Gone are the days when parents stood on the back porch and shouted for their kids.
The AmberWatch Foundation, a nonprofit group focused on preventing child abduction, announced the pending launch of a Global Positioning System software application called AmberWatch Mobile. Parents can use the application to monitor their children's movements and children can use it to send an alert to their parents notifying them of their exact location.
The software enabling the service can be downloaded to a child's GPS-enabled cellphone. It then allows parents to log on to a dedicated Web site, amberwatchmobile.com, and quickly pinpoint their child's cellphone location. The child can also zap his or her location from the GPS-compatible handset via text message or email to the parent's phone by hitting a few keys on their cellphone.
The application can also be set up to send an alert to a parent's cellphone when the child gets home from school, or strays from a designated area, creating a kind of digital fence.
Eventually, the application could also be linked to a panic button on the child's cellphone which, when pressed, emits a high-decibel sound to ward off potential abductors.
It's still unclear when the software will hit the market, and it's still being developed by WaveMarket Inc., a company that develops location-tracking technology for cellphones. The foundation says it's in talks with major wireless carriers to support the service, which users would be able to download from a Web site onto their handsets for $4.99 a month. Half of the fee would be donated to the AmberWatch Foundation. No carriers have committed yet.
The service is part of a wave of new GPS products appearing on the market, as GPS chips are built into an increasing number of handsets, partly a result of government regulations that require them for 911 purposes. Other GPS services include navigation tools and "buddy finders" that help track locations of friends.
A few companies have already developed products that keep tabs on children, such as Walt Disney Co.'s Disney Mobile and Sprint Nextel Corp., which both offer similar Family Locator services that let parents look up their child's location on a Web site or cellphone.
But AmberWatch Mobile will be the first GPS application that also lets the child initiate the sending of exact GPS coordinates to parents.