Friday, 19 October 2012

That is not how it works - or is it?

"In the very near future, someone, somewhere, will purchase a chocolate bar. The bar will be equipped with a GPS signalling device. When activated it will beam a signal in to space, bounce off a satellite, and return to Earth. This will alert a secret control room who will scramble a crack team of highly trained individuals. They will board a helicopter, find the special bar, and give the owner £10,000. Cue girly scream. Find a special GPS bar of KitKat, Aero, or Yorkie, and we will find you with £10,000."

That is not how GPS works. GPS receivers get signals from satellites, several of them, and use these to work out where they are. Any signalling of the location of the bar will not involve the bar or GPS signalling device sending a signal in to space. There is no chance that a small GPS tracking device in a chocolate bar will be doing that. At best it will signal using mobile data.

Now, there are adverts where what they state is clearly fiction, which is fine. The problem with adverts like this is that they are not obviously fiction, they are stating something that just re-enforces peoples misunderstandings. Why do that? Does it make the offer sound even better somehow? Do we not have rules against lies in adverts? It is annoying.

If I find one, I may have to take a holiday somewhere with no mobile signal, and then activate it, so see if they meet the 24 hour time they put in their T&Cs. After all, if the advert were true, that would not matter, would it?

Update:

I may be wrong! It is true that (a) GPS trackers normally work as I have described above: with a GPS receiver and a mobile data module, and (b) that there is an annoying common misconception that GPS receivers somehow send a signal in to space. However, they may have been extra clever here in making an advert that annoys people like me, that are fed up explaining this to people - if so, I am impressed, and my blog post has helped spread their advert as they intended, well done!

As some people have pointed out to me - there are in fact some devices that do signal to a satellite. Suddenly it makes sense, as these things are intended as SOS devices for people that go mountaineering and the like so they can get help wherever they are. What also makes sense is the helicopters, as that is exactly what these services would do to rescue such a person. It sounds like maybe they are using such a service, perhaps to show off the service itself in a followup advert when someone has won. Even so, I will be surprised if somehow they fit such a device in a chocolate bar!

Re-reading the wording, it is interesting for the cynical. Normally the advert is worded such that you are now buying something that has a chance of winning a prize - like a lottery scratch card. However, it starts "In the very near future, someone, somewhere, will purchase a chocolate bar. The bar will be equipped with a GPS signalling device...". They are not actually saying there are in fact such bars now are they, just that "In the very near future...". So maybe they have not released them just yet.

I also seriously doubt a satellite signalling device would fit in the weight of an Aero bar, let alone the size, thereby making it very easy to find without opening the bar.

9 comments:

  1. Actually, something like a Spot 2 tracker (http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B002PHRDO2/) can reasonably be shrunken to the size of a KitKat bar, considering that most of the regular size device is made up of batteries intended to last for weeks, while these just need to last 24 hours (triggered by unpacking the bar).

    These are sending satellite signals back, not GSM. They don't mention which satellites they're using (http://www.findmespot.eu/en/index.php?cid=108), but you'd have to go pretty far to be outside their coverage map.

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  2. SPOT uses GlobalStar http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GlobalStar

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  3. OK, well, will be interesting to find out.

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  4. I think I'd rather have the £10K than try to prove a point.

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  5. They've probably not even released the 10k bar yet.. they won't until the current advertising run has finished - the moment someone wins it the adverts cease to have the desired effect of making more people buy their particular brand of chocolate.

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  6. I'd be rather annoyed if I found that my kitkat bar had been replaced by a gps tracker.
    After all I bought a kitkat for the purposes of eating. I wonder if you could sue them if you bit into and swallowed part of it, what if you are blind?

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  7. I think it should be possible to fit the whole shebang into an Aero bar with a stripped down device. The lightest bar I could find being an Aero Peppermint Single at 41g (http://www.ocado.com/webshop/product/Aero-Peppermint-Single/78035011). The Spot2 tracker linked above weighs 42.2g without casing and batteries, but it was engineered to be durable, reliable and work for weeks at a time, so there's a lot of weight that could be stripped from that if need be (put it on a single PCB instead of two, remove switches and any other interface stuff and use lighter shielding) and still leave enough room (and weight allowance) to fit a lithium battery or three (the popular CR2032 weighing 3.2g per 3V/210mAh). And to take your idea of marketing collaboration a bit further, it'd be awfully convenient to combine with a new Spot model that weighs "as little as an Aero bar".

    And then there are also larger 100g Aero Bars (http://www.poundland.co.uk/product-range/a-z/100g-nestle-aero-mint-bar/), which would fit the existing model and plenty of batteries to power it.

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  8. You (and the advertisers) are describing an EPIRB. These are very common for offshore sailors, and usually bigger than a chocolate bar, but I've seen ones advertised in a wristwatch, so not quite so fantastical as you might imagine. I think the watch ones are detectable by overflying aircraft rather than satellite, but I'm not an expert. However, in the UK, I'm sure a GPS receiver and GSM transmitter would be cheaper and just as good...
    http://www.luxist.com/2005/08/09/breitling-emergency-43mm-chronograph-with-distress-transmitter/

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  9. There's no way in the World they could be using EPIRB (or Personal Locator Beacon - an earlier version) technology for this. It's an international emergency service, and would be like making the thing from a mobile phone that dialled 999 when you opened the packet, only worse! It would be sending a MAYDAY message, meaning "Someone's life is in danger at this location" and to use it for a tacky advertising campaign would get someone locked up...

    If an EPIRB or PLB is triggered accidentally (it's happened - some aircraft-mounted ones only need a switch to be operated) they will scramble a Search-and-Rescue helicopter, and when they find it's a false alarm they will most likely charge you for the cost of the sortie, which will be well into four figures.

    Could it possibly be using the Iridium (satellite telephone) system, perhaps sending the equivalent of an SMS message to a comms satellite that then forwards it to the intended recipients?

    Of course, the helicopter part of the advert shows how much tongue is in cheek: what happens if the person opens it on the Underground, or aboard an aircraft, or even just in the centre of a city? There are so many places a helicopter can't go!

    Cheers,
    Howard


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