You wait ages for a lost-item tracker hardware startup, and then loads and loads pile on at once. There have been a spate of such startups cropping up on crowdfunding sites in recent times — notably Tile, which raised $2.6 million via Selfstarter back in July, although it won’t be shipping product until next year. Others hoping to attack the space with similar Bluetooth-powered tags include the likes of Button TrackR, Lapa and Protag (with its next-gen Elite offering), to name just a few. And now Locca has just kicked off a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo for a pair of item trackers, the Locca Phone and Locca Mini (pictured above left), that incorporate a range of tracking tech to offer longer distance real-time item tracking.
The latest low-powered flavour of Bluetooth, colloquially known as Bluetooth Low Energy or BLE, is undoubtedly encouraging more startups to try their hand at item tracking. But Bluetooth has its drawbacks for an item-tracking use case — notably it has a pretty limited range of around 30 meters.
Tile is hoping to get around that by leveraging a community of uses to create a distributed network effect, so that the proximity of your lost Tile to another passing Tile user can be used to cast its item-finding net wider. But that’s only really going to happen if its product takes off in a big way. In the meantime, all these Bluetooth trackers can only really offer a limited use-case scenario of finding stuff you’ve lost in your own house, say, or sounding an alarm when you stray a few meters away from your bag.
That’s why Locca reckons there’s room for another player in this space — one that can track items over much greater distances. Unlike its Bluetooth tag-touting rivals, it’s sticking a SIM card inside its trackers so it can draw on a range of location pinpointing technologies, including GPS, to boost tracking range and enable live tracking of lost items even across international borders (its service will initially cover the U.S., Canada and Europe and expand to more countries in 2014).
“Locca locators have integrated five of the best locating technologies: AGPS, GSM cell-triangulation, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth low-energy and FSK. Therefore the positioning is very accurate and fast, and tracking is possible worldwide, e.g. your lost luggage with a Locca is in Madrid, and you can see where it is from London,” the startup tells TechCrunch.
Items are viewed on a corresponding Locca app that displays the real-time position of tracked items on a map, and offers additional functionality such as setting up different zones where you might want the system to behave differently toward tracked items.
However there’s a cost to Locca’s more comprehensive coverage: Locca plans to charge buyers a monthly service fee for the data they’re using. Both Locca’s forthcoming devices — the smaller, lower-cost Locca Mini and the full-fat Locca Phone (which can also be used to make and receive calls) — come with a built-in SIM. The monthly cost of keeping each tracker active is €9,90 ($13,50) per month for the Locca Mini; and €14,90 ($20,30) per month for Locca Phone.
Battery life is another cost of this type of tracking option. Locca says it’s developed its own energy-saving algorithms to help improve this but while the larger and more expensive Locca Phone will have a guaranteed ‘more than one month’ longevity, the smaller Locca Mini looks to require a lot more juicing. Locca says the Mini’s battery is good for “7 days active time”, perhaps longer depending on your usage.
“Depending on which technology is used the battery lifetime is shorter or longer. E.g. a Locca is fixed on your dog. At home the device is connected to FSK, when the dog enters the garden GSM is turned on and when the dog runs away you could even switch on in addition the APGS to see the exact position,” it says.
An item tracker with a flat battery is no longer an item tracker — which does give the Bluetooth tracker startups an edge in some respects: for instance, Tile boasts a year-long battery life. In fact, Tile owners will never have to charge the device — instead, they get an email reminder towards the end of the battery’s life to send Tile back and purchase a replacement (costing $25). That yearly fee for Tile is still cheaper than a year of Locca’s service (albeit, you can start and stop the Locca service whenever you like within the app, with no contracts required).
There are other GPS trackers on the market, but Locca claims its Mini device is “the smallest with so many locating systems.” It’s also relatively lightweight (23g) — affixing it to your dog’s collar is one use case they envisage. Other use cases could include fixing it to car keys, putting it in your handbag or tagging your bike.
The larger Locca Phone tracker, which can also make and take calls, thanks to a built-in microphone and speaker, is being marketed as something to give to an elderly relative or your kids. (Locca co-founder, Albert Fellner, is also founder and owner of Austrian mobile maker Emporia, which makes mobile phones for older people — likely explaining this portion of Locca’s focus.)
Calls can be put through to the Locca Phone via Locca’s app, giving parents an alternative channel to speak to their kids or check in on elderly relatives. Another use for the Locca Phone is as an in-car safety device, as it will incorporate crash sensors and can be set to automatically make a phone call in the event of an accident.
Locca is offering Indiegogo backers a variety of options to bag its hardware. The Locca Mini can be picked up from €99, with six months of service included in that price. And the Locca Phone from €149, also with six months of service. It’s also offering a range of accessories, such as cases to fix the trackers to your pet’s collar or a bike kit to mount it on your bike.
The startup is focusing on getting the Mini delivered first, with an estimated ship date of December, while the Locca Phone is slated for February next year. Locca said it has been bootstrapping the project up to now — and is hoping to raise €75,000 via Indiegogo — although it has also previously taken in an angel investment of €150,000.