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Businessman introduces new GPS child tracker

Somewhere a computer screen is monitoring every footstep of twin boys running around the Gallivan Center.

It is showing when they dart from one corner to the next and indicates a safe 70-degree temperature at their location. If the children get scared, or even worse, if a predator snatches them, they can reach for a golf-ball-size device dangling off their bodies and press the small center button for help. Within 30 seconds, up to five adults would get an SOS text message on their cell phones.

Welcome to the future.

The little device flopping on the twins' belt loops, called the Amber Alert GPS, was unveiled Monday. It is a child tracker designed for children 2 to 12 years old.

The square device transmits a bread crumb trail for the person wearing it, visible through text messages or a Web portal. If the child leaves a pre-designated "safe zone" such as a school or playground, or arrives safely at a location, it can send a text message to inform the parent.

"Today is a great day for children," said creator Russ Thornton, a businessman from Sandy.

Thornton presented the device Monday alongside Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett.

The device, which costs more than $300, acts much like a cell phone. The basic plan is $10 per month but increases to as much as $50 for additional features and more text message updates.

Thornton had the idea for the device in 2005 when his son went missing in an amusement park.

"I know the fear of not being able to find your child," he said. "Even for a brief amount of time, it is an agonizing experience."

The Amber Alert GPS is the second generation of the product. The new version is smaller than its clunky predecessor and can be beaten up, even dunked in water.

Julia Howards, a spokeswoman for Amber Alert GPS, said designers created something that was "cool for kids, something they wanted to carry around." The tracker is available in four colors and allows for a host of specialty accessories, like pouches.

The device, which needs to be charged nightly, requires that parents text "WHERE" to a special phone number and in less than 30 seconds they receive a text with the exact location of the device. Other features, such as a temperature gauge, inform parents through a text message if the heat inside a parked car reaches unsafe levels. A small microphone also allows parents to call in and listen to what is going on in the area.

"Most children are not abducted," Thornton said. "With this device we're going to make parents' lives easier and safer. The core goal is that we save lives."

The device will be available through the company's Web site at www.amberalertgps.com.

e-mail: mgonda@desnews.com