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Devices keep finger on wearer's pulse, place

"Digital Angel" products from Applied Digital Solutions can keep track of a person's heart rate, body temperature and geographic location.

It sees you when you're sleeping and knows when you're awake--and it can keep track of your heart rate, body temperature and geographic location.

No word yet on whether that means it knows if you've been bad or good.

Applied Digital Solutions is launching a new line of products under the "Digital Angel" name that allow the monitoring of a person's whereabouts and vital statistics. The company began testing the devices last month and is launching a national campaign in southern Florida.

The device will cost around $299, with monthly service fees of between $30 and $40, according to the South Saint Paul, Minn., company.

The Digital Angel products combine biosensors--to track data such as heart rate, blood oxygen levels and body temperature--with a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracker. The product requires users to wear a watch and carry a pager, but the company is working on a watch-only version for the second quarter of 2002, said Chief Technology Officer Keith Bolton.

Although the devices may evoke images of George Orwell's Big Brother, the company says the products could be used to keep track of pets, small children or adults with health concerns such as Alzheimer's disease.

The Digital Angel devices also include alert buttons that can summon caregivers and emergency personnel. One of the devices geared toward senior citizens includes a "sudden fall sensor," which uses inertial data to monitor whether someone has fallen down.

Future products will be able to monitor blood chemistry, blood pressure and other indicators of health, the company said.

The devices receive positioning data from satellites, combine it with the biological data and send it to a data warehouse in California using a cellular network, Bolton said.

The devices can be set to check in on the wearer at regular intervals or programmed to send out an alert if certain criteria are met, for instance, if the wearer falls down, or wanders out of a pre-set area.

The company uses cellular digital-packet data technology to transmit data, but it has plans to switch to CDMA (code division multiple access) in 2002, which will allow the transmission units to be smaller. Eventually the company hopes to switch to GPRS (general packet radio service) technology, which would allow the technology to be small enough to fit into medical devices like cochlear implants or pacemakers.

To run, the devices require a button battery in the watch unit and a rechargeable battery in the pager unit. But Bolton said that by next year, the company will release a unit with a thermoelectric generator that uses body heat to power the devices.