Child protection act

A UK company has developed a GPS-based child security device that uses biometric technology to ensure that it stays in constant contact with its wearer, in a bid to prevent abductions.

Northern Ireland internet technology company Tibus developed the KinderGuard device with the University of Ulster and medical monitoring specialist ST&D, and it hopes to produce a full-sized prototype ready for trials by December.

KinderGuard uses a GPS receiver to constantly track its wearer, and raises an alarm if he or she leaves the area in which they are expected to be. It also uses biometrics to monitor different biological identifiers and detect if it is removed from the child’s wrist.

Tibus chief executive Ray Douglas said: ‘The key ingredient is that it uses biometrics unique to individuals to distinguish between people, so if the device is either taken off or is worn by a different child it will trigger an alert.’

GPS tags for children are already available in the US, where there is huge concern about child abductions, and one child is reported missing every 45 seconds. But this will be the first such system to use biometrics, Douglas said.

‘The device we are up against in the US is called Wherify, which is simply a chunky bracelet locked on to the child,’ Douglas added. ‘This just tells you where the device is, so if it is taken off the child it is the device that will continue to be tracked. We are not tracking the device, we are tracking the person.’

A wireless link will allow anxious parents to track their child’s movements in real time via the internet.

The watch-like device, developed with EU funding, does not use standard biometric measures such as fingerprints or iris scans, but instead uses five different medical readings of attributes such as skin temperature and heart rate, meaning parents can also detect if their child is in distress.

The key identifying biometric measure will be kept secret to protect the system’s integrity. Tibus also hopes to market the device to government agencies for monitoring offenders on parole, while bluetooth technology will allow it to be used in building access systems and for security at air and sea ports.

Following development of the prototype, the company hopes to begin trials of 1,000 devices, involving people of different ages and backgrounds, which are expected to take six months.

‘We don’t want to just test the device on children, or people within the same ethnic background, as people from different backgrounds will have different readings,’ Douglas said.

He believes it will take three to six months to launch the product commercially, and said the device will cost parents around $199 (£109), with a small monthly fee for the service.

Tibus is looking for private funding to commercialise the device, and is also developing a smart card using similar technology, for use in credit cards and passports.

‘This will open up a new world for us in biometric passports and combating credit card fraud. If you hold the card, it will be able to identify you instantly,’ said Douglas. ‘If someone else takes the card it won’t work.’

A spokeswoman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said the organisation would reserve judgement on the benefit of the tags in preventing child abduction.

But Dr. Catherine Humphreys, a researcher in child protection at the University of Warwick, said children abducted by strangers are not generally known to be at risk. So to prevent abduction by strangers there would have to be blanket tagging of all children, which would be impossible, and could simply frighten them.