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GPS surveillance to keep kids safe

By Julie Clothier for CNN

The belt has a transmitter which has the child's whereabouts in it
Do you think the "Trac" is taking surveillance to a Big Brother-like extreme?
Child safety
GPS technology

LONDON, England (CNN) -- An English design graduate has come up with a modern version of the traditional child harness and leash, which has a high-tech twist.

Essex woman Karen Balbi, 21, created the device, called Trac, using GPS technology and an FM radio frequency, as part of her first-class honors product design degree.

The technology differs from that used to locate mobile phones. They use GSM technology, which is more expensive than radio waves.

The two-piece device allows parents to monitor their children's location and takes them there via a digital handheld display unit.

The child wears a belt, which contains a transmitter that constantly sends back information about the child's whereabouts to the parent's handheld device, and directs them to the location, using GPS technology.

Balbi says inspiration for the idea came from her own childhood experiences of wandering off, which often panicked her parents.

"Hopefully this will eliminate that panic feeling most parents experience when they let their children out of sight. It might only be for a couple of minutes but it doesn't matter how long it is, it's still very scary."

She says the invention is still in its early stages and a lot more work is needed before it becomes available in shops -- although she has had overwhelming interest from both manufacturers and parents about the need for such a device.

Her prototype cost £800 to create but she hopes to get the price down so that it can retail for less than £100.

In the U.S., parents can buy an $800 chip and place it into their children's backpack, which transmits their offspring's whereabouts to a handheld device back home.

Similar products that use the Internet to track a child's location are also available on the market.

Theme parks throughout the UK hoping to implement a tagging system for parent/child visitors have also expressed interest in using Balbi's invention.

However, she says some people have questioned the ethics of the device, criticizing it for taking surveillance to Big Brother extremes.

Balbi defends this saying the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

"The radio signal is encrypted so that, even though others can tune in, the information will not make any sense because it is scrambled," she says.

"I don't see how this can be described as a Big Brother tactic. You have a right to know where your child is. No-one else has access to that information."

And although she hopes to see Trac on shop shelves in the near future, having completed her course at Brunel University, in London, in the past month, her current focus is to find a graduate position in a company to help develop other ideas.

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