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Hardware Hacking

Making a Child Locating System 1092

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the just-contact-a-local-fish-and-wildlife-officer-for-radio-tagging dept.
celtic_hackr writes "Well, I never thought I'd be an advocate for placing GPS devices on people. However, since it took less than three days for my local school district to misplace my daughter, I have decided that something needs to be done. By the school district's own admission it has a recurring problem of placing children on the wrong buses. Fortunately, my daughter was located, with no thanks to the local school district. Therefore, I would like input on a way to be able to keep track of my child. I know there are personal tracking devices out there. I have nothing against these systems. But I want more than this. My specification are: 1) a small unobtrusive device I can place on my daughter, 2) an application to pull up on any computer, a map with a dot indicating the real-time position of my child, 3) a handheld device with the equivalent information, 4) [optional] a secure web application/plug-in I can install on my own domain allowing me to track her from anyplace in the world, 5) a means of turning it all off, 6) a Linux based solution of the above. I believe all the pieces for making such a system are out there. Has anyone built anything like this? Is there an open source solution? How would I go about building my own? Has anyone hacked any of these personal trackers before, to serve their own purposes? How does a tinfoil hat wearer engineer such a device to make sure Big-Brother isn't watching too? Can these devices be locked down so only certain devices can pick up the GPS location of an individual locator? What other recommendations do you have?"
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Making a Child Locating System

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  • Buy her a cellphone (Score:5, Interesting)

    by shitzu (931108) on Monday June 01, 2009 @02:17PM (#28170837)

    At least in my country (Estonia) you can track any GSM cellphone's (belonging to you) location from the provider's webpage or similar.

  • Instamapper (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 222 (551054) <<stormseeker> <at> <gmail.com>> on Monday June 01, 2009 @02:27PM (#28170995) Homepage
    I used Instamapper on my Blackberry to provide real time / historical GPS tracking of myself. It's free, extremely easy to set up, and has Facebook integration. Be warned, GPS is a battery killer. I set all this up when I first became interested in location aware apps, and its run fine since.

    http://www.instamapper.com/ [instamapper.com]
  • Falcom Mambo (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dago (25724) on Monday June 01, 2009 @02:30PM (#28171037)

    For a dedicated solution, you can buy a Falcom Mambo (http://www.falcom.de/products/personal-tracker/mambo/)

    Dedicated GPS tracker with an emergency button
    Long battery life
    Very Open

  • by iamhassi (659463) on Monday June 01, 2009 @02:59PM (#28171507) Journal
    " I would like input on a way to be able to keep track of my child."

    no one uses google now days....

    First, your child doesn't need GPS, she needs a cellphone. Why? Because even if you had this magical GPS tracking/locating system you want, there would still be some kind of data communication needed between the child and the laptop. That requires data usage or cellphone usage, so either way you're paying a monthly fee.

    Google child cellphone [google.com] and the very first result is Best cell phone for kids [msn.com]. In it, it says:
    "Migo is made to use Verizon's optional Chaperon service that lets parents track the phone in real time on their handset or PC. For an additional charge, parents can set up boundaries for where the child can go. If the phone leaves the designated area, a text message alert will be sent to the parent's phone. (Only certain adult handsets are capable of using this service.)"

    So you have the GPS tracking you wanted, plus your child has a cellphone so you can reach them if they're indoors and GPS isn't working so hot, AND you have the added feature you didn't even know you wanted: a text message the instant your child leaves a designated area. Not only that but it all works through your cellphone, so anytime you can't find your kid forget about going "Gee, I forgot to bring the GPS locator handheld with me". It's already setup on your cellphone.

    Oh and sure, all this will cost you a few bucks, but I'm sure it won't cost more than a custom handheld locater and a small unobtrusive device to attach to your daughter and and creating a secure website on your own.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 01, 2009 @03:00PM (#28171525)

    When my son was 5 years old, on his first day at school, they forced him to get off the bus at the wrong house 2 miles away. Thank God the parent who was there was a friend of the family. He was traumatized--our friend told us the Bus Driver physically carried him crying and screaming and just sat him on the ground. As soon as he saw Rachel (the mother who often was our baby sitter) he calmed down. She told the bus driver this was not his house, and he replied that this was the address he had for our son and was where he was picked up that morning. That last part was a bold-faced lie because I had put him on the bus myself that morning in front of my house. Rachel's name and address were listed as an emergency contact in the event that neither my wife nor I were home if they needed to call us. I do know that we were the last stop on this drivers route, and this would have enabled him to quit a whole 20 minutes sooner, because he could go straight home after dropping him off.

    Needless to say, after that incident (and after getting nowhere with the school administration or the school board) I took him to school, and my wife picked him up.

    I trust school districts about as far as I could shotput a Boeing 777. A tracking device might be a good idea.

  • by Talderas (1212466) on Monday June 01, 2009 @03:02PM (#28171561)

    This may sound crazy, but I'm not understanding how a school can place a child on the wrong bus.

    Do schools commonly mix up bus numbers and drivers so that students have different buses/drivers every day? Am I not mistaken, but isn't that the very reason why they have bus routes? You get the same bus with the same driver. Every day. A bus is broken down one day? Well the kid still has the same bus driver. The driver is sick that day and needs a substitute? Well you have the same bus number.

    The only situation where a kid could be confused is when you have the normal bus broken down AND it's a substitute driver, but those are rare events and the school should be able to communicate the bus changes over the PA.

  • by roc97007 (608802) on Monday June 01, 2009 @03:07PM (#28171661) Journal

    My daughter started carrying a cell phone in 6th grade for precisely this reason. It's paid off three times: Twice she got on the wrong school bus, and once we lost her in the press of the crowd during a parade. (That was really scary.)

    Before GPS became common, I had to rely on her description of where she was. Once (the parade incident) she had to go into a store and ask the attendant for the address. (I discourage her from asking strangers on the street, and she's afraid of the police, due to an incident a few years earlier, so we compromised on convenience store attendants. It wasn't a perfect solution.)

    Now, none of that is necessary. She carries a Blackberry Curve and I can check her location via Google Latitude on my own Blackberry. She knows that this is not because I don't trust her, but because I don't trust everyone else. Besides, she can also see my location, which forestalls "Daddy, when are you going to get here?"

    There are other tracking services, but Latitude was good enough for our purpose, and free.

    Hope this helps.

  • We use pictures (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DnemoniX (31461) on Monday June 01, 2009 @03:18PM (#28171885)

    A) Yes you are overreacting
    B) This is pretty easy to fix

    As a parent in a city with 36 different schools and countless buses I know what you mean. But there is no reason to tag your little girl. All buses look alike, big yellow with numbers on the side. To make things easy and to avoid duplicate numbers from different bus providers they put a picture in the bus window on colored paper. So your kid might ride bus "Blue Hammer", So obviously the sign is on blue paper with a big picture of a hammer. If your kid manages to get on the wrong bus with that system, either they are not paying attention or they might need that "special" bus.

  • by danlor (309557) on Monday June 01, 2009 @03:22PM (#28171955) Homepage

    As a parent with a mentally disabled child, I do not agree.

    Our children live in a world still devoid of danger and threat. They expect us, their elders to protect them from harm. That falls to the caretakers as well as us parents. Since we parents have little choice as far as where our children are housed everyday, we have to make other choices and decisions.

    I do not see this as an over reaction. I see it as well thought out, and keeping the idea of the child's privacy in mind. The solutions that are out there and available to us today are poor worst, expensive at best. Considering whats available off the shelf, this should be doable on your own.

    Does anyone here have any valuable advice other than satire and sensationalism? I could use it myself. I'm just as lost as the poster, and in desperate need.

  • by CorporateSuit (1319461) on Monday June 01, 2009 @03:39PM (#28172241)

    But I agree with the parent: get some perspective on things by waiting for a bit before subjecting your daughter to Big-Brother-like monitoring.

    That's ridiculous. If you're not Big-Brother-like monitoring your kid, you're not a parent. Kids below middle-school age have no privacy. There is no reason for a 8 year old to be anywhere but where their parent thinks they should be. This thing may be an issue for kids over the age of 12, but when they're still developmental grubs, advocating their rights to privacy is ignorance and dangerous for the child's development. The one who has lost perspective is the one who thinks that children are fully-cogent, underaged adults.

  • by RKThoadan (89437) on Monday June 01, 2009 @03:52PM (#28172441)

    If you are going to track it then you are correct in that it does need to send a signal, it's just that the signal doesn't go back via the GPS satellite. It does need to go out somehow though. In most cases it's probably going to be a cell phone operating on the cell network. Keep in mind many of the cell trackers aren't going to be using GPS, they are going to be tracking it based on cell towers, which I don't think is as accurate as GPS and is useless in the unlikely event that you get completely out of range. I'm sure there are other options out there as well.

  • Re:GPS + SMS. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by amohat (88362) on Monday June 01, 2009 @04:24PM (#28172973)

    "The people that want to rape and molest your daughter statistically are yourself or one of your brothers(-in-law)"

    Great idea for a list. Let's rank, in order of probability, likely suspects in a given child's life.

    Police will tell you that immediate suspect #1 in a woman's murder is husband/boyfriend or ex. I guess that's based on stats, though I've never actually seen them.

    Whatever, the poster is a nutcase and is over-reacting. Get the kid a off-the-shelf cell phone device from the local cell company that offers kid-tracking GPS service. That way the kid can get a decent electronic safety net and the father can avoid the obsessive neurosis, maybe even focus a little more on quality time and less spooky surveillance psycho.

    Last, this smacks of "uh I have this friend, and he wants to know how to ..." bullshit. What does this dude really have in mind, and why do i suspect it has more to do with a ongoing custody battle than the kids safety? Why not go with a commercial product/service that hits your credit card each month? What other reason than because dude wants to be able to hide his tracks and not have this "system" show up in court records? My predator alarm is ringing pretty loud on this one. Sounds like a good list of requirements for a high-tech kidnapper/stalker. What next, dude wants web cams in his daughter's bedroom...and bathroom...just to make sure she's "safe" ???? But he wants to keep the whole system off the grid, with remote shut-off, no doubt!!!!

    What a good parent ought to do in this situation is become more physically involved in their kids life. Be at the school enough to know the drivers and teachers and the kids friends and their parents. Not just the asshole who freaks out when he experiences "bad customer service" at the school and is never heard from again. The schools will be as good as we make them, showing up only when you don't like something is hardly a positive contribution. That's just being selfish.

  • by ArsonSmith (13997) on Monday June 01, 2009 @04:29PM (#28173043) Journal

    I hate to get a closed source one then find out that it was hacked by a child slave harvesting organization where they just sweep around and pick up all the tracked kids.

    Like GIJoe says, knowing is half the battle.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 01, 2009 @05:03PM (#28173633)

    As a former verizon wireless sales rep I can easily attest to this fact. When vzw released their first 'Chaperone' phone, the Migo, most of the creeps weren't even trying to pretend they were for children.

    You could fit a standard LG extended battery in the Migo, but you wouldn't be able to fit the case back on. I actually had someone tell me that they didn't care, they'd just duct tape it to stay and place and throw it in the back of his wife's truck.

    I started refusing to sell the Migos we had unless they would bring in the child so I could teach them how to use the phone.

  • by Mr. Freeman (933986) on Monday June 01, 2009 @05:28PM (#28174039)
    Screaming at them makes them care. Schools couldn't give less of a shit about the kids they're in charge of. Their only objective is to do enough to get rid of annoying parents. Thus, if you're an annoying parent, they'll help you to make you go away.

    Of course, if you start screaming about suing the school for losing your child, they'll jump to it. The only thing they're more afraid of than parents is lawyers.
  • by Kurt Granroth (9052) on Monday June 01, 2009 @05:45PM (#28174313)

    I gave my daughter a Firefly when she was in first grade for all of the reasons every has mentioned. They are incredibly easy to use. However, there is still one fatal flaw -- they have to be turned on.

    You may not think that's a problem but it was for my daughter. See, the school absolutely insists that all cell phones are turned off during the day. I'm not talking about "mute" or "vibrate" or anything. Off. And yes, they would actually do random checks to verify. I tried to tell them that you can restrict who calls the Firefly so it won't be randomly ringing during the day but it was no good. In the end, it was up to my daughter to remember to turn it on. She almost never did.

    This was a continuing problem until she hit her tweens. As soon as her friends had cell phones too and she discovered texting, then the problem solved itself. I got her a prepaid phone for texting along with a 200 message plan and she was off to the races. That phone was on the second the school bell rang.

    Of course, that just opened up another problem. Did you know that a tween girl can go through 200 texts the very first hour of the very first day that the package is activated? Ah well.

  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Monday June 01, 2009 @07:58PM (#28175811) Homepage Journal
    The driver probably isn't covered by insurance if he's driving her in the wrong direction. It isn't the first time I've heard such reasons.
  • Unobstrusive device? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 01, 2009 @08:10PM (#28175927)

    1) a small unobtrusive device I can place on my daughter,

    Uh, where do you intend to put this device?

    In your daughter's hand, I hope. Aka, a cell phone, right?

    Or is this a futuristic chip implantation type question?

  • by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@@@jwsmythe...com> on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:04PM (#28176319) Homepage Journal

    And exactly where do you think this would be happening? At the school as the kid gets on with the bus drivers and teachers watching, or at the bus stop with parents, kids, and the bus driver as eye witnesses? What kid would believe that, a few blocks from home? If you ever become a parent, I'd hope you teach your children much better than that.

    The closest I've EVER seen to that is the most likely kidnapping situation.

    I was a friend of the family, and I saw the kid walking away from the bus as it was starting to rain, so I pulled up, beeped my horn, and told him to get in. He didn't know if I was really suppose to pick him up. Really, I hadn't been asked, but I was in the right place at the right time. And I really took him home so he wouldn't be soaked by the time he got there.

    According to the FBI, statistically about 76% of child kidnappings involve family or acquaintances. The remaining 24% are the most likely to involve a firearm. "Get in the car or I'll shoot you, and then kill your mommy too" has a lot more power than "Hey little Jimmy, how is 2nd grade going? Want a lolly pop? Lets go for a ride."

    The only real kidnapping I've been involved in was a family kidnapping. No, I was on the good side. The mother was staying with some family. She was going to bring her son to stay with his father. Mother and father both agreed on this. He was staying with the grandmother for a few minutes while we ran to the store. We got back, the son is missing. A family member at the house tells us (rather impolitely) that grandmother doesn't approve of the son going to stay with his father. The mother is furious, scared, crying. I, the good friend of both the mother and father, call the police, explain the situation, and an officer is dispatched immediately. If the little boy wasn't involved, it would have been almost funny, as the grandfather threatened to physically harm and/or kill me. I was being polite. The cop, a nice guy, probably late 20's, over 6' tall standing right beside me, and the grandfather being a frail old man. I can take a punch from a big guy if I have to, so I wasn't scared in the least. I was polite and as physically non-aggressive as could be (calm voice, hands down at my sides, not moving forward or back). All I said were things like "Sir, please do not threaten me. Sir, please do not come any closer to me. Sir, I'd appreciate if you wouldn't threaten to injure me. All we are asking for is for her son to be returned."

    The officer was kind enough to say "I could take every one of you to jail for kidnapping, and you will spend years behind bars. Or, you can return her son."

    After all was said and done, he officer said he thought the grandfather was going to swing at me. If he did, he would have been in handcuffs. He did ask if we wanted to press charges. This was the mothers call. She didn't want them in jail, but she did worse. They were to never see her or her son again. With that, we drove away.

    We don't know exactly what was said to the son for the few hours that he was taken, but he was terrified of both his mother and father. Luckily, I'd been friends with them for a while, and he did trust me still (they forgot to instill fear of me into him.), so I was able to calm him down, and let him know that whatever he was told was wrong, and his parents really do love him.

    Non-custodial kidnappings happen more than you'd like to think. Not every one ends up as an arrest, so all the police would have is a record of a call to a domestic dispute with no arrests made and no charges filed. This doesn't end up in the statistics.

    My ex-wife did something very similar. She had the kids in the car, and was threatening to leave so I'd never see them again. A friend of mine coincidentally came over. He parked behind her car, and then sat on the front bumper of my car. She could

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