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Motorola licenses wireless tracking tech

Motorola Inc. will license wireless technology from a startup led by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak to develop tracking devices.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Motorola Inc. is licensing wireless technology from a startup led by Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak to develop devices and services that can monitor the locations of people, pets or important possessions.

The vague announcement, slated for release Thursday, does not call for the development of any particular type of device or the addition of the technology to specific products already made by Motorola such as cell phones, pagers and walkie-talkies.

Still, the deal marks the first major technology endorsement for Wheels of Zeus Inc., which hopes to parlay a combination of innovation and Wozniak's cachet into success despite the existence of other devices that can track the location of children, pets and Alzheimer's patients.

"We're trying to make new inroads and do something that has been done at higher cost and bring it down to everyday prices," Wozniak said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The wireless platform, dubbed "wOzNet" as a play on Wozniak's nickname, uses a wireless tag that picks up signals from global positioning satellites, then transmits that information up to several miles to a base station or other receiving device using a low-power radio signal _ the same spectrum used by many cordless phones.

Motorola plans to use the technology within its home broadband division, which makes cable TV boxes, modems and wireless networking products.

More specific product announcements could come later in 2004, both companies said.

Potential product developments might include a standalone tracking device and base station as well as integration within cell phones and other portable devices, personal computers and future home networking systems.

Likewise, the wireless tracking is handled in different ways. One possibility is direct communication between two devices.

"Let's say you're a parent, you have four kids, and as soon as they hit the amusement park they run in four directions," said Vince Izzo, director of business development in consumer solutions business for Motorola Broadband. "You could set the thing to let you know if any of them is more than 50 feet away from you."

Going a step further, if a parent wants to monitor an older child without going to the amusement park, a cell phone company or the operators of the park could track the child's location and transmit that information over the Internet to a base station at home.

Wozniak said he personally prefers the notion of using a device and base station designed specifically for tracking rather than incorporating the technology in a cell phone and a home computer.

"I don't like the approach where the computer gets used for 10 different things," he said. "If the thermostat is on the wall, leave it on the wall. I don't like complicating your computer life."

He'd also rather have the tracking devices communicate directly rather than through a service provider charging a fee. Between regular telephone service, cellular, cable TV and Wi-Fi, "People are getting a little leery of one more high-priced monthly service bill," Wozniak said.

Gina Clark, vice president of marketing and business development for Wheels of Zeus, said the company continues to seek other partners in developing uses for its technology, but that "our premier partner is clearly Motorola" for consumer products.