Keeping track of your kids at a theme park or fair can be a challenge. That’s why Plano parent and engineer Willy Wu created a device called BuddyTag. There’s no GPS involved -- just a phone and a wristband.
The terror that sparked the idea
A few years ago, Willie Wu lost his six-year-old, Bethany, at Six Flags in Arlington.
“It was scary, it was 10 minutes, it was bad,” he says.
Wu found her, at the gift shop, but those 10 minutes of terror stuck with him. That same night, he looked for kid safety devices online, but everything was GPS-based and cost more than $100, plus a monthly fee. That’s when he thought about using Bluetooth – the technology that links devices wirelessly and is built-in to most smartphones.
“I don’t need something that’s fancy,” Wu says, just something easy to use, “to alert me if my kid is too far away.”
That's when he began to develop BuddyTag.
Wu designed a variety of candy-colored, silicone wristbands that look a bit like watches. You slip a small electronic button into the bracelet and that button works with a free app to alert connected phones when a kid is out of proximity.
You can choose the alert tune, and customize the range – for Bluetooth, the maximum is around 120 feet.
There’s also a panic button, which kids can press to alert their parents if they’re in danger.
The wristbands are designed with aluminum coin-screw locks reinforced with Mylar so kids can’t rip them off, and inside each one there's a spot to write down contact information.
Helping Holly keep track
Holly Snow, who lives in Fairview, has six kids to keep track of. She says BuddyTag has come in handy at soccer games, when she wants to watch her older kid on the field, but the toddlers want to play on the sideline.
“It’s awesome,” Snow says, “Because it would alert my phone and then I could look and find where they were before they got too far where they’re out of sight.”
Snow says she’s in no way a helicopter mom. She wouldn’t give her kids cell phones or put a GPS tracker in their backpacks.
“I feel like they need to learn lessons on their own, but when I go to Disneyland or an amusement park, I also don’t’ want someone to take them,” Snow says. “Or for them to get lost or get stuck. You know those things are scary. And if I could prevent that, I want to.”
So Long, Leashes
“The only thing it is doing technologically is connecting to a Bluetooth receiver,” Reardon says. “That’s kind of clever and interesting.”
Still, Reardon’s not really a fan of any tracking devices.
“It all comes down to as a parent your level of comfort,” she says. “Can you do things old school and just try to pay attention?
So far, Willie Wu says he’s sold a few thousand BuddyTags. He’s also drummed up interest at local schools, especially among special ed teachers – who sometimes have to keep track of students who wander off or run away.
It’s an extra sense of security, Wu says. Without the harness or leash many kids, and parents, despise.