On Tracking the Emperor of Japan

I mean, not the real Emperor of Japan, obviously.

I'm speaking about my son, half-Japanese, that is five+ years old, and now loves to wander in parks and woods.

It's easy for him, to hide or get lost...

My Need

I would like to be sure of his whereabouts, being able to track him when possible or when needed. I don't want to give him a cellphone because, even if he might be somehow able to use it, it's not the right time and it's also useless. I don't want to waste a lot of money, obviously, and I also don't want to give other people/systems/companies the data associated to my son position or whatever (you'll surely won't be able to find any picture of him online: there aren't!).

My Opinion

I (obviously?) am against tracking people against their will. But also tracking in general is not so nice and some Self-Defense techniques are always useful to know. It's also probably difficult to explain this to my son, so technically it would be without his consent, but for now I can show him the “visual effects” of tracking and as soon as he grows up stop the tracking and trust him.

I've found a gazillion solutions, online, for tracking pets, people, cars, keys, ...

The easieast are obviously those associated with Bluetooth for keys, like Tile, Filo (hey, Filo it's Italian, give it a try!), Chipolo, and so on. There are a ton of them. But those are obviously quite useless, unless used to track whether my son pass some “safety range” distance. But I'm his father, it's my job to take a look at him. And also I'm currently trusting him that he does not run away randomly. The problem is not whether he passes a predefined distance, but where he is, when he already passed (after approval) such distance. Also, these things work almost exclusively through cellphone apps, and this means someone will probably have my position. Don't like.

There are some other of them like Esky Key Finder, Click 'n Dig! or Keyringer that don't use apps but work locally, with metre-short distance (30m for Esky, 20m for Click 'n Dig!, 100m for Keyringer) that simply use their range and a button to make the paired device ring to better find it. They seems quite interesting and also the distance are pretty fine. Eksy and Click 'n Dig! (and various other) are split into transmitter and receiver: not so practical if I want also my son being able to make my device ring.

Keyringer seems the most easy one since it could be operated also by my son: I can teach him that when he gets lost, simply clicking on the button will make my (or mother's) Keyringer make a loud sound and we can trace back ourselves. Doesn't give direction or distance, but 100m is way too much for a 5 years old kid and the sound seems so loud that even zombies will wake up (wondering what will think Japanese people hearing that loud sound while I'm searching for my emperor...). Very very interesting. As usual, tried to check for shipping and custom fees... but Keyringer doesn't ship in Italy. What a PITA...

2021-04-22 Update

Keyringer can actually be shipped to Italy at an additional $10.95! Writing to them they've simply found out a bug that excluded Italy from the allowed countries. Nice! But let me still experiment with My (to Be) Solution and then let's see...

I've then explored other solutions in Pet trackers like Tractive, Invoxia, Whistle and many other. But, again, they are using an app. This means that in this situation they'll not only know my position (and probably a gazillion amount of my other information), but also my son's one. Don't like.

I've found something interesting called LynQ. It all started some years ago through an IndieGoGo campaign that ended up pretty well. Now LynQ seems a pretty well established company even though they've turned into military...

Parentheses I remember around 2001 or so I've been proposed a graduation thesis about communication and data exchange in “unstable” environments, mostly the thing that now LynQ company is doing, but aimed at allowing Civil Protection department people to communicate easily in emergency situations like eartquake-, fire- or floods-hit places, and the like. Never thought about actual warfare. End

Still, this Lynq SMART COMPASS device seems the proper thing to use while walking in the woods, strolling in a crowded city like Tokyo (Have I said he's half-Japanese? It happen(ed) that we go there yearly) or something like that.

Let me put here some tech specs found on their site:

But, there is a big but(t). As you can see here, spending $579 for three devices (yep, let's give one also to my wife: unfortunately ;) I can't lose her...) it's way too expensive. That's about $200 per device. Not including shipping and custom fees. And also not including the fact that LynQ ships only in US and Canada.

I'm still very tempted by this device. Can't technically buy it and (more important) can't afford it, at the moment.

The Results

So I liked Keyringer and LynQ (even if it's way too expensive), but can't have them here in Italy. I could ask a wife's friend living is USA to buy three Keyringer for us, but still I'm worried about shipping and custom fees... Had to find something else. Well, let's see our dearest FOSS community what has to say on this.

FOSS to the Rescue

I've found a few interesting things directly on F-Droid and here you might thing I've said I don't want to give my son a cellphone. True. But, please, continue reading.

My (To Be) Solution

Being interested in having a portable, self-contained and possibly privacy-savvy solution, I've found an interesting combination that might help me find my son. Unfortunately, not viceversa: if my son is lost he cannot call for help with some magic button.

Enters Traccar.

Traccar is an open source tracking platform, with its own app client (yeah, yeah, I remember I said no cellphone!) and its own server. So, basically, I can download, install and make the Traccar Server run somewhere (a colleague told me that probably any free AWS or Heroku plan would be fine too) and receive tracking data there. I can even take care of turning the server off and cleaning its database when not needed, so most of the time. Then, going to Japan or spending a weekend in the woods, mountains or wherever, I can turn it on. Even safer.

And now, about the client. Yes, no cellphone. Or, better, I will have the Traccar app on my phone, taken from F-Droid. The app will be configured to connect to my server. And I can see the position on the map. (see demo servers for examples)

And what about the emperor?

Well, as you can see here, Traccar officially supports a quite long and good list of devices. So the plan is to give the emperor one of this devices, with its own SIM card and a proper plan, and then configure it to talk with my own server.

I've explored a good bunch of those devices and it seems to me that the so-called TK-106 is the proper one. Basically it's the eponymous of the TKSTAR company: Portable GPS Tracker TK106 and seems even very nice and easily portable. There is also a less nicer Portable GPS TRACKER TKSTAR Mini GPS Tracker that should be compatible. The first one is much nicer, and probably all that I need, since I can't buy Keyringer or LynQ here.

Actually, all this said, I only have to move to the implementation phase, or my son will grow up and this need will be no more!

I either have to find an European (possibly Swiss or Germany) provider that will allow me deploying the server at low cost or put a spare PC (had to find one!) connected to home WiFi, using ngrok or something similar, to tunnel it in the outside world. Closing the home network to such server should be enough: it won't see the other devices at home, and so any abuse will (hopefully) end at that server. As said. I can obviously turn it on only when needed, so limiting external reachability.

Then I have to download, install and configure the server and possibly secure the machine.

And it should be the biggest part of the trouble.

I'll keep you posted on possible further advancements on this topic.

On Tracking the Emperor of Japan by Marco Bresciani is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0