Dude, Where's My Stuff? How Tile App Could Create A National Lost-And-Found

Tile creates tiny, Bluetooth-connected devices you can affix to anything you don't want to lose—like your keys, laptop, or luggage.

When Fast Company's assistant news editor Jessica Hullinger became the victim of a recent bike theft—shortly after she was gifted a brand-new bicycle—she had few options in terms of looking for it. Hullinger hadn't registered the bike with the New York Police Department, so it had no identification number to track. She halfheartedly called some local bike shops and checked Craigslist for new "For Sale" listings in search of bicycles with descriptions that matched hers. But the bike had vanished.

A small startup called Tile could eradicate the very notion of "lost and found." Yesterday, Tile closed a Selfstarter campaign that raised a record-breaking $2.68 million for its small, Bluetooth-connected devices you can affix to anything you don't want to lose, such as your keys, laptop, or luggage.

Tile serves dual purposes. The devices, which are about as thick as four stacked credit cards and come with an optional adhesive, are trackable via an iOS app within a close range of up to 150 feet. That's useful for when you can't remember where in the house you left your keys.

But when your Tile-connected item is too far away for you to detect the item yourself using your phone, you can mark the object, in the Tile app, as a "Lost Item." This discreetly puts all other Tile app users' phones on alert, so if another Tile user comes within range of your lost item, their phone will, without them knowing it, send you a notification containing your item's GPS location.

The notion of a network that can automatically keep track of community members' belongings is certainly powerful. By the time Tile closed its Selfstarter campaign, it had amassed 49,586 backers. That isn't a small number, but it's not nearly enough to create large-scale, Tile-connected networks that can guarantee lost items become a thing of the past.

Tile, which begins shipping this winter, isn't the first of its kind—a host of others are also attempting to make it in the tech-enabled lost-and-found space. But the Tiles are just $25 each (they sold for $18.95 during the pre-order period), and are notable for their yearlong battery life. If Tile were ever to reach a critical mass, we’d end up with something resembling a national lost-and-found notification network. Then again, if Tile becomes mainstream, everyone will know about it—so what would stop a bike thief from simply removing the Tile from the shiny new Schwinn she just stole from outside the gelato shop?

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22 Comments

  • No one has received their tiles despite promises of a December delivery, January or April delivery. As a technology reporter who has basically advocated the purchase of this device, you have the responsibility to alert your readers to this scam. People who are considering the purchase of a tile are going to see your article and assume the device is legitimate. You owe your readers more!

  • Pff. Doesn't work with Android and you have to order new tiles every year. I would rather replace batteries or charge the tiles than have to buy new ones. At least make it an option.

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  • Midshire

    What happens if you lose the device that has the notification on it too?

  • Aaroneus

    I would say the best way to prevent a theif from taking the tile off of said stolen item would be to cleverly hide the tile in a place where they would be unlikely to look. For instance on a bike, one could hide the tile underneath the seat, most bicycle seats have a hollow underside that would be perfect for stashing a little tracking device.

  • Professor Loui

    Will each unit have a different frequency per client. What if three people are using the same device in a mall. Will there be a mix up on tracking the wrong item? What if I buy six of these devices for my keys, car, bike, laptop, cell phone, and my dog. Will each have a different frequency for detection?

  • Mdub723

    Good for a year.  Is it a year from producton, purchase or activation?  Is I buy more than one, can I save the other one for the next year?

  • RB

    If I become part of the Tile network wouldn't that put a substantial drain on my battery?

  • Theglasskat

    Eventually they could make them smaller and even disguise them as small objects, like part of the bikes hardware.

  • Djr

    Having a grandchild with autism, this would be literally a lifesaver if moms could lace it into their child's tennis shoe laces so when they go to large and busy events or parks they could locate them faster and enlist the help of others as well.  I hope this really takes off and they get the kinks out.  I am already telling the autism community parents to keep an eye out for this. 

  • Hamid Hashmi

    Please also add a car in a parking lot in your photos, as I would use it to track my parking spot is a parking lot.
    Also will it work with an Android phone.

  • Greg Halter

    If it takes off.  Companies could license the product and build the tech into bikes,laptops, phones, etc.. Then the thief would have to take apart the device to remove the tile.  Sounds good in theory but will take a wait and see approach on the battery life portion

  • Mat

    So You pay for it and only get to use it for a year and then have to buy a new one. Um... no thanks.

  • Jeff

    If it works as intended,$25 per year = about $2.08 per month. Doesn't seem outrageous.

  • glenlu

    tried to ask this question to the Company and founders, but didn't get straight answer ... hopefully, not it was being dodged ... not sure any current battery technologies can support its claim: the tile "last for a long time - one-year? no need to change - no need to charge? - running on bluetooth or wifi for 150ft" ??? 

  • CheckSum

     Seem like the tech is based just on bluetooth 4.0 + community. You get far away from your product you need to reply of fellow tile members to come within range of your product to find it. 

  • glenlu

    I'm not aware battery (with that size) can power the tile for as long as a year when bluetooth (or wifi) is running ALL the time???

  • glenlu

    found out it's running on low energy blue tooth. not sure why they had to keep it like a secret.