Protag’s tracking device enlists the help of strangers to find your lost stuff

Ever since Bluetooth Low Energy chips emerged, a growing number of object tagging and tracking services have sprouted up to take advantage of the technology’s potential as a proximity-based sensor. Innova Technology is one of those companies, but starting this week it’s offering a twist to its new Protag Elite devices.
In addition to using Bluetooth LE as a kind of radar to keep track of your valuables, Protag now has new crowd collaboration features into its apps so strangers can help you find your stuff if it gets lost. On Wednesday Innova plans to kick off an Indiegogo campaign to raise $100,000 for the new credit-card-sized Elite tag, which will eventually incorporate these new features. The first 1,000 backers can get its rechargeable device for $29.
Tag makers like Innova, Tile and Stick-N-Find basically take advantage of Bluetooth LE’s usefulness for proximity-based communications. Since Bluetooth has such short range, it can be used as a kind of location detector — when you’re connected to an object it’s nearby, when you’re not, it’s not. Companies like NewAer are trying to build platforms around such proximal networks, adding a location-aware element to everyday objects in the internet of things.
PROTAG Elite_laptop
The tag makers have the same goal but a very specific use case. They’re using your smartphone as a proximity sensor, helping you find your tagged things when they’re within Bluetooth range and making records of an object’s last location when you sever that connection. So for instance, if you get up from a café table and leave your bag, a tag app will alert you once it can no longer detect the bag in your vicinity. That works great for stationary objects, but some, like a child or pet, can move independently on their own. Their last known location won’t necessarily be the place where they wind up.
Tile was the first to start tapping into the power of the masses. Its technology will crowdsource location among all Tile users, so even if you’re out of range of your tag, other Tile users in its vicinity can place your object on a map. Innova plans to offer similar features to its Elite tags in December, but it’s also adding a collaborative communications element.
Normally Protag’s crowdsourcing software acts passively, searching for lost items and then alerting the items’ owners, not the owner of the smartphone doing the sleuthing. But Protag will let you reach out to the smartphone that detected your lost valuable and let you enlist its owner’s help in recovering your item.
It’s certainly a nifty a feature, one that would appear to be a godsend in, say, a missing child emergency. But it should also raise some red flags. Scammers could easily take advantage of a feature like this, using “lost articles” to mark would-be good Samaritans. Innova will have to put some controls in place to ensure the app isn’t abused.