Typically, we think of GPS tracking devices as effective tools to secure our car, motorcycle, caravan, boat or business fleet. However, there have been some curious cases of GPS trackers being placed on objects you would perhaps find surprising. Here are four unconventional uses for GPS tracking that have yielded interesting results.
Shopping Cart Shoplift
(Photo by Jim, via WikiMedia Commons)
Shopping centres and supermarkets in Madrid, Spain, were losing thousands of shopping carts in 2011. After placing GPS trackers on shopping carts in theft prone areas, the Spanish police were able to trace them to a man who stole and sold them for scrap metal simply to pay for his rent. The trackers also led police to a junk yard owner and manager, both of whom were arrested.
The shopping cart thief allegedly stole around 3,000 shopping carts, at a value of around $400,000.
A Tracker in a Hay Stack
In 2012, farmers in Tillman County Oklahoma, USA, were facing severe droughts and had to resort to feeding their livestock hay. With the demand for hay rising, hay bales became a valuable commodity and a sought-after target by thieves.
After a report by a local farmer, claiming to have had 30 hay bales stolen, Sheriff Bobby Whittington sprang into action. He placed a GPS tracker inside one of the remaining hay bales and waited. Sure enough, the sheriff received an alert that night that the hay bale had been moved from its original location. When confronting the two thieves, who claimed the hay as their own, Sheriff Whittington showed them the GPS data and arrested the hay thieves.
Since the incident, hay theft has reportedly dropped dramatically in Tillman County.
Fake Pill Bottles Bust Drugstore Thieves
The black market for prescription drugs and pharmaceuticals is a constant issue facing law enforcement. To tackle this problem, in 2013, the New York Police Department deployed thousands of decoy pill bottles armed with GPS trackers with the intention of stopping armed robberies of drug stores and pharmacies, locating hidden stashes and deter would-be thieves. The decoy bottles were developed by Purdue Pharma and are labelled as OxyContin (a brand of oxycodone), a widely abused narcotic painkiller. They weigh just as much as a real bottle and rattle when shook.
A year later, in 2014, a reported 111 suspects involved in pharmacy robberies were caught across 33 states in the US thanks to decoy bottles.
Garbage-Loving Seagulls Spot Illegal Dumping Grounds
Due to high landfill taxes in European countries, a black market for illegal dumping became a lucrative business for white-collar criminals. Illegal dumping is often hard to track because of the degree of professionalism these criminals operate with.
To identify spots where illegal dumping took place, in 2016, the Functional Ecology and Evolutionary Center – part of the French National Center for Scientific Research, attached a small solar powered GPS tracker on 19 seagulls and released them back into the wild. Five of them consistently flew back to a closed landfill near the city of Huelva, Spain. When the researchers went to the site, they found that yes, indeed, illegal dumping had occurred.
Beyond the realm of motoring, the examples above show the potential of GPS trackers and how they can keep more than just our vehicles secure. From shopping carts to hay bales, pill bottles and seagulls - the GPS tracker is a versatile gadget. Perhaps, next we can attach GPS trackers on pieces of floating garbage to track larger piles out in the ocean. Or maybe we can track vermin to pinpoint their nests. Maybe someday, GPS trackers will be powerful and cheap enough to track priceless works of art. The possibilities are endless as technology evolves.
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