hard on a gadget that might help save your life. Still, the Spot Satellite Messenger I've been checking out could have been easier to figure out, and more reliable.
Targeted at serious backpackers, boaters, hunters and other committed outdoor enthusiasts, Spot is a chunky, 7-ounce personal tracker whose main purpose is to bail you out of trouble. The product — it looks like a bright orange PDA on steroids — taps into Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites to determine your whereabouts. Then if you get into a pickle, Spot, at the press of a button, will transmit your longitude, latitude and a preprogrammed text or e-mail message to emergency 911 authorities and/or your loved ones. Folks can view your location on Google Maps. Alas, you have no way of knowing if your cry for help has been received.
At $170 for the device, on top of a $100 annual subscription, Spot isn't cheap. But similar "personal locator beacons," or PLBs, may cost $400 or more. Spot claims it keeps costs down because of its proprietary low-power satellite technology.
Spot is meant to work even in areas where your cellphone won't function, under various environmental extremes — at elevations of up to 21,000 feet and at temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It floats and is waterproof, too, but won't do you any good if it ends up buried in snow. The device requires a clear view of the sky.
Spot can operate in virtually all of North America, Europe and Australia, and portions of South America, northern Africa and northeastern Asia, as well as thousands of miles offshore. It failed at times in the, um, wilds of Manhattan and northern New Jersey, even as I sat uncovered in the stands of Giants Stadium. Tall buildings often block GPS signals.
Products that provide peace of mind are more common these days. GM's OnStar in-vehicle security system can rescue you when your car breaks down. Kid trackers are built into certain cellphones.
Spot is different. It's a one-way device that doesn't actually let you talk to another person.
The company behind the product — Spot Inc., a start-up in Milpitas, Calif., owned by Globalstar (GSAT) — is certainly using jarring selling tactics. "Live to tell about it" is one of the statements plastered on the product's packaging. Another reads: "Opening this box is the first step to making sure you don't come home in one."
Spot is sold online and at leading outdoor specialty retailers. It only recently became available and will be among the myriad gizmos showcased at next week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Here's a closer look:
•Picking your options. The first thing you must do is visit the findmespot.com website to activate the device and choose a subscription plan. The basic $100 annual plan gives you the ability to summon 911 to dispatch emergency responders to your location. The 911 transmissions are sent to Geos Alliance, an international emergency response and security firm. The same plan also lets you send a brief "I'm OK" e-mail and/or text message to predesignated friends or an "I need help" message to your contacts.
For an additional $50 a year, people can track your progress through Google Maps. The device will update your location every 10 minutes.
An extra $7.95 buys you a "search-and-rescue" benefit through Geos, to pay for a helicopter or other services used to lift you out of danger, up to $100,000.
•Using the device. Spot could be friendlier, despite having only four buttons: Help, On/Off, OK and 911. The status lights that blink depending on the functions you have initiated are confusing.
You are meant to press the Help button for a non-threatening emergency and 911 when the situation is critical. You'll have to press and hold the 911 button for at least two seconds to prevent you from accidentally summoning such assistance when you don't need it. Geos will attempt to reach the police, Coast Guard, U.S. Embassy or other appropriate emergency responders during a 911 request.
Spot doesn't have a keyboard or keypad. That's unfortunate, because you cannot compose a specific message that lets outsiders know the nature of your situation, should, say, your vehicle break down. Pressing the Help or OK buttons sends the generic text messages (up to 115 characters) you entered on Spot's website prior to leaving on your journey.
•The technology. Though Spot relies on GPS to determine your whereabouts, it will attempt to send a distress message to your contacts even when it is unable to pinpoint your location. Hopefully, your family members or friends have a general idea where you're heading. Messages are transmitted via a commercial satellite network.
Spot can last about a year on fresh AA lithium batteries, the company says. In tracking mode, the unit can go about two weeks before you must replace the batteries, or up to a week in 911 mode.
Spot is a product you hope you will never have to rely on. But the company cites statistics that say more than 50,000 search-and-rescue missions are initiated in the USA yearly, with rescue workers often not knowing the exact location of the missing party. If you're in that dire condition, Spot might provide the lifeline to bail you out of danger.
True, but it is also important that IF one does need this type of help, that the help arrives ASAP, and this SPOT device should help assure that this happens..SuperstitionGuy wrote:To bad however that they will not know the cause for the search.
IE - does the rescuee need a paramedic or just another bottle of water?
Jan. 9, 2008 09:01 AM
A Peoria couple stranded in the Yavapai County wilderness were rescued Monday after they activated a personal locater system in their vehicle, authorities said.
Ken and Quinn Golash, who are in their sixties, were found stuck near Forest Roads 711 and 132 southwest of Crown King after a night of inclement weather, said Sgt. Karl Bentz, a spokesman for the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office.
The couple was airlifted by a Department of Public Safety ranger to a Forest Patrol station and are in good condition, officials said.
Bentz said the couple exercised good judgment by activating their personal locator beacon, or PLB, which sent their coordinates out. The United States Air Force Rescue Coordination Center received the signal and immediately found the couple's location.
"The signal from the PLB proved to be very accurate and was of great assistance in locating the Golashes," Bentz said.
The Sheriff's Office urges people to prepare for the worst when traveling in the wilderness and to keep PLB registration updated.
Yeah, but if I picked the right hike, there's nobody close enough to hear it. (I still always carry a really loud whistle, though.)nonot wrote:There's something you can get out there that will call for help and likely get anyone nearby to come find you. It has no recurring monthly fees and is fairly cheap. It's called: a whistle.
I was actually thinking the exact same thing, if the wife can log on and see where I am periodically, that will make life a whole lot easier for us both. One thing - supposedly Backpacker is going to have a not-so-nice article about these coming up in an issue, soon. I'm not really sure why they'd trash it, but I've heard rumors that it doesn't work everywhere and has battery problems. I guy I used to work with has one and he used to send those periodic "check my progress" messages out to everyone to brag that he was at the Grand Canyon or wherever while the rest of us were stuck at work. It looked like it worked pretty well, but I think I remember him mentioning a hefty price tag for the unit and a heftier one for the service?djui5 wrote:Wow what a cool device, though I can see the large window for abuse.
I really would like to have one when the price comes down, especially since I hike in some dangerously remote regions. This would make my wife more comfortable if anything, and that is worth spending money on, trust me
hey, it's even endorsed by Les Stroud...haha