Have a problem with losing things? A pair of gloves is one thing, not too expensive and relatively easy to replace. But what about that “free” cell phone, which costs a couple hundred dollars to replace? Or your teenager’s new $250 MP3 player? And then there’s the most valuable of valuables—curious toddlers off exploring a new environment, who suddenly drop out of sight.
Remote Play, headquartered in Lawrenceville, can help habitual cell phone and MP3 misplacers as well as the desperate parents of wandering toddlers with products it has developed using custom wireless tracking technologies. Its two principal products are a toddler tracking device, In-Reach, and a newer tracking device for lost valuables, Tag Alert.
Ari Naim, president and CEO of Remote Play, makes a product presentation at the New Jersey Technology Council’s half-day “Wireless Evolution: Applications, Services and Content Expo,” on Tuesday, February 28, at 1 p.m. at Stevens Institute of Technology’s Babbio Center in Hoboken. Sponsors are Drinker Biddle, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Wachovia Bank. Topics include mobile multimedia and marketing, place shifting, social networks, location-based services (for example, cell phones with global positioning systems, and streaming ads from local restaurants), mobile video streaming, and other technology and network developments. Cost: $50, but $5 for students. Register online at www.njtc.org. For more information, call 856-787-9700.
The technology that Naim’s three-year-old company uses is called active RFID (radio frequency identification). This technology is expected to gain wide acceptance, says Naim, the price for an RFID tag comes down from the current 60 to 70 cents. For example, Wal-Mart eventually will require all of its vendors to use RFID tags on all items, both for security tracking and inventory control. Active RFID uses a tiny battery in the tag to increase the range between the tag and the monitor that tracks it. Passive RFID devices, on the other hand, have no batteries, require an expensive reader, and have a range of about a foot.
With Remote Play’s In-Reach Child Tracking System, marketed by Safety 1st, the parent has a monitor and the child a tag. There is a dependable range of 300 feet between parent and child. The parents’ device has an LCD and can be set for six different distance levels. If the toddler wanders past one of the set distances, the parent is instantly alerted. The parent can also press a button that makes the child’s device emit a high-pitched alarm, which will draw attention to child. Older toddlers can push a panic key if they get lost. The cost is $119.
The company’s personal assets security device, called Tag Alert, protects valuables through the use of very tiny tags. Naim estimates their 2-1/2 millimeter thickness as two-thirds the height of two quarters stacked. The battery runs continuously for 6 months, so “you don’t have to think to turn it off and on. It’s a little bodyguard.”
How many people have put down their phone, laptop, or even their Ray-Ban sunglasses, at a restaurant, and simply walked away? Or they’re jogging and the phone flips out of their pockets. Three hours and 20 errands later, they realize they’ve lost something and have to retrace their steps. With Tag Alert, once the item exceeds the range you’ve set, the monitor — used as a key fob or clipped to clothing — sends an alert. “If you are 10 to 15 feet away, and it starts buzzing,” says Naim, “your ability to retrieve it is high.” Of course, Tag Alert will not prevent a 6’ 4” burglar from grabbing a laptop and running.
Naim envisions many types of users for tag alert: jet setters who run from one plane to the next and leave their luggage in the overhead bin; elderly people who are becoming more forgetful; and nine-year-old kids who may have $500 worth of stuff in their GameBoy pouches.
Naim believes that Tag Alert’s value goes beyond avoiding loss. A special car version of the product, he says, removes the “hassle factor” of driving to work, say, and forgetting something essential like your cell phone. The Tag Alert is available in Sharper Image stores with two tags and a monitor for $49 and with one tag and monitor, $39, and Naim foresees a lower price by the end of the year.
Future versions of the Tag Alert should be able to track 5 to 10 different items — keys, purse, laptop, MP3 player, cell phone. Remote Play is also evaluating using RFID networks to track patients in a hospital.
Although Remote Play’s products are custom, the field has been developing two formalized standards. Standards are developed by committees and create compatibility between products made by different companies. For example, if you have a phone from Motorola and a headset from Phillips, you need a standard so that the two can communicate. The first wireless standard, Blue Tooth, is used by people who are walking around with headsets that communicate with their cell phones. Another standard — not as mature as Blue Tooth — is Zigbee. Pioneered by people interested in home automation, Zigbee is still expensive and developing.
Remote Play uses nonstandard, custom wireless. “The advantage of custom,” says Naim, “is that we don’t have to satisfy a list of requirements. If we used Zigbee, it would be more expensive, the battery life worse, and it would not be commercially viable.” Nonstandard products, however, are a possibility only when you control both sides of the communication.
Remote Play is Naim’s third company. The first, which he started in 1987, did R & D and government contracts. The next one, Digital 5, was founded in 1993 to commercialize portable digital audio. Naim says that Digital 5 was the first to create, design, and manufacture this technology, and the company sold it both under its own brand and for other companies like RCA, Phillips, and Dictaphone. It was also the first to create digital audio downloads from the Internet, which evolved into the MP3 player. Naim says he was shocked when the iPod appeared in stores —he considered the technology too fragile for the consumer market. “You drop it once and it’s finished,” he says.
Naim’s father was an Israeli foreign service officer, and he grew up all over the world. He was born in Nairobi, Kenya; his sister in Tokyo, Japan; and only his brother in Israel (his family returned to Israel so that at least one child would be a native). His mother was originally a Bostonian. After finishing his army service in 1985, Amir came to Drexel University in Philadelphia, where he got a bachelor’s degree in chemical and electrical engineering, a master’s in electrical engineering, and, in 1992, a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering.
Remote Play has three other cofounders: Israel Amir, chief technology officer; Ari Naim’s brother, Gideon Naim, chief financial officer; and Karups Annamalai, vice president of engineering. The company has 10 employees in Lawrenceville, 10 in India, and a few in Hong Kong. It uses outside contractors for manufacturing.
Naim appears to have found a deep niche in the evolving world of wireless. The chances of losing things is pretty good. According to an ABC News report, 18,000 items are turned into the lost-and-found department at Grand Central Station each year. MSNBC, in January, 2005, reported that, “an estimated 11,300 laptops computers, 31,400 handheld computers, and 200,000 mobile phones were left in taxis during the last six months.”
What would their owners give to have the data-filled $3,000 laptops or the cell phones, with their programmed numbers, back? Naim’s company is banking on the answer coming in at just about $39, the price of one of his wireless tags.