Car thieves had better polish their resumes. Their career of choice may become a memory when a new satellite communication device that can track a stolen car in near real time -- even before the owner finds out the car is gone -- hits the market. The new technology, which allows direct and almost instantaneous communication between a central monitoring station and remote assets such as cars, power lines, and vending machines, was developed by SatSmart Ltd., a start-up at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology business incubator company.
SatSmart developed a compact unit that creates a global, two-way communication pipeline that bypasses the Internet or other phone lines currently used with standard satellite-based monitoring systems, eliminating the resulting delays of minutes or hours in receiving messages. Compared to competing anti-auto theft devices, for example, SatSmart does not require the owner to report the theft, avoiding delays, and allows the car to be tracked anywhere, instead of only within an urban response area.
In addition to tracking stolen cars and power lines, the two-way data transmission opens a wide range of applications including monitoring pipelines in remote locations, providing instant leak alerts; supervising far-flung cargo; monitoring vending machines; monitoring power lines, signaling electrical failure; finding lost trekkers or sea craft; and residential and commercial security.
"With organizations operating globally, with branches and equipment spread out over continents, there's a growing need for instantaneous, low cost monitoring," says Zvi David, SatSmart chief executive officer. "This is especially true in outlying areas where equipment such as pipelines, pumps and electricity transformers may be located far from roads and transportation networks."
While satellite communication is mainly valued for its ability to transmit large streams of information for telephone, radio and television (broadband uses), satellites are also increasingly needed for transmitting small -- but critical -- data streams from remote locations (narrowband uses). In contrast to broadband applications that require large antennae and complex signal processing equipment, narrowband applications can use extremely compact antennae and small receiving units.
But the downside of existing narrowband systems is that they funnel data from a satellite to a central gateway and thence through the Internet or other phone line to a monitoring station, slowing the process down considerably, in some cases by hours.
The SatSmart modem eliminates these delays with a small unit that currently sends data through the gateway but will soon allow direct communication from remote sites to the satellite and from the satellite directly to the customer's monitoring station, allowing messages to be delivered in seconds. The signals travel from the modem to one of the low-orbit satellite communication providers, which then relays it to the intended recipient modem. The Smart 2000 unit, which according to SatSmart costs less than existing satellite modems, combines a small internal antenna with data processing and storage and is fully programmable. The technology involved is patent pending.
One of the early applications of the SatSmart system is in the anti-car theft device called Car-Smart 2000. It uses a Smart 2000 modem combined with a car alarm and Global Position Satellite (GPS) modem. When a theft occurs, the alarm is set off, activating the modem and sending a signal throughout the satellite system to a response center. The GPS unit automatically tracks the car anywhere in the world and allows police to retrieve it before it gets to a chop-shop. At present, the return signal has to pass through the Internet but within months the signal will go directly to a Smart 2000 modem at the response center.
SatSmart was developed in collaboration with the Aerospace Faculty at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, a recognized global leader in the field. A Technion built microsatellite, launched in July 1998, is currently in orbit.
Materials provided by American Society For Technion, Israel Institute Of Technology. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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