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WOZ Claims Tracking Breakthrough

Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak’s claims to have created a network that enables assets to be tracked from up to two miles away.
By Jennifer Maselli
Aug 07, 2003Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Computer, announced that he has invented a new kind of wireless network—dubbed wOzNet—that can be used with tags to track pets, children and assets from up to two miles away. But his new company, Wheels of Zeus, won't say much about the low-power, long-range technology behind it.
WOZ's Wozniak

After 18 months in stealth mode, WOZ emerged last week to a shower of media attention. The company says that its technology will work in the UHF spectrum (900MHz). It includes a low-cost global positioning system chip, and base stations that will relay information from the tracking devices.

It's not clear whether wOzNet will piggyback on the existing cellular telephone network infrastructure or create an entirely new infrastructure. But the company claims its system will allow someone to locate an object or person using a handheld device, which will sell for an estimated $200 to $250. The first products to use the network will be announced in the first half of next year.

The system is designed to be used by consumers, but it could have business implications if it becomes widely deployed. GPS tracking devices cost $500 and up today, plus communications fees. If wOzNet could extend the tracking range by linking base stations to the Internet, then it would be possible to track an asset within range of any base station.

WOZ plans to license the technology to consumer electronics companies. It's not clear who will build and deploy the base stations. Another big question is privacy. Wozniak says it's not an issue because communications over the network will be encrypted. That may protect someone from learning the whereabouts of another person’s assets. But it wouldn't stop the police or anyone else from attaching a tag to someone's car or briefcase to keep track of his or her movements.

Even with all the unknowns, people are taking Wozniak seriously, mainly because he was the technical genius behind the first Apple computer. He's also surrounded himself with experienced people. Chief Operating Officer Rich Rifredi, who is responsible for developing and overseeing the company’s infrastructure and strategic direction, came from Pixo, a company that developed applications and platforms for wireless phones and which has since been acquired by Sun Microsystems. Frank Canova, WOZ's head of product development, led the hardware engineering team for the original Palm Pilot. Gina Clark, who is in charge of strategic relationships, came from PalmSource, a maker of the Palm OS platform.

Wozniak also has some serious money behind him. Mobius Venture Capital has invested $6 million in WOZ. The company also has received funding from Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a leading early-stage venture capital firm, and Palo Alto Investors, another Silicon Valley venture capital firm.

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