GPS trackers have has been mainstream for decades, to the point where you’ll find dozens of products available from mass market retailers for under $ 100. However, GPS tracking is still not as straightforward and transparent as what you see in spy movies. The units require a bulky extra battery if you want them to last longer than a few weeks and require an expensive monthly service plan to operate. If you’re just looking for a little bit of peace of mind to make sure your car can be found if it is stolen, or if your teenager doesn’t come home with it before curfew, GPS tracking can become an expensive business.
Step into the Invoxia LongFi Tracker, a simple device that offers many of the same features as GPS tracking, but with much longer battery life (up to four months on a charge) and no monthly service fees.
The secret of this new tracker is its connection to Helium LongFi network, an intriguing peer-to-peer wireless system that rewards people with the Helium Cryptocurrency (HNT) when they configure and manage a compatible wireless access point. The LongFi network is a variant of LoRaWAN (Long-Range WAN, supposed to offer 200 times the range of Wi-Fi), which operates on the 902-928 MHz unlicensed band in the United States and is designed for low bandwidth, long life expectancy. remote transmissions.
Typical uses for LoRa include door sensors, actuators (like a garage door opener), and device tracking, all of which need to send nothing more than an occasional ping to the network. LongFi adds the blockchain to the mix, so whenever a compatible hotspot receives and processes one of those pings, it adds a timestamp and a timestamp to its blockchain. Over time, the hotspot operators that process these blockchain transactions earn HNTs based on the amount of work done by their hotspot.
However, none of this has much to do with Invoxia’s tracker. It just uses the LongFi network as a backbone to send location data. You won’t earn any HNT for purchasing or using an Invoxia device, but when you go through a compatible hotspot, its owner will. Turns out there are a lot of these things around: over 130,000 as of this writing. You can see where they are all on one practical card. (It’s also important to note that the device will regularly piggyback on your smartphone’s location services to update its location if you have it nearby. More on that later.)
Hide and seek
The device itself is nothing special – a small plastic rectangle that has no buttons or switches, only a micro-USB port used for charging. It could easily be mistaken for a USB power bank or (by my daughter) a vape pen, although the inclusion of a small strap adds a semblance of fashion to the thing.
All the functions of the Invoxia tracker are managed via its mobile application. To use it, you just need to plug the device in to charge it, then connect to it via Bluetooth in the app. The system asks you a few questions, such as what you are trying to track (e.g. car or backpack) and how often you want it to check its location. This can range from standard (every 10-14 minutes) to high (every 2-4 minutes), which will impact accuracy as well as battery life. A built-in tilt sensor can also detect and alert you if, for example, the motorcycle you are following has tipped over.
I tested the device in my car for several weeks, driving around the bay area with Invoxia in tow. I was skeptical of its usefulness – there is no helium hotspot near my house and only a few in the town where I live – but I was immediately surprised to see its map. Integrated from my travels grow with each trip I have taken.
After a week of testing, however, I realized that much of my luck was due to Invoxia using my phone’s location services instead of using the Helium network directly. I turned off bluetooth on my phone and my movements quickly stopped for days. It wasn’t until I ventured into more urban areas, including the heart of San Francisco, that the system started recording location pings. There were quite a few of them, and far fewer than the helium map would suggest. The bottom line is that Invoxia will work well in more populated areas where there are more helium hot spots (or if you have your phone nearby), but don’t expect to generate a minute-by-minute log of this. trip on Route 66.
While individual data points may be partially missing, the overall picture the system paints over time is effective. The map view is fun and it’s simple to zoom in on a single day or roll back to see the last six months of movement all at once. If you need more detailed resolution, Invoxia also makes a tracker that uses the cellular network as a backbone, but that comes at the cost of battery life.
The battery life of this non-cellular version seems solid. In my testing, the device reached 88 percent remaining after a week of use with the highest frequency update setting. It’s also worth noting that if you have an aftermarket USB port in your car, you can leave the Invoxia tracker plugged in and not worry about the battery at all.
The tracker costs $ 129 and comes with three years of service (after that the company says you’ll be able to renew the service plan for a reasonable price). That’s a lot less than conventional GPS trackers once you consider their subscription costs. And while the resolution isn’t perfect, it’s good enough for broadband tracking of your valuables. If helium takes off and becomes a global phenomenon, the prospects for the device are only getting better.