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Trapster turns your cell phone into a police detector

Turn that cell phone into a radar detector with Trapster.

Trapster logo

Skyhook Wireless' geopositioning can be useful, but rarely does it save you from a $400 speeding ticket. A start-up named Trapster is trying to change that.

The company has taken a creative spin on using geopositioning to help lead-footed drivers avoid known and newly discovered speed traps and other police dragnets. By installing the application on your mobile phone you'll get heads up on speed cameras, red-light cameras, hiding places, and live police while out and about. The application uses Skyhook Wireless' Wi-Fi and cell tower location positioning system to keep tabs on where you are while you're driving around. It also blends in GPS to give you more precise positioning on city streets.

The data comes from other tipsters on the Trapster network, and is updated frequently. Creator Pete Tenereillo tells me there only need to be about 10 active users in each city to provide a reasonable amount of coverage for live police and new traps on major thoroughfares, a number which has already been met in places like Rhode Island, Florida, and San Diego.

To keep users tipping, the service uses a karma system and a confidence scale to make sure tips aren't providing useless tips. Users can also create new trap alerts for others right on their phones. Tenereillo says the ratio of people tipping to simple leechers is hovering at about 40 percent. Part of that is because of the simplicity of adding new traps, which is a one button affair if you have the application running on your Nokia or Blackberry smartphone.

Coming in a couple of weeks is an iPhone version of the application which will take advantage of the geopositioning that made its way into the maps application in an earlier software update. iPhone users will get the same audio alerts and live-positioning locating, with less position accuracy because of the lack of GPS, something Tenereillo is hoping will be added in the next hardware revision.

Despite the free price, there are a few hindrances. The stock warning sounds are a little alarming, but you can go in and rename and rerecord the warning with your own voice. You're also missing out on the radar and laser protection you'd get with a real radar detector, which tend to work a little faster than the mobile phone alerts. I'm still in love with the idea though, and for the cheapskate out there with a compatible handset, this is almost as good an alternative as being a safe and responsible driver.

Related: Avoid traffic jams with Commuter Feed
See speed traps and other police gotchas in your area with Trapster. While not as accurate for things like highway speed traps, knowing if you're close to a red light or speed camera could save you from a big ticket if you're a leadfoot driver. CNET Networks