A parent wanting to keep tabs on kids at Disneyland, a UC Santa Barbara student hoping to locate a stolen bicycle, and a forgetful person looking for misplaced car keys may have different problems, but the same technology could save them all.
That TrackR software comes courtesy of Santa Barbara-based Phone Halo, which since 2009 has produced seven generations of devices designed to locate lost valuables such as phones, keys and anything else prone to disappearing.
The company has shipped more than 200,000 devices — now the size of credit cards for wallets and thick stickers for key chains — since its founding by two UCSB graduates, who plan to launch Phone Halo’s latest, still-secret creation next month.
Phone Halo expanded earlier this year into a second-floor West Carrillo Street office, housing 20 full-time and part-time employees, with room to grow.
As technology evolves, so does Phone Halo’s business, said CEO Chris Herbert, who graduated from UCSB with an electrical engineering degree in 2009 — the same year he and co-founder Christian Smith, a mechanical engineering major, took home the top prize in UCSB’s New Venture Competition.
The main principle of TrackR will remain, however.
“We are constantly losing our stuff,” Herbert said. “We saw that the phone was the central part of it. But it’s not really just the phone. It’s everything around the phone.”
Users can customize TrackR devices, starting at $29.95, to sound an alert “chirping noise” if they’ve left a smartphone behind. They can press a button on the device to find a phone, causing it to ring regardless of whether it’s on silent, and vice versa, the app can locate the device.
Devices use Bluetooth low energy and coin-sized batteries, replaced every year.
Phone Halo also recently rolled out crowd GPS technology, which allows users to tap into the surrounding network of users to locate items.
So far, it’s an opt-in service, but those who do get GPS updates.
“It’s like everyone in our network is helping to find your stuff,” Herbert said.
Some 13,000 devices shipped this month alone, thanks to the reach of the Internet and because few companies boast the software.
Herbert said Phone Halo hopes to become more engaged in the community, and that loyal locals will soon fully embrace crowd GPS.
He noted Phone Halo’s progress since its first prototype at UCSB, now well on the way to creating a world where residents no longer go on frustrating, fruitless scavenger hunts.