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Track a Soda Can with GPS? 346

I am Kobayashi writes "According to the Indianapolis Star Online, next summer Coca-cola will feature a promotion in which winners will be located by satellites tracking GPS devices implanted in the winning cans.... Hopefully they track you fast before you throw-away (or recycle) your winning can...." And in another bit of Coke news, they've got a new high-tech billboard: jhkoh writes "Reuters/Yahoo is reporting that Coca-Cola has unveiled an 'intelligent' billboard in London's Piccadilly Circus -- at 99 feet wide, the world's biggest -- that supposedly will respond to weather, movement, and SMS text messages. The billboard itself is 52 square meters of LED display. How soon before someone hacks it?"
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Track a Soda Can with GPS?

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  • My 1.25 worth... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by garcia ( 6573 ) *
    winners will be located by satellites tracking GPS devices implanted in the winning cans....

    Is this where my 1.25 goes each time I buy a 20oz. Coke? Funding expensive marketing ploys? How about the old way? Why can't that be the way we do contests?

    "Excuse me ma'am, I see you are holding a Coke, you won the contest, now come with me into this dark alley to claim your prize." - that scares me, there ARE people out there that would do that...

    Well, as a Coke lover, it looks like I am not going to be drin
    • Last night after smoking a lil pot I stopped in the local mini-mart and bought a coke. As I was sipping it on the drive home I noticed a van with two guys trying to get me to pull over! They were pointing at my can of coke and yelling at me, motioning for me to pull over ...I stepped on the gas and tore away as fast as I could running a red light and nearly causing a multi-car pile up ...I wonder if I might have been a winner and not the victim of road rage like I thought.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Don't worry.

        One thing I can guarantee that you will NEVER be, is a winner.

  • by MoeMoe ( 659154 )
    As if RFID tags weren't enough, now I can be found just out of pure thirst...
  • Geocaching (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Davak ( 526912 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @04:24PM (#7097310) Homepage

    What an odd bastardization of Geocaching!
    Geocaching [] is exploring for objects other people have hidden using GPS. It's a blast and very addictive.

    However, GPS does not send signals... it only receives... How are they going to track people?

    • by SHEENmaster ( 581283 ) <travis AT utk DOT edu> on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @04:32PM (#7097421) Homepage Journal
      If you start glowing green, people call in and report your location via the GPS units in their cell phones.
    • Re:Geocaching (Score:2, Insightful)

      This is not a troll.

      Quite seriously, how in the world is Geocaching a "blast"? Maybe I'm missing something, but isn't it basically:

      Person A: Hello, I have hidden something in this exact location.

      Person B: Hey, Person A was right! They did put something in this exact location. Umm...WHEEEE!

      I don't get it.
      • Re:Geocaching (Score:2, Informative)

        by jjhall ( 555562 )
        There are several aspects of the sport that make it fun and interesting.

        1. It takes you to places you didn't know existed. I went out after one with my brother a month back and we had no idea where it was. Turns out it was at an old, practically adbandoned, city park. It appears to still be maintained, but in the several times I have gone back down there I haven't seen another soul.

        2. It is not as easy as it seems. GPS gets you close, sometimes very close. But it can still be several yards or more
      • Re:Geocaching (Score:3, Interesting)

        Yes, they give you the exact co-ordinates. However, they don't tell you how to get to those co-ordinates. That's the challenging part. Maybe it's hidden downtown, on the fifteenth floor of some office building. Maybe it's hidden on the other side of a small mountain range that you have to either climb over, or drive around. Maybe it's hidden deep in some cave. Maybe it's hidden in your backyard ... you never know.

        Getting to the co-ordinates is where the fun is.
  • Tracking my Coke is one thing, but please don't track my beer
  • GPS Reception (Score:5, Insightful)

    by c_oflynn ( 649487 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @04:25PM (#7097321)
    Hmm... GPS reception inside aluminum cans? Seems a bit sketchy if you ask me.

    AND it will have to transmit as well, thats going to be a nice piece of technology.

    But seems you could possibly cheat - there are devices to detect semiconductor material (used to detect "bugs"), so with a bit of tweaking you could possibly figure out which can has something inside.
  • Ugh. (Score:5, Funny)

    by CGP314 ( 672613 ) <CGP AT ColinGregoryPalmer DOT net> on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @04:25PM (#7097322) Homepage
    "When it's raining, big drops will appear on the screen and when it's breezy, the Coke sign can ripple as if it's being blown by the wind," a spokeswoman for the company said.

    Well, it sure is good to see technology used for the benefit of humanity, and not just a stupid gimmick.
    • Re:Ugh. (Score:5, Funny)

      by Em Ellel ( 523581 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @04:40PM (#7097517)
      "When it's raining, big drops will appear on the screen and when it's breezy, the Coke sign can ripple as if it's being blown by the wind," a spokeswoman for the company said.

      Take my geek membership away, but would not a plain cloth sign do the same?

      • Re:Ugh. (Score:5, Funny)

        by uberdave ( 526529 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @05:29PM (#7098008) Homepage
        I saw a special weather string on my recent trip to the caribbean. The device is mounted so that the weather string hangs vertically. If the string is wet, that means it's raining. If the string is hanging on an angle, that means it's windy. If the string is horizontal, that means it's really windy. If the string is gone, that means it's a hurricane.
    • I have a weather rock that utilizes similar technology. When the rock is wet, it is raining; when the rock is white, it is snowing, etc.

      Sometimes I am amazed at the relentless march of progress. This is not one of those times.
  • Not to stereotype, but if a coder is staying up all night in front of the computer, there's a fifty-fifty chance that he does NOT want a camera crew bursting in to film him.
  • by El ( 94934 )
    Uh, you can't track anything though just a GPS receiver, you also need some sort of transmitter! So we not just walk through the warehouse with an RF spectrum analyzer and see which can is transmitting?
  • So... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by glenrm ( 640773 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @04:26PM (#7097353) Homepage Journal
    Coca-Cola and the Howard Dean campaign are new slashdot advertisers?
  • ...and puts a 52 square meter picture of the goatse guy there.

    yeah, that'll certainly grab a lot of attention.

  • Hackage! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dark Lord Seth ( 584963 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @04:27PM (#7097360) Journal
    The billboard itself is 52 square meters of LED display. How soon before someone hacks it?

    Mmm, 52 square meters of full goatse glory! Remind me to avoid London...

  • Not long. (Score:3, Funny)

    by rrkap ( 634128 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @04:27PM (#7097364) Homepage

    How long till someone hacks it

    Well, since it was supposed to be a Pepsi billboard, I'd say not long at all

    ha, ha me make funny

  • If it displays random SMS messages, why bother hacking it?

    Unless constantly flooding it with references to RANDOM CRAP(tm) is considered hacking...
  • winners will be located by satellites tracking GPS devices

    Why? Because when people opened their old cokes and it said "you win a car!", they were too lazy to go to the redemption office?
    • Because they're funding the contest with a reality TV show! You only win if you agree to release the footage of you drinking coke and having some obnoxious guy charge you with a TV camera. Bonus prizes if you sewar and they have to bleep you, or you open the can topless.
  • by jandrese ( 485 ) * <> on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @04:30PM (#7097395) Homepage Journal
    Does this mean that the first person who hacks the transmitter's signal to track down the winning can gets to claim the prize? I don't think this will ever work because most cans are stored in places that don't get good GPS reception (buildings, steel machines, trucks, etc...) and the transmit out (presumably a cell connection?) is another matter entirely.

    plus it's a little creepy having Coke track down the winners like that. What's next? A tiny transmitter in the cola itself that the "winner" swallows so Coke can track them even if they put the can down?
  • Why do I see something on the horizon in the vein of Prof. Farnsworth's F-Ray that was used to detect the winning Slurm can on Futurama?

    Will it give people cancer/make them sterile too?
  • track me with the new federally mandated Patriot GPS insert. Remember, bend over and don't clench and it won't hurt as much.

    Also keep in mind that attempting to interfere with the insert, or thinking about interfering with the insert, or questioning the "Constitutionality" of having a tracking device inserted into you so that your every move may be monitored by John Ashcroft personally if it amuses him, means that the terrorists have won. This is being done to protect your freedom. Stop spoiling things by

  • Oh no (Score:5, Funny)

    by dr_dank ( 472072 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @04:32PM (#7097424) Homepage Journal
    Now I'll need to buy some more tin foil. A lot more.

    • can pinpoint a tin foil hat to within 12 inches, man? That's why I've got on my Slab-O-Concrete (tm) Hat now. Sure, it's a bit more heavy then the old tin foil hat. But it not only blocks the messages from the CIA telling you to kill all those people, interferes with space aliens attempting to uncover the combination to your school gym locker AND shields you from harmful UVA, UVB, Gamma, Zeta and Thorian radiation. Also pick up the new Slab-O-Concrete (tm) Cover to protect your procreative abilities (assumi
  • NOT GPS!!! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Number of time "GPS" appears in this story: ZERO!!! Not all satelite tracking uses the US Government's GPS system!

    ATLANTA -- Here's a way to really target a consumer.

    Next summer, Coca-Cola plans to use satellites to find U.S. buyers who happen to purchase special cans of Coke products.

    They will be winners in a giveaway that will feature Hummer H2 sport-utility vehicles. The giant vehicles will be presented in person, using satellites to locate the recipients. And in a promotion tied to the Summer Olym
    • Re:NOT GPS!!! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by stratjakt ( 596332 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @04:40PM (#7097518) Journal
      The oddity of Coke's promotion revolves around how winners will get their prizes. The cans used will be equipped with Global Positioning System transponders

      Don't feel bad, I'm sure you didn't know what GPS stood for, thinking it was just another hip sounding acronymn you saw on slashdot.

    • I have had this argument many times, and am still very skeptical about GPS transponders.

      GPS (if that's being used, which is likely) is a one-way system, which means a passive device receives timing signals from a constellation of visible satellites, and uses the timing differences to estimate location and speed of the receiver.

      The critical question is what happens next to that data. It can't be transmitted back to the GPS satellites, since they are only able to receive control signals from their operator
  • These cans will have to transmit their position to Coca-cola. The article does not say how they do this. I assume that GPS enabled cell phones use the cellular network to transmit their positions. Will the cans use the cell phone network? Some other radio transmission?

    Also, for info on how GPS works, click [].
    • I assume that these cans would have "chase teams" behind them, especially if they intend on awarding prize winners their prize immediately at the point of purchase. Therefore, the "GPS unit" won't need to transmit its coordinates very far, conventional shipping records should store or machine they need to stake out, and then when the device starts moving they know who to follow and hand the prize to.

      If all else fails, the winning cans likely will have a pull of tab that says "you lose" to most people, but
  • I would find it VERY funny if someone 0wns the billboard, and it shows up on the BBC reading "ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US"...
  • Making a killing (Score:4, Informative)

    by ciaran_o_riordan ( 662132 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @04:36PM (#7097470) Homepage
    All this while assinating union leaders in developing nations [].

    Those cola loving fellows are hard workers.

    Ciaran O'Riordan
  • by WeirdKid ( 260577 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @04:38PM (#7097487)
    I didn't read the article, but, generally speaking, GPS receivers don't transmit, and GPS satellites don't track.
    • generally speaking, GPS receivers don't transmit, and GPS satellites don't track.

      You meant to say that as far as you know, they don't do those things... Until you've actually got your hands on and reverse engineered a GPS satellite, it's hard to say for sure just what they're doing up there.
      • It doesn't matter what the satellites do. The receivers don't transmit so the satellites can't track them.

      • There is no "transponder" because the satellites merely "beep" a signal containing the time, satellite position, and any clock correction necessary (there are also other components, but these three will suffice for this discussion). The GPS receiver, in order to function, must be able to receive the signal from four satellites. It then calculates terrestrial position based on triangulation between the times and positions reported by each bird.

        This is similar to how the older LORAN system worked (which
    • Reading the article doesn't help much, except that it says that Coors already did something like this, and it worked.

      Obviously the authors don't know what they're talking about.

      It must be something like there being an actual transmitter in the winning can; it will use GPS to determine its location, and broadcast that; the contest-runners then zero in on that signal. But wait, why couldn't it just broadcast a "ping", and they simply triangulate to find the can? What the hell would it use GPS for?


  • What on earth could Coca-Cola possibly be thinking of using for receivers? Any transmitter is going to have to be small enough to fit inside of a can of Coke, which means it's going to have a pretty darn small range. (There's a reason that Iridium phones are so bloody big.) That'd mean that receivers would have to be essentially ubiquitous. The only thing I can think of that might come close to fitting the bill would be cell towers.

    Add to that the fact that both the receiving and transmitting circuitry
    • This seemed like a sham to me too, but apparently it is possible. Coors has already done something similiar []

      That article too, is light on details, but it claims that Coors Light was able to use a GPS based device in a bottle to locate winners and give them their prize.

      Does anyone have any more details on how this system works? Does it only work if I decide to drink my Coke/Coors outside in an area with a good cell phone signal, and then only if I don't move for a minute after activating the GPS receiver?

    • GPS is likely only a fall-back feature of their can tracking device. They should know what store the winning cans wound up in just by consulting shipping records. Part of the promotion includes "chase teams" who will give the winner their prizes on the spot, so the device just has to have enough range for the team to detect it as it leaves the store/machine and follow from there...
  • by kurosawdust ( 654754 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @04:39PM (#7097508)
    How soon before someone hacks it?"

    Approximately 30 seconds before "Breaking News: Tony is GAY" appears on the screen and the entire high school soccer team falls over laughing.

  • The price of a can of Coke just went up to $7
  • by hchaos ( 683337 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @04:43PM (#7097551)
    In general, in the US, it is illegal to have a sweepstakes-style contest that requires a purchase for entry (because it is technically gambling).
    • In very small print, at the bottom of every can, it will say 'No purchase neccessary, steal can to enter contest'.
    • The usual solution is for there to be a mail-in option to get a "gamepiece", the majority of which will say "You lose!", but have an equal chance as any can does of saying "You win!".

      More likely than not, that gamepiece will also be bundled with the specially marked can to confirm the non-winningness, the GPS device will just be a fancy way to either plot winners on a map quickly or so they can claim "There are 7 winning cans still unclaimed somewhere in Boston."
  • [Cameraman] So that coke drinker is INSIDE?
    [Coke ad-man] Yeah, inside.
    [Cameraman] I can't believe it!
    [Ad man] We've got 5 satellites on to him.
    [Cameraman] That's not what I meant.
    [Ad man] Oh you mean you don't believe how he could be living in a room this small?
    [Cameraman] Of course.
    [Ad man] Go in and see!
    [[[[[ They break down the door and rush in. The room is really tiny, and is filled with brooms and messy pails. And down in a corner by the trash, is a crushed, discarded coke can. ]]]]
    [Ad man] But the sat
  • There is no such thing.
    • I should think otherwise:
      GPS Transpoder []
      Looks like the power draw is low enough to survive a trip in a coke can too &lt 40 milliamps.
      • Not a transponder despite what they call it.
        • transponder \tran(t)-"span-der\ noun [transmitter + responder] (ca. 1944)
          : a radio or radar set that upon receiving a designated signal emits a radio signal of its own and that is used esp. for the detection, identification, and location of objects
          (C)1997, 1996 Zane Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved

          Gets GPS data... relays the numbers it gets from that using 2.4 GHz (or maybe even Wi-Fi)... that's a transponder!
  • Hopefully they track you fast before you throw-away (or recycle) your winning can...."

    People won't throw away the cans: they will hoard them, "just in case".

    Hell, some folks will carry their cans in a belt pouch, as next uber-cool-post-cellphone status symbol.

    I suppose the cans could be (gently) crushed, for easier storage "until I win that contest" ....

    This is a brilliant marketing gimmick: sell sugar water at fantastically inflated prices, while persuading consumers to idolize and hoard the pa


    Boy, Coke sure is getting wierd with its ad campaigns.

  • by micromoog ( 206608 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @04:48PM (#7097598)
    The billboard itself is 52 square meters of LED display.

    Once again, the English system proves superior. 560 square feet sounds way more impressive than a mere 52 square meters.

  • From the Coke site []...
    If you are lucky enough to find the GPS enabled can, please send it to us along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope and we will magically mail the prize to your location - GPS Rocks !
  • Don't they know they're supposed to use a Pringle's can []?!?!?

  • by CGP314 ( 672613 )
    Reuters/Yahoo is reporting that Coca-Cola has unveiled an 'intelligent' billboard in London's Piccadilly Circus

    When it rains, it simulates being wet. Yeah, that's just brilliant.
  • by travdaddy ( 527149 ) <travo.linuxmail@org> on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @04:56PM (#7097676)
    Hopefully they track you fast before you throw-away (or recycle) your winning can....

    Maybe they would just award the prize to the trash can. But, how would a trash can spend a million dollars?

    I'd imagine he would just waste it.
  • "How soon before someone hacks it?"

    Depends on who built the embedded OS.

    Microsoft, you say? In that case, it was hacked before they even turned on the juice.
  • I'd like to see one of the lucky winners try to get on an airplane with a specially modified can in their carry-on baggage. She's got a bomb!
  • GPS technology? (Score:4, Informative)

    by neglige ( 641101 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @05:08PM (#7097784)
    Uh... tracking someone with GPS?!? Not likely. GPS is a system that provides satellites in earth orbit, sending out time-stamped signals. A receiver picks up those signals from 3 or more satellites (even 4 or 5) and calculates the position from the time differences. Other sources of information, like wireless network base stations (GSM etc.) enhance accuracy. [end of very rough description]

    Bottom line: GPS does not work within buildings. You need to see the sky - or to be more exact, you need a line of sight to at least 3 satellites.

    Now, even if you assume that everyone is running around outside holding their cans high up over their head... the coke can would be able to find out its own position (and I'm not even convinced that there are GPS receiver small enough to fit inside a can...) That does not mean that Coca Cola will know the position of the can, because how will the can transmit it's position back to the company? Are they going to fit a cell phone into the can, too??

    No, I honestly don't believe the story right now, I need to see that can first.
  • Tonight on CNN: Yes, the lucky Coca-Cola GPS winner was identified today as Mr. Unlucky. Coke officials report that the GPS can was purchased from a vending machine in an "adult toy store". The Coke officials tried to catch the man there but apparently missed him. They caught up to him at a neighborhood drug house where he was picking up a few hits. Unfortunately when they came to the door and yelled "You have the coke! Bring it out!" shots ensued. They retreated and followed the man to a whore house
  • coke drinker innocently packs can of coke in carry-on, then gets arrested by airport security for trying to smuggle "electronic device intended to interfere with aircraft navigation" onto airplane.
  • by LostCluster ( 625375 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @05:36PM (#7098099)
    Here's a simular Coca-Cola promotion that went horribly wrong:

    The idea was called "Magic Can", you'd open up your Coca-Cola can and real spendable US dollars just might pop out. Of course, the cans with the money in them wouldn't have cola, but instead a device powered by chlorinated water that would propel the bill.

    However, the device often got damaged in shipping, and this lead to several cases where a "winner" didn't look before they drank, and ended up digesting the chlorinated water before realizing that their can didn't really have any cola. Their $100 bill would end up getting spent in the emergency room...

    Coca-Cola found itself reduced to putting out ads that instructed "winners" how to safely extract the bill in the event of a failed device....
  • how they make sure that this contest (and others like it) are not rigged (say, by somebody at the production plant 'accidentally' taking the cans and giving them to friends, like it happened in that huuuge McDonald scam a little while ago)?

    How are they going to ensure a random distribution of these cans across the whole country?
  • So, where's my Coke for life? =P
  • Once I figure out the system, I'll know EXACTLY where to find that "lucky" million-dollar winner...
  • get people to look favorably on RFID and other invasions of privacy.

    How clever: Get people to be excited about being "tracked" with technology!

    Check out this site [] for more information on how your privacy is being invaded today...

  • by dgulbran ( 141477 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @05:41PM (#7098146) Homepage
    ... will be *overjoyed* when Coke pulls up in an H2 with $1M in gold to give him in exchange for a Coke can in the pile in his shopping cart...

  • the casio gps watch can barely stay working for a few days on its batteries, ditto geko and emaps... ok they can pulse it etc... and then there's the faraday cage issues and i think i can tell which can has the $1K of electronics in it and not 12 oz of actual sloshy fizzy coke... sounds like someone made them a promise that's going to be hard to keep... and if they can track down a unit with this much stuff coming out of it, seems it should be easy enough for some others to do the same, then it turns into '
  • I just designed a GPS-based delivery tracking system, and I kind of doubt this will work exactly as advertised. For one thing, your options for transmitting GPS information are limited: you can use cellular data networks, which have limited reception, or satellite networks (which the article implies), which are expensive and require larger transmitters. All of the combo xmit/gps devices I've seen are larger than Coke cans. Though a cellular-based one could be concievably made in about that form factor wit
  • by retro128 ( 318602 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @06:45PM (#7098797)
    This is probably something the marketing boys came up with and released before they figured out it was not feasible. Here's why:

    1. The GPS satellites don't tell you where you are. A GPS receiver figures out where it is by triangulating its position by measuring how far it is away from each satellite. This takes some pretty advanced electronics which would barely fit in a soda can.

    2. GPS does not track. Nothing is beamed back to the satellites, and even if it were, it would not reach them without a lot of power and a high gain antenna. The most common ways to get realtime tracking information on a GPS receiver is to couple it with ground-based radio or cell network. This would have to go in the soda can along with the rest...

    3. GPS (generally) only works outside. The signals that GPS uses are very high frequency, weak, and thus very prone to attenuation due to obstacles. They COULD use the can itself as an antenna, but even that probably wouldn't give you enough gain to get the signal indoors.

    4. Power source. None of this stuff works without power. How are they going to propose to keep this thing powered while they have this thing stored in the back of a warehouse for god knows how long before it gets put on a shelf and bought? Even if you didn't have it activate until you, say, opened it, there's still a pretty good chance you will not be in a location where GPS signals can be acquired.

    Pepsi, please stick with the damned instant win cards.
    Oh, and you are planning on going though with this, it may not be a good idea to fill the can. :)
  • by spacefight ( 577141 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @08:45PM (#7099682)
    For the upcoming Rugby Worldcup 2003 [] in Australia, Coca Cola has this system already in use for their current competition (one could win in total about 50'000 AUS Dollar (10'000 Visa, Peugeot 206 XTR and VIP Final tickets) if he has the right bottle).
  • by Transcendent ( 204992 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2003 @11:31PM (#7100606)
    Coca-cola will feature a promotion in which winners will be located by satellites tracking GPS devices implanted in the winning cans....

    You'll never look at the guy picking pop cans out of the trash the same way ever again...

"Tell the truth and run." -- Yugoslav proverb