Tracking Children with the GPS Tracker

In my previous post I explained how we are now responsible for the well being of three little human beings.  Lucky for me my favorite GPS company has entered into the business of tracking precious cargo.  Garmin “recently” started to sell the Garmin GTU-10 GPS Locator so I picked one up right away and found a spot in Leo’s backpack.

Overview

The GTU-10 is actually a small piece of hardware that has a few major components:

  • GPS (locator)
  • Mobile Data Connection (communicator)
  • CPU & Embedded Software (brains)

Many people have the misperception that the GPS can actually send information to the Internet, but the GPS is only a receiver of radio waves being sent from satellites.  The Mobile Data Connection (AT&T) is required to send the location and other information about your precious cargo. GPS is free, but the AT&T subscription costs money (about $50 per year) with the first year included in the purchase of the GTU-10 (about $200). There are add-on features that may cost more money which I will explain later.

The GTU-10 is nothing without it’s supporting software.  Together they make up a whole system:

  • The GTU-10 Locator
  • The Internet Connected Software used to find the children
  • The myGarmin Website
  • The Garmin Tracker iPhone/Android mobile phone/tablet application 

Naming

For the sake of making my blog easier to understand, I will name the system “Garmin Tracker™” since the mobile phone apps use that name.  There is no name for the web portion of the system and the device is the GTU-10 which is unimpressive and non-descriptive. Branding is a huge criticism of this product, but it doesn’t surprise me since Garmin’s naming conventions and products have rarely been great.

Competitors named their products like the “Little Buddy” which I think is brilliant even if they have already end-of-lifed the product.  Either way, we won’t dwell on the name and just call the whole system the Garmin Tracker.

Purpose

The Garmin Tracker does mostly one thing…finds where your important assets are located right now and shows them on a map. The best part of the GTU-10 is that it strives to be hassle free by allowing a parent to charge it, put it in the child’s backpack and forget about it until you start to wonder where your kid is located.  The battery will last about 1 week which I consider to be hassle free and actually the most innovative aspect of the GTU-10.

The typical use of the Tracker is to make sure your kid made it to their scheduled appointment and assumed “safe”.  Going to school is a good example and something that can be related to most kids…you send them out the door and hope for the best. You hope the bus picked them up, you hope they got dropped off at school and you hope they actually made it to their classroom.  The Garmin Tracker takes some of the hope out of it and actually provides some facts giving a little more confidence that your little one is at least in the right location at the right time.

Geo-fences

Geo-fencesGeo-fences is a techi-term for an imaginary boundary which is considered to be safe within the boundary and not necessarily safe outside the boundary.  

Creating good geo-fences is the most important part of setting up your Garmin Tracker system.  Partially because it helps you understand if your child is within a known area, but mostly because accurate geo-fences are how the GTU-10’s battery life can last for a whole week since the device will sleep knowing the child is in a safe zone. 

 The map shows a few of the geo-fences I’ve created for the children’s various locations.  Common geo-fences are shared with both Mae’s and Leo’s devices while each can have their own. 

Battery Usage

The battery life, in addition to the small size, is the real innovation with the GTU-10 making the Garmin Tracker system useful without being yet another thing you have to charge every day.   Garmin figured out a way to use the battery by tracking location when the child is outside of a geo-fence, but going to sleep and conserving battery while located inside a geo-fence. 

GTU-10 Battery Life

Notice the settings available on the website or phone applications allow you to control the preferred battery life which balances the delay in updating to the actual location vs. how long the battery will last.  The GTU-10 will go to sleep when it is located within a geo-fence checking to see if it’s current location is outside of that geo-fence less frequently. It will check at the frequency set in the battery setting, but once outside the geo-fence the GTU-10 will check at a higher rate which is when I find myself following along since they are outside of the “safety zone”.  

In the picture above, you can see I have mine set to Moderate which claims 4 weeks of battery life inside a geo-fence and 5 days outside a geo-fence, although I have much less optimistic observations. I seem to get 5 days maximum even if the child is within a geo-fence 90% of the time.  Either way, I just charge the GTU-10 on the weekends (using a standard USB) and it falls within the “hassle free” arena.

Summary

There is actually a lot more to be discussed about the Garmin Tracker system.  I will tell you that I am not enthusiastically pleased with this system which I will bullet now and blog later:

  • Can’t share locations with other parents, Carol logs in as me
  • Battery doesn’t last near it’s claim
  • Delays getting the latest location can be frustrating
  • Alert emails are annoying and opposite what I want
  • The mobile phone app requires authentication every view!!!!!!!!

The above frustrations are very noteworthy, but even knowing these flaws testing it out on Leo I went out and bought another GTU-10 for Mae.  Maybe I’m a geek or maybe I just found something that allowed me to give these kids a little bit of freedom while preserving some peace of mind.  

I make no claims regarding children safety, but it is worth noting I likely take more risks (with everything I do) than the normal person and I tend to use statistics rather than extreme cases to guide my life decisions.  Our town of Sausalito is geographically compact enough to where children can get from place to place by walking through safe neighborhoods, but urban enough to where I can’t just rely on neighbors or other residents to call me up when there is a lost kid roaming around.  I also have more patience and efficiency than most people when working through buggy systems to find the useful feature it provides. Additionally, my job is to understand GPS systems so I have a little extra motivation to understand how the Garmin Tracker works. Should you find yourself agreeing with this paragraph then perhaps I could recommend the Garmin Tracker + GTU-10 system to you.  

Final Thoughts

As I finish writing this article the children were faced with a new schedule change that they had never dealt with before.  We talked about the logistics this morning before they left and I was able to watch Leo and Ann (on the map) leave their after school activity, return to school to grab Mae and make it to the bus stop in time to catch their normal bus. I sat at my command center with the window open when I heard the bus that I knew they were on pull around the corner.  I watched to make sure the bus stopped so they could get off. A few minutes later I heard their voices as I saw their dots on the map approach the house. I yelled a greeting out the window and the first thing they yelled back “we made the bus”. I said that I knew since I was watching and gave them their well-deserved kudos. The additional peace of mind and increased independence is well worth the $400 I spent on two GTU-10 devices.  There is a day these kids won’t want to be tracked, but for now when I say peace of mind its a benefit for all of us. After all kids like to push their boundaries, but want to know that we are watching, that we care and that they are safe.

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