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?