Low-cost tracking device available

 - April 30, 2009, 11:54 AM

New Zealand-based Spidertracks is offering a low-cost, portable satellite-tracking device that might appeal to helicopter operators. According to its designers, it is a carry-on accessory that does not need certification.

Spidertracks uses GPS for positioning and Iridium satellites for communications. The device sends coordinates, speed, altitude and direction to the Spidertracks Web site. Authorized users can access the Web site and track the helicopter on Google maps.

“Our system should eventually replace ELTs, which are unreliable,” director Bruce Bartley told AIN. The company claims its product is a safety aid, “taking the search out of search and rescue.” For example, if the pilot feels he is entering a relatively dangerous phase of flight, he can press a “monitor me” button; “using this function means ‘If you stop getting my reports, consider this is an alert,’” Bartley said. Under the “monitor me” status, the helicopter’s location flashes on the map.

The user can pre-define four text messages. They are sent by SMS and e-mail. Text messaging is two-way. “We are going to full text capability with the addition of a PDA,” Bartley pledged.

There is no external antenna for the lightweight device, which weighs less than a pound.  

The Spidertracks transceiver is priced at $2,000. The subscription fee is just under $20 a month, and the fee per message is $0.10. This translates into a $1.50 hourly rate for updates every four minutes.

Spidertracks is now looking for a distribution agreement with a helicopter manufacturer. It has a similar agreement with Cessna for fixed-wing aircraft.