TracMe Personal Locator Beacon (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2006)

Ultralight personal locator beacon, but with a catch: no satellites...

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by Ryan Jordan | 2006-08-10 03:00:00-06

"Help, Emergency" ... "Help, Emergency" ... "Help, Emergency".

Those are the words (yes, words) emitted by the TracMe Personal Locator Beacon.

Which weighs only 1.6 ounces.

And it costs only $130.

But there's a catch ... or two ... or three ...

It doesn't talk to satellites.

You can only use it once.

And it relies on detection by - get this - an FRS / GMRS radio (Ch. 1 UHF) and it relies on location using RF direction finding (DF) equipment. The kind used by HamSAR (Ham Radio Search and Rescue) units for foxhunting on a Sunday afternoon.

TracMe Personal Locator Beacon (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2006) REVIEW SPOTLITE REVIEW - 1
The TracMe Personal Locator Beacon operates on the principle of radio frequency transmission of a repeating distress voice message (4X/minute) on the FRS / GMRS (UHF) Channel 1 frequency in the USA and Canada.

OK, before you freak out at the simplicity - or complexity - of this process, let's walk through it.

Joe Hiker takes a TracMe PLB into the bush. He makes sure to tell his wife, Jane, that he's carrying a TracMe beacon. Joe is to be gone for six days.

Joe takes a spill and a breaks his pelvis on Day ... oh ... how about Four? He activates his TracMe beacon and waits.

So Jane wakes up on Day Seven and Joe's not mowing the lawn.

She freaks out. Calls Sam Sheriff. "Joe's not home! He's carrying a TracMe!"

Sam Sheriff: "He's carrying a whut? He's tracking who?"

OK, we got off track.

Let's assume Sam Sheriff knows about a TracMe.

He will offer one of two responses.

The first is, "Unnnnggh. We'll never find him. We don't have a ham radio operator within 200 miles that knows how to DF."

The second is more reasonable. Sam issues a SAR call for Ham's (the radio guys), Hasty (backcountry search unit), Posse (frontcountry search unit), and Heli (helicopter team).

Hasty packs, goes to the trailhead, and starts hiking in search of Joe. Posse assembles at the trailhead for backup and followup search support. The Heli guys grab FRS radios and take off for the area in which Joe was hiking. The Hams grab their DF equipment (sensitive radio frequency detection antennas) and wait at the trailhead.

Heli starts flying over Joe's area, monitoring Ch. 1 on their FRS radios. After forty minutes of flying, they hear it.

"Help, Emergency" ... "Help, Emergency" ... "Help, Emergency".

They call the Hasty team and send them to the ground area where the humanoid PLB voice was detected for a land based search of the same area. Hams with DF antennas follow.

When the Hams arrive in the general area, they turn on their RF receivers for the frequency corresponding with UHF Ch. 1 on FRS. Within twenty minutes of arriving in the general area, they detect the RF signal from the PLB. Within 30 minutes, they follow the signal and find the victim.

He's saved!

That's a best case, but certainly not an unrealistic scenario.

The difficulties are not in the technology on which the TracMe is based, but on the availability of and quality of the technologies for RF sweeping (such as plane or helicopter flyovers of the general area while monitoring with GMRS), and DF equipment and experienced users.

All the hikers in the world could carry a TracMe, but without the infrastructure to support a TracMe search, it's useless.

Whereas satellite-based EPIRB's came after the infrastructure to support it (satellites) was already here, the TracMe is an end user product without the infrastructure to support it - yet.

TracMe Personal Locator Beacon (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2006) REVIEW SPOTLITE REVIEW - 2
Deployed, this photo shows the TracMe's small transmission antenna. Its light weight and low power effectively limit its range to 500m to 1km, but does so for seven days. The tradeoff is a signal amplitude that is strong enough to be heard by low power DF antennas and FRS / GMRS radios, but not by longer distance RF detection equipment.

Specifications

  • Weight: 1.6 oz
  • Frequency: FRS Ch. 1 462.5625 (USA & Canada / separate frequencies for Australia and Europe)
  • Water Resistance: to 1m
  • Transmission Range: 500m to 1km
  • Operation Duration After Activation: ~ 7 days
  • Shelf / Storage Life: ~ 10 years
  • Greatest Benefits: Low cost, light weight
  • Greatest Limitations: Search must be initiated by a third party to file a missing/overdue report, requires supporting SAR infrastructure


Citation

"TracMe Personal Locator Beacon (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2006)," by Ryan Jordan. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/tracme_plb.html, 2006-08-10 03:00:00-06.

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Forum Index » Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2006 » TracMe Personal Locator Beacon (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2006)


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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
TracMe Personal Locator Beacon (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2006) on 08/11/2006 01:17:50 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

TracMe Personal Locator Beacon (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2006)

John S.
(jshann) - F
More info on 08/11/2006 07:32:31 MDT Print View

http://www.tracme.com.au/product_details.htm

Summit CO
(Summit) - F

Locale: 9300ft
EPIRB on 08/11/2006 10:10:51 MDT Print View

That really really looks like it is a 121.5MHz EPIRB, not a 406MHz PLB.

In other words, once COSPAS/SARSAT disables the 121.5MHz sattellite deteaction in the next year or two (assuming sats could hear that) that device would only be usefull if someone was already looking for you and knew you had it or if someone who happened to fly over you was monitoring 121.5.

But maybe I am wrong.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: EPIRB on 08/11/2006 10:24:38 MDT Print View

It's not a 121.5.

Summit CO
(Summit) - F

Locale: 9300ft
Not an EPIRB.. .Then What? on 08/11/2006 10:43:14 MDT Print View

"Voice beacon – can be monitored by anyone on the existing radio emergency channel."

I figured that meant the 121.5 air distress freq...

Then what is it? It doesn't show a sattellite on the website... so is it a 406 that is only powefull enough to be received in the local area?

Most SAR teams don't have 406 receivers. Our team has a 121.5 RDF. CAP, when they fly, detects on 121.5 AFAIK. AFAIK PLBs had 406 for sat detection and 121.5 for local pinpointing if the sat triangulation wasn't accurage enough.

Now I am really interested to know more! :) That thing is TINY TINY TINY! I'll drop them an email.