Jimmy Buchheim is behaving oddly.
On the floor of the world's largest cellphone trade show in Barcelona he's looking at the screen of his iPod Touch, taking a few steps, and then looking again. Now and then he backtracks or turns, and looks again. Slowly, he confines his movements to a smaller and smaller area. Then he drops to his knees, and checks the screen again. He scrabbles forward.
"There we are!" he says.
Buchheim has found his keys, which had been hidden behind a wastebasket by a skeptical reporter. On the key ring is a small disc, slightly bigger than a quarter. That's what Buchheim was homing in on with his iPod. It allowed him to find his keys, hidden out of sight in an apartment-sized booth.
Stick-N-Find Technologies, Buchheim's Davie, Fla.-based company, wants to give people a way to find things, whether it's keys, wallets, TV remotes, or cat collars.
There's no real trick to sending out a radio signal and having a phone pick it up. That's been done. What makes the Stick-N-Find practical is a new radio technology known as Bluetooth Low Energy, which drastically reduces the battery power needed to send out a signal. That means the disc can be small, light enough for its sticky back to adhere to a lot of surfaces, and be powered by a watch-type battery that lasts up to two years without recharging. The signal can be picked up as far as 300 feet away, but that's under ideal circumstances. On the floor of the wireless show, with a multitude of Wi-Fi transmitters jamming the airwaves, the range was roughly 20 feet.
One downside to Bluetooth Low Energy: It doesn't come cheap. Stick-N-Find charges $50 for two "stickers" from its first production run, which starts shipping next week. It gave early backers a better deal -- 4 discs for $65 -- on crowdfunding site Indiegogo, where it had sought to raise $70,000 from donors and ended up getting $931,970 by the time the campaign ended last month.
Whatever device you use, it won't tell you exactly where your sticker is located. All it can tell is how far away it is. That means finding something is a process of walking around and checking whether you're getting "hotter" or "colder."
Users can also set up a virtual "leash" between a sticker and a Bluetooth device. When the two devices move a certain distance away from each other, the sticker starts beeping or the device's screen shows an alert. That way, you could use a sticker in your wallet, linked to your phone, to let you know if you're leaving either one behind.