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Sep 25 2017

Auto-Finder Review: Dude, where – s my car? #car #manuals


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Auto-Finder Review: Dude, where s my car?

by Andy Chen on February 15, 2010

In the mid 1990s, my best friend and I took a trip to DisneyWorld in Orlando.  Every time we returned to the parking lot, we faced a familiar scenario:  We couldn t find our rental car.  Simply too many cars!  Adding insult to injury, our rental car was a red Chevrolet Corsica which was a staple of rental car agencies back then.

When I saw the Auto-Finder from Finder Technologies. I knew I wanted to try this.  You see, my undergraduate senior design thesis was on radio-direction finding methods.  I ve participated in many amateur radio fox hunts , where a buddy hides somewhere in town and a bunch of college guys without girlfriends on a Saturday night (yes I was one of them) run all over the hills with radio receivers trying to find the hidden fox .  Oh yes, a fun bunch we were. Would the Auto-Finder lead the way?

The basic kit is composed of a battery-operated beacon that stays in your car, a keyfob locator and a leatherette carry case.

1. Pointer Remote battery powered transceiver carried by user and attached to keychain

  • One Locate push button for activation
  • Three LEDs for direction indication
  • A speaker that produces tones proportional to correct direction
  • Two custom, patented antennas used for determining directionality
  • 2x size 27A batteries (12V)

2. Beacon battery powered transceiver mounted in the vehicle

  • A speaker for reporting status
  • Two omnidirectional antennas
  • 3x size AA batteries

Hardware Specs:

  • Transceiver frequency range: 2405 2480 MHz
  • Transmitter output power: +19 dBm
  • Internal operating voltage: 3.0V
  • Batteries: Size 27A, 12V Alkaline (x2)
  • Battery Life: approximately 6 months (typical use)
  • Dimensions (WxLxH): 1.87 x 1.87 x 0.63
  • Weight (with batteries): 4.75oz./135g
  • Antennas: PCB trace antennas
  • Transceiver frequency range: 2405 2480 MHz
  • Transmitter output power: +19 dBm
  • Internal operating voltage: 3.0V
  • Batteries: Size AA 1.5V Alkaline or non-rechargeable Lithium (x3)
  • Battery Life: approximately 6 months (typical use)
  • Dimensions (WxLxH): 2.75 x 3.54 x 1.02
  • Weight (with batteries): 7.0 oz/ 200g
  • Antennas: Embedded antennas

This wedge-shaped object is powered by three AA batteries and can be attached inside your car with the supplied hook-and-loop tape.

The keyfob is roughly the size of an everday car alarm fob, although perfectly square.  Fits into the included carry pouch perfectly if you don t wish to attach another fob to your key ring.

So how does it work?  To test this, I tried the Auto-Finder in two typical parking setups:  Inside a concrete parking structure with lots of hard surfaces, and while parked in an outdoor, open-air flat parking lot.  I knew reflected radio waves were going to be the enemy, so I thought this was prudent.

To operate the Auto-Finder you simply press the keyfob button.  It sends a signal to the beacon.  The beacon then sends a locating signal for the keyfob to home in on.  So far, so good.

The keyfob has three green LED arrows.  The stronger the signal, the more arrows.  There s also a chirping speaker inside the keyfob that beeps with increasing tone and frequency the hotter you get.  All this makes perfect sense.

What I found, however, that the Auto-Finder is easily confused by reflected waves and bombards you with a cacophony of bleeps in rapidly changing tones.  The green LEDs were not much help, either;  They would frantically flash to the beat of the beeps, seldom providing any useful information.

The instructions suggest sweeping around in an arc while standing in place:

  • Stop
  • Press the Search button and slowly scan the whole parking area
  • Observe the sounds and arrows for the strongest indication
  • Release the Search button
  • Walk in the direction of the strongest indication

I got many odd stares by passers by as I was using this modern-day divining rod.  I was used to it.  After all, I m a geek.

What surprised me was there was no change in accuracy or usability for me in a concrete parking structure vs. an open air one.  In either case, the Auto-Finder appeared overwhelmed by all the signals and spat out bleeps and beeps and green lights.

One thing that did work, however:  If you are VERY close to your car, the Auto-Finder s beeps change into a constant tone.  BEEEEEEEEEEEP.   This is better than nothing.  But at this point, if you re right next to your car and need this kind of electronic assistance, you may be better served honking your horn with your car s remote.

Does it work?  Sort of.  But I can appreciate the kind of challenges in a a product like this.  The remote itself is very small, so the antenna receiver design is limited.  A receiver sensitivity switch or knob would be handy, allowing the user to fine tune and reject stronger multipath signals.   But adding that would be difficult to explain to non-techies.

In the end, I like the idea.  It doesn t rely on GPS so you don t need a clear view to the sky.  It doesn t draw attention to yourself by honking the horn of your vehicle (although you may get strange looks as you re beeping away).  You can even purchase a multi-unit kit for the entire family.  It may need a little more work before it earns a permanent place on my key ring, however.

What did we do with our rented red Chevy Corsica?  We tied a green ribbon to the radio aerial.  It was the only way!

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