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GPS Implants May Be More Fiction Than Science

08/30/2011 -

Xega is a Mexican private security company that specializes in protecting VIPs and GPS tracking technology for products and people. It’s known for an under-the-skin tracking technology that it says allows them to track kidnapping victims by satellite.

The company says it has made 178 rescues in the past decade using a small RFID implant about the size of a grain of rice. The implant relays a signal to a GPS device that a person wears externally. If the person and the GPS device get separated, Xega says it can use radio signals to find the implant and pinpoint their location.

For $2,000 annually, those with enough money to pay can have peace of mind that if they’re kidnapped, someone, somewhere, knows where they are.

But peace of mind may be all they have. RFID researchers say not to be fooled, calling the implants “nonsense” and “pure science fiction.”

RFID chips, like those used to track pets or merchandise, don’t have any power source of their own. They respond to electric signals passed over them. Something as small as the implant could not have enough power to transmit a signal, they say.

“There’s no way in the world something that size can communicate with a satellite,” Justin Patton, managing director of the University of Arkansas RFID Research Centertold the Washington Post. Even expensive systems with batteries on board are subject to interference and can only be read from short distances, Patton said.

And even with an external battery, a person’s rescuers would have to be within a couple hundred meters to actually determine their location and mount a rescue--an unlikely scenario. He also noted that water, which comprises most of the human body, would dull the signal.

Other security companies claim to provide wearable GPS devices for constant monitoring, but experts say even these seem unrealistic. A GPS that constantly emitted a signal would drain the battery quickly. In the average vehicle GPS unit, the battery onlylasts a few hourson a full charge.

In a unit as small as a grain of rice, the batterywouldn't last more than 15 minutes, according to Tracking System Direct.

For more on the limitations and capabilities of RFID chips, read “Italian Guns to be Manufactured with RFID Technology” from Security Management.

 photo by Danka from flickr