A BIKE THIEF ATTEMPTS TO OUTWIT THE NEW SPYLAMP
According to Immobilise, the police-backed property register, a bicycle is stolen every minute in the UK and less than 5% are ever recovered. The sad truth is that you can use a couple of chunky locks and leave your bike in busy, well-lit places, but nothing stops a really determined thief.
The SpyLamp is pragmatic; it accepts that bikes get stolen from time to time, and focuses on getting them back and catching the thief. A mobile phone, vibration sensor and GPS chip are all crammed inside what looks like – and even works as – a rear bike light.
You mount it on your bike and it beams its location back to you if it senses movement – such as a bike thief carting it off, but – hopefully – not someone bumping into it as they lock theirs next to it. It keeps doing that until it’s disarmed or runs out of power. Before that happens you can hand that information over to the police, who swoop in and save the day (in theory).
I doubt the average thief would suspect a thing, because it’s very well camouflaged. Although if they become popular this would quickly change (the company is working on a smaller device to hide in the seat tube, due for release this summer).
Several police forces have already been using them in sting operations involving flashy bikes left locked up as honey traps, leading to several arrests and even a few design refinements.
I’ve been testing one for the last week, and it’s shown a lot of promise despite some flaws.
Thankfully, one of the things that will soon be updated is the user interface. It took several hours of head scratching and trial-and-error to get the various settings sorted, which is all done by sending codes to it in text messages.
Once it was up and running it worked well. Every time I forgot to disarm it and used my bike I was sent a text message warning me that it was being stolen. I could then log in to the tracker website and see exactly where I had been on a Google Maps interface. It was a bit like having a GPS bike computer, but one without a screen.
So far, so good. Feeling confident, I decided it was time for a more realistic test. It was time to get my bike stolen. So I called in a friend to act as a bike thief – that’s him, pictured above. He “stole” my bike at a prearranged time and place and took it on a jaunt around the city while I went for a coffee.
Using my iPhone and the NEW SATSAFE APP, I could follow the red line that appeared on the map and see where he was with only a minute or two delay. If he stopped for more than five minutes the device would turn off, and if he jumped back on it would fire up again thanks to the motion sensor.
It was all quite voyeuristic – I even got a text alert when he turned the light on. I can imagine that tracking an actual thief could be great fun, like some sort of dramatic techno-thriller. After an hour or so of watching him like some sort of amateur Big Brother I noticed he had ended up, predictably, at his own house. A rookie mistake. I sauntered over, rang the bell and recovered my bike. The SpyLamp had done its job.
Of course, this is where the first big flaw becomes evident; unlike me, who had been to his house several times before, you won’t know exactly which house the thief lives in. Try knocking on every door in a block of flats, asking each person who answers if they stole your bike and see what sort of reception you get. And when you find the right one they probably won’t politely hand it back and offer you a cup of tea, as Mark did. Would the police have time and inclincation to follow your tip-off?
There are other problems, too. It costs £125, and you have to keep the SIM card topped-up with credit, or it won’t be able to report its location.
But if it stops an expensive bike being stolen, it’s worth every penny. The Environmental Transport Association, which is also trialling the device with an eye to offering reduced insurance payments to those that use them, claims it has seen the average bike value that they insure rise 62% in five years to £850.
“With that kind of value to protect I can see things like the SpyLamp becoming more common”