The new client seemed on the up and up. The ID, credit report, and references checked out and the venue, while not well known, was at least listed in the phone book. So when the renter did not return the very expensive projection system and video wall after a 3-day rental, at first there was no call for alarm. But when you tried to reach them, the subject's phone had been “temporarily disconnected,” and when you finally got the manager of the venue on the phone, he's never heard of them. It is then that a sickening feeling begins to overcome you when you realize that, like thousands of other A/V rental, video and sound production companies, you've been ripped off.

The GPS technology that lets this Wherify wrist watch keep track of people or things to within 100 feet will soon help rental agencies track their equipment.

While overall crime statistics are down, property crime is on the increase and, according to the US Department of Justice, it is now the number one crime category. While no official statistics exist, in an unofficial poll, SRO found that every A/V staging and rental company we spoke with is concerned and taking steps to increase security. Staging events for entertainment, institutional organizations, and corporations is big business and requires state-of-the-art sound reinforcement, lighting, and projection equipment. Keeping track of those expensive assets, some of which can cost upwards of $25,000 and more, is a growing concern.

One potential solution to that problem may be Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. When combined with wireless communications technology, GPS may one day let A/V rental, staging, and production companies keep track of the exact whereabouts of a particular piece of gear 24/7/365. Already, the service industry is making growing use of mobile tracking products that allow owners to keep track of truck fleets, providing information on where they are, how long they've been there, and other vital statistics — all in realtime. The technology has also been used recently in television electronic news gathering vans and multi-million dollar video production trucks. With miniaturization, these uses will expand.

Eye in the Sky

“GPS-based technology for personal location and valuable asset tracking is real, viable, and available today,” says Timothy Neher, founder and president of Wherify Wireless (Redwood Shores, CA). “Currently, our focus is on the launch of our GPS Personal Locator. Location technology for use in monitoring and locating expensive video and film equipment or production trucks will be next and available soon.”

These solutions will transmit position information from the event location via satellite navigational signals (like GPS) over cellular and wireless systems to a central base station, then via the Internet display the precise location of a piece of equipment or person on the computer screen in your office or on your laptop.

GPS lets you know precisely where your location is world wide. The GPS network includes multiple satellites in geo-synchronous orbit above the earth at a distance of approximately 11,000 miles. The satellites provide detailed positioning information, generally using a four-satellite system — three satellites to triangulate a particular position and one to measure the object's altitude above sea level. The GPS network was developed in the 1970's by the US Department of Defense. In 1982, as part of the government's effort to sell its technologies for commercial use, it was declassified and made available. The only challenge has been that GPS has had problems being used indoors but that is being addressed. At the 2002 CES consumer electronics show in Las Vegas this past January, GPS-related tracking products were a popular attraction.

Satellites 11,000 miles high can precisely locate a piece of equipment anywhere in the world.

“The benefits of reliable indoor GPS tracking are just now emerging for professional equipment, rental, and consumer applications,” says Keith Horn, director of marketing at Fujitsu Microelectronics America, a leading developer of indoor GPS technology. “We can envision this kind of ASIC or standard chip embedded in high-end A/V and video production equipment for around-the-clock tracking, or in video and audio production trucks, which often must operate inside sports arenas, convention centers, and other locations that often make tracking difficult.”

With today's extremely mobile business world, especially for broadcast and video professionals, it becomes increasingly essential to be able to track valuable mobile assets. The very nature of the A/V rental business demands it. One company that is intimately involved with these solutions is Computer Associates of New York, a provider of e-business solutions.

“From use in expensive cameras to prevent theft, to video broadcast vehicles to ensure the nearest team can be sent to an event — security, efficiency and practicality will make such solutions necessary,” says Imran Anwar, a project manager Computer Associates. “And these are just some of the obvious examples. Lower cost GPS and wireless communication devices will mean even more unique and creative solutions in the marketplace. Currently, the high cost of creating a unique combination GPS/wireless device is a challenge. Privacy concerns may also be raised. But, the lowering costs of technologies and the security and efficiency benefits of this technology will make its use even more feasible, acceptable, and common.”

Car 54 Where Are You?

New solutions to track and manage A/V assets are here. In the near future, high-end A/V devices like projectors, video walls, PA systems, cameras and more will have GPS-based asset-tracking chips embedded in them by the original equipment manufacturer. It will become as standardized as the cell phone, which is another device that is rapidly becoming “tracking enabled.” With more than 50 million mobile workers in the United States today, the market opportunity for mobile asset tracking and resource management services, of which the rental video and audio sector is a part, is already in the billions of dollars.

“The companies that already use this type of tracking equipment like it for two reasons: It tells them where their equipment is anytime day or night, and it gives them other valuable information like the production trucks engine hours (or even the hours of use on a piece of gear), which is good for maintenance purposes and client fee assessment, etc.,” asserts Mark Campagna, communications director at FleetBoss Global Positioning Solutions, Inc. (Fern Park, FL).

“ENG news vans and video production trucks are a natural for this technology for one very specific reason — the power supply,” says Campagna. “Because the power supplies are rather bulky at this point, they present a challenge to being attached to portable A/V gear, but this will soon change with miniaturization.” In fact several electronic chip manufacturers including Fujitsu, Intel, and AMD have announced new plans for tracking-enabled chips.

For A/V rental and staging companies, this technology offers a win-win situation. Being able to continuously track the position of a piece of equipment, be it in route or on location, will add significant security, allow rapid loss recovery, help manage and schedule audio, video and projection assets, and ultimately add to a company's bottom line.

Tom Patrick McAuliffe, a freelance writer living in Northern California, is a contributing writer for Video Systems. Visit his web site at