Motorola and Wheels of Zeus [wOz], a startup headed by Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak, have announced a partnership to develop and distribute wireless systems that help users keep track of the things they value most — at a price they think will be affordable for most consumers.

Unlike most RFID systems, the wOz system is a two-way, point-to-point wireless network that allows some interactivity in addition to simple tracking, according to Vince Izzo, director of consumer business development in Motorola's Broadband Communications Sector. The system is integrated with the Internet, which allows real-time tracking and notification from a broadband-enabled computer.

Certainly, there are potential applications for enterprises, including the tracking of products through various distribution channels. However, Izzo believes the system is ideal for helping users locate people, pets and valuables such as children's bicycles — all of which can tracked by using small ID tags that include a GPS receiver.

“Although it can be used for business, this is aimed more toward consumers and helping them keep tabs on the things that are most important to them,” Izzo said.

One powerful feature of the wOz platform is the system's mobility, Izzo said. Because the base stations are portable — “smaller than a two-way radio but bigger than a cell phone” — the system can be used during trips.

“If you go to an amusement park, you can set an alert if your kids get more than, say, 50 feet from you,” Izzo said. “Not only will you be notified, but an alert can be sent to them either as a sound or vibration, letting them know they're too far away.”

Michael Grossi, principal at Adventis, agreed that the system's portability is a crucial selling point that may make it attractive to some consumers, regardless of price.

“I think there's a great market for it in the consumer space … and there's not many [competitors] in that market,” Grossi said. “There's certainly a need, and it would be playing on the fears of parents — and that's a good hook.”

Operating in the 900 MHz band, the base station has a range of about two miles, but each individual system can communicate through the Internet with other systems, Izzo said. Thus, the effective coverage area would expand as more users adopt the wOz platform.

In a home setting, the system could be used for something as simple as a “virtual dinner bell” or as specific as alerting youngsters that they have taken a wrong turn from a predetermined path to a given destination, Izzo said.

While the product currently does not support voice, there “clearly is an opportunity to do that” as a walkie-talkie function, Izzo said. Izzo said the specifics of the systems are not being released, but he estimated the cost would be in the “hundreds of dollars” range that consumers could afford.

The product is designed for off-the-shelf retail sales directly to consumers, but the small form factor means the system also could be included in packages for resale by commercial wireless carriers and other service providers. Under the agreement with wOz, Motorola will license the wireless architecture, manufacture the products and oversee their distribution — a key component to wOz's strategy, according to Wozniak.

“Our strategy is to work with select market leaders that will uphold and support our philosophy of developing useful and easy-to-use products,” Wozniak said in a prepared statement. “Motorola not only supports this philosophy but also provides a strong brand and distribution channel necessary to deliver wOz-based solutions to consumers on a massive scale.”