A new hobby for the geeks and nerds among us.
As more of us buy GPS devices, and get phones with integrated GPS receivers, it becomes possible for us to allow friends and family to monitor our location.
Back in the day, it was only James Bond and other superspies like the Mission: Impossible team who seemed able to do this, but now it's a real-world possibility.
Typically, you might have a GPS-enabled phone and be travelling to visit a friend. You set up your GPS and the friend can monitor your progress on their computer, knowing when you are likely to arrive, or if they have to pick you up from a station or airport, they can easily see exactly where you are.
I have an account on GPSgate,com, which allows me to see where friends are — if they have set themselves up for it.
The GPS systems attached to a phone can send their data real-time, to a server, allowing others to see the position of the phone (and presumably the person carrying it) in real time on the web. The sat-nav systems in a car can only store the data for subsequent download.
When the owner of the phone logs into their own account, they can see the journeys they made, with their movements superimposed on a Google map. Equally, with a device that can only store the data, once the data has been transferred from the device to a computer and then to the server, the daily journeys are available for later viewing and analysis.
If you wanted to track your cat's nightly hunting activities, you could attach a GPS stick to the cat's collar and let it loose, only checking in the morning to see where kitty had roamed.
If parents really wanted to track their children, I guess that would technically be possible, but I'm not sure about the ethics of slipping one of these, unknown, into their bag before they go out for the evening.
Most interestingly, perhaps, my nephew — who introduced me to this pastime — has just finished at university and is setting off for a trip around the world. He'll take his GPS phone with him, and we'll all be able to see exactly where he is, to within about 100m. God forbid he should get lost in the jungle or kidnapped, but if he does, then we will know exactly where he is. And if not, then we'll know when he has arrived safely at a friend's house.
Others have proposed using them as security tabs on an expensive car or bicycle. if it gets stolen, then you can trace it in seconds, assuming the thief does not locate and remove the stick.
As I write, GPS sticks which can connect with the GPS gate software are about £30 - £40 (under $100). I just bought a Amod AGL3080 which has decent battery life, but more essentially a lot of memory and it does not need drivers. Like other data loggers, this only stores data; it can't be used as a portable tracking device. However, GPS-enabled phones such as the Blackberry or higher-end Nokia phones are now becoming more common. Their main drawback is that the GPS and the associated data transfers tend to use the batteries up quite quickly, so battery life can be an issue.
A third option is the track stick or equivalent which contains the GPS receiver and a dedicated means of getting the data back to a server, so that you can see its location on the web. These cost around $200, and the most popular appears to go by the name of Trackstick.