SciTech

Tile device uses Bluetooth to locate missing belongings

Tile (credit: Braden Kelner/Editor-in-Chief) Tile (credit: Braden Kelner/Editor-in-Chief)

Tired of losing your apartment keys, purse, and laptop? Need to find them quickly as you’re rushing out your front door on the way to classes?

Tile, a simplistic square device created by a startup company founded by Nick Evans and Mike Farley, allows buyers to find the things they attach the device to with the help of a phone app. A user can attach the tile, no bigger than a key, to almost anything.

There’s a small hole in the top corner of the device to pull a string or chain through to secure it to any desired object — as long as the user can get creative when trying to attach the device to accessories without obvious attachment places, like a laptop or tablet.

But how does the square piece of technology help people locate the things they lose?

Tile is essentially a Bluetooth-transmitting device that connects wirelessly to a phone to keep track of where a lost object is at a given moment. The device uses Bluetooth 4.0, which was first introduced in cell phones in the iPhone 4S. Compared to previous Bluetooth technology, Bluetooth 4.0 consumes very little energy, meaning devices do not waste as much battery.

According to the device’s website, a Tile can last for about a year without the user needing to charge the battery. After that year, the website also states that the company will help users recycle their old Tiles and replace them with their most current model.

The device works like this: Say your roommate borrows your laptop to do some work and moves to your dorm’s lounge. The Tile attached to the laptop will stay connected with your phone to show the movement of the portable computer as your roommate moves it into the lounge. Tiles have a Bluetooth radius of about 100 feet, meaning that the device will tell you the location of the object it is attached to is as long as the Tile is in range. Of course, there are many factors that can disrupt or weaken a Bluetooth signal, including walls or other large barriers. If the Tile is not in range, the phone app can only tell you the last location that it was able to pick up.

Tile also offers the option for users to find items through Community Find. This feature allows other phones with the downloaded Tile app to pick up on a Tile’s location as long as the app is running.

For example, someone else with the Tile app open on a 61A headed to Giant Eagle will pick up the signal of the Tile attached to your wallet that you dropped earlier under the seat. Your own Tile app will let you know that someone else’s Tile app picked up on your lost object. The person whose Tile app picked up your device won’t be able to see the device’s location. Even if your Tile is out of range, it’s possible to get real-time updates about its location from other Tile users, who are, at the moment, slim compared to the number of cell phone users on the planet. This feature may need a larger base of users before it is actually a feasible way to find objects out of range.

The app can support eight Tiles and contains a circular bar that shows users when they’re getting closer to their Tile. When they’re far away, the Tile’s signal will show up weak on the screen. But as users get closer to the lost object, the app will show increased signal strength, meaning they’re getting closer to their mark.

When users get close to the Tile, there’s an option to activate sound through a built-in speaker.

The device and its accompanying app works on phones running iOS7 or iOS8 on the iPhone 4S or later. Currently, there is no Tile app for Android devices, although the website has an Android Engineer job listing posted to its website.