SiGEM floats another yacht-race tracking system

For the second time in a month, Kanata, Ont.’s SiGEM Inc. is using its location-tracking technology to help monitor competitors in a long-distance sailing race.

The three-year-old company has placed both a transceiver and a GPS receiver on board the Bell Mobilitie Ocean, a Bell Mobility-sponsored vessel competing in the Transat 2000 sailing race from Quebec City to St. Malo, France.

“What we’re providing is the ability to see, from a (Web) browser, where the yacht is during the race,” said Herb Woods, president and CEO of SiGEM.

SiGEM recently helped to track all 50 competitors in a 500-mile regatta off the coast of Argentina, near Buenos Aires. Woods said the company chose to sponsor both races as a way to demonstrate its technology.

“On board (each yacht) is a transceiver that receives and transmits information to Inmarsat’s satellite, and a GPS receiver that determines the location,” Woods said.

The location information then comes back over the satellite to a hub in Holland, where it is transmitted through the Internet to SiGEM’s server farm in Ottawa. During the five-day race in Argentina, the data was also sent through a virtual private network to a monitoring station and Web browsers in the South American country.

“There is some input on the boat, so if there’s an emergency (the crew) can signal the emergency and send it to the satellite,” Woods added. “In Argentina, one boat went aground and we notified the coast guard of the situation and the (yacht’s) location before the coast guard even knew about it.”

Woods said the modules on board the sailing yachts are the same as SiGEM provides to other companies, mostly in Europe, for tracking and transportation applications. SiGEM also builds the modules into its own “ePING” family of products, such as private radios the company has installed in cars in Argentina at the request of an insurance firm. The covert devices can help track stolen vehicles and prevent fraudulent claims, Woods explained.

SiGEM also provides full end-to-end systems solutions to transportation companies, a legacy business from the company’s acquisition of GMSI earlier this year.

Together, the two companies racked up $8 million in sales in 1999. Woods expects SiGEM to approach $20 million this year.

“The actual tracking services market is just beginning,” he said. “Today, it’s about a $1 billion market, according to the Strategis Group. They see it growing to $15 billion by 2003, so it’s a very rapid growth.”

Jordan Worth, an industry analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, said location tracking technology will continue to grow as it piggy-backs on the booming cellular telephony and PDA markets.

“The mass market potential for it really begins with the proliferation of cell phones,” Worth said. “They’re growing by about 30 per cent this year, and have been for the last few years.”

Worth said the commercial applications for attaching location modules onto a portable device range from tracking fleets, such as police and ambulance vehicles, to tracking smaller items, like pets.

Added SiGEM’s Woods: “I imagine a whole industry out of managing movement will emerge out of this.”