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Last Updated: Monday, 20 November 2006, 12:31 GMT
The end of lost keys?
By Paul Rubens

Loc8tor device
The size of a mobile phone - but how to keep track of it?

For years, gadget experts have tried to solve the age-old hunt for misplaced keys and wallets. Could a new hi-tech invention solve a common problem?

Most people probably spend hundreds of hours of their lives looking for glasses, television remotes, keys and other personal possessions.

And as CD collections and Rolodexes give way to MP3 players and personal organisers, there are an increasing number of household items ideally sized to be mislaid down the back of the sofa.

The microchip revolution brought the era of miniaturisation, but it also brought in an era of unprecedented lose-ability. The upside is that the era of lost things could soon be at an end thanks to the application of the same technology.

A new electronic gadget called the Loc8tor uses radio waves and multiple aerials, plus some fancy software, to locate postage stamp sized transmitters which can be attached to almost anything, within a range of up to 600 feet.

Along with a floating bed and "the crustastun" - a device to electrocute Lobster, pre-boil - it has been nominated as one of Time Magazine's inventions of 2006.

Time-saver

Other gadgets are springing up using the same technology - the Now You Can Find It locator, and a whole handbag that uses the same approach - although it looks more "prototype" than Prada.

The Loc8tor is the brainchild of Anthony Richards, a former sales and marketing executive who got fed up with wasting huge swathes of his life searching for everyday items.

"I have three kids who were constantly losing the television remote controls and a wife who couldn't find her car keys every single morning," he says.

"The last straw was when I lost my wallet and cancelled all the credit cards, then found it under my car seat a week later. I thought 'this is ridiculous - technology must be able to provide a solution'."

Round in circles

So Richards put together a team of boffins to work on the problem and came up with a device which looks similar in size and shape to a mobile phone. It displays a list of all the tags that it is monitoring, which can be assigned easy-to-use names like keys, TV remote or wallet.

To find your keys, select the right tag from the list on the loc8tor's screen and turn around in a complete circle.

The unit emits a beeping noise, and you walk in the direction that it beeps loudest and highest in tone until you get to your keys - much like a digital version of the children's game "hotter and colder".

Loc8tor device
Why stop at a wallet when you can tag your children?

Using technology to help find things has an honourable past which includes treasure maps and metal detectors.

More recently, in the 80s, cheap electronic tags which bleeped when you whistled in their general vicinity were popular.

Services based on mobile technology have grown since became possible to work out a phone's location by monitoring which phone masts it is communicating with. It is possible to track a phone - and therefore a person or car carrying it - from a web site offering this service.

Satellite technology means it is possible to find objects anywhere in the world to within a few feet using the global positioning system (GPS), but this has generally been restricted to stolen car tracking services, or fleet management systems for transport companies with large numbers of buses, trucks or ships.

Richards has been surprised by the novel ways people have ended up using his device.

Far from restricting themselves to keeping track of items like keys and wallets, they have been placing tags in their cars (to help find them in busy car parks), on model aeroplanes (nearly impossible to find when they land in long grass or heather) and on skis (a devil to find when they come off in deep snow).

Some people even put tags in the pockets of their small children or on the collars of their dogs as the loc8tor has a secondary function - to warn when a tag goes further than a set distance away.

Where's the technology?

But the main problem with the Loc8tor is that it is likely to fall victim to exactly the problem that it aims to solve.

Thanks to the wonder of the microchip, it is a compact little device which can be put down anywhere. It must surely only be a matter of time before it slips down the back of the sofa and gets lost?

Of course you could put a Loc8tor tag on it to find it easily again, but that means having another Loc8tor to find the one you've lost.

And that begs the tricky question: how are you going to make sure you don't lose the second one.


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

A catch-22 product. The very people that will want or need one of these are the very people that will lose it.
Paul, Purley

Having spent four hours over the weekend searching for a CD of family photos and a missing mobile phone, I would gladly pay good money for one of these. My only question is whether the Loc8tor tags will sold in boxes of 100?
Matt, Hampshire

The as-yet-uninvented "Seatspit" could be a competitor of the Loc8tor to find lost objects. Combining simplicity and practicality, at the touch of a button "Seatspit" would eject all objects hidden down the back of your sofas, chairs and car seats. It would have the added advantage of paying for itself in a matter of weeks with all the additional loose change found.

Another more obvious solution would be to design seats which didn't allow the objects to fall down their backs in the first place, although this would be unlikely to appeal to gadget freaks.
Nick Rikker, Barcelona, Spain

A fortune awaits the inventor of the "golf ball finder".
Gordon Hayman, Kingston, Surrey

The way to avoid losing the main unit is to have a base station like cordless telephones. That way you could sell a number of these units and if they get lost, push the base station button that causes the "Find Me" tone of the units to sound.
Paul Armstrong, Bedford

My tip would be to ensure you leave the Loc8ter in one place, so it's always where you expect it to be... but then if you did that with your other items like keys, you wouldn't need one of these! As for a golf ball finder: Someone has already done this, one with special balls that have a tracking device in them. Another device can find ordinary balls with the claim that it will spot it if just 1% of the surface is visible. Aren't gadgets fantastic!
Philip, Birmingham

I'm reminded of an old "handy-hint" printed in Viz some years ago that advised you to thread everything you own onto a single piece of string. Then, when you lose something, simply follow the string until you find it. Genius. Probably not practical for mobile phones but worth a try with children.
Richard, Crewe, UK

The only downside to this is that it might be used by burglars to locate your keys, wallet, mobile phone, MP3 player, driving licence, passport and handbag, at the touch of a button, no matter how carefully they're hidden.
Sarah, Reading, UK

Perhaps it relies on the well-known phenomenon that something lost is always in the last place you look.
Jel, Swansea

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