Five Fresh Uses for GPS
Sure, a GPS system can keep you from getting lost. But that's old news. GPS can also help you monitor your kids, track your dog, and survive a backcountry trek. Here are some of the new uses for this versatile technology:
Get quick directions. There's no need to pack a bulky, expensive mapping system if all you need is occasional guidance. A cellphone with a GPS chip is often all you need. VZ Navigator ($3 daily, $10 monthly) is a Verizon service, available on many of its phones, that gives clear, spoken directions over the speakerphone and also maps the route on the phone's screen. Sprint and other carriers offer similar options, as do third-party providers like TeleNav and Mapquest. All cost about $10 a month. Verizon's one-day option is also a great way to sample GPS, although most users will find a cellphone's small screen and awkward keyboard too frustrating for frequent use.
Track your kids. Any cellphone from Disney, which operates on Sprint's network, can transmit its location to another Disney phone with the company's Locator Service—allowing parents to check the whereabouts of their kids. The Disney phone transmits its location to a parent's phone, as long as it's also from Disney. The plan starts at $60 a month, which allows parents to check their kids' location five times. An additional $13 buys unlimited use. Parents can still use the feature if only the kid's phone is from Disney, but they have to go to the Disney website to do their tracking. Similar services are available from Verizon, Sprint itself, and independent outfits like Wherify Wireless.
Monitor a teen's driving. Parents worried about their teen's driving can ride shotgun, so to speak, through Real-Time GPS ($400 plus monthly fees that start at $7), which relays live data transmitted by a small device mounted in the car. The service displays real-time location and speed on a website, and can alert Mom or Dad via their cellphone or E-mail if the car strays beyond a preprogrammed "electric fence." The insurer Safeco offers its own tracking device and service for $15 a month to existing customers; other insurers are testing similar programs. Just do yourself and your kids a favor, family experts advise, and let them know they're being tracked.
Find your dog. George Jetson would have been proud of the Garmin Astro ($600), which is designed for hunters who want to track their dogs in the woods. A gadget worn on the dog's collar or in the included harness transmits its location and speed to a hand unit, and can even indicate if the dog goes on point, meaning he's poised to flush out some prey. It can transmit the data as far as 5 miles, and the handset itself is a fully functional GPS device that can help the two of you find your way back to the truck. Pricey, yes. But who can put a price on the love for a good huntin' dog?
Save yourself. A bright yellow handset called the Spot Satellite Messenger ($150, plus $100 a year for service) will let others know where you are, taking some of the worry out of off-piste adventures. The system works by using a satellite phone network to transmit your location data to cellphones you designate or to a website. Punching an SOS button will also notify the nearest 911 center if there's an emergency, saving random wilderness searches and perhaps your life. A preset bragging message can also let friends know when, and where, you've "reached the mountaintop." Available in November.