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Culture

Wristwatch radar: Look, ma--no leash

Managing children at a theme park can be as settling as riding a roller coaster, but a new high-tech wristwatch and tracking device could make it feel more like Disney's "It's a Small World."

As any parent will tell you, managing children at an open-area theme park can be as settling as of one of those gut-wrenching, rocky rides.

But a new high-tech wristwatch and tracking device could make it feel more like Disney's "It's a Small World."

Visitors to the Hyland Hills Water World in Federal Heights, Colo., are the first to try out the wireless tracking devices since the park introduced them on Memorial Day.

For $3 per person, families can rent the wristwatches to keep tabs on one another inside the park.

"Every guest that signs up for this service gets a small wristwatch that has a transmitter inside," said Dan Tomlinson, principal of ParkWatch, the Maryland-based company that developed the service based on technology from Silicon Valley firm WhereNet.

"The (gadget) then transmits its identification number to various antennas around the park; a computer measures the (transmission) to calculate where the person is in the park." That information is displayed on an electronic map of the 64-acre area at Hyland, which has six kiosks scattered around the park. The watch can track people within a 10-foot radius.

Because Hyland Water Park is hilly with narrow passageways, it's a perfect location to test the technology's reliability and signals.

So far, so good, said park spokeswoman Joanne Dobbs.

"If you try it one time, you won't want to go to a park that doesn't have it next time. It's that popular with people," Dobbs said. "The $3 investment is worth the peace of mind parents get with this device."

About 6 percent of the area's daily visitors use it, but they expect even more to try it out Fourth of July weekend.

"It's awesome: Say you're at one end of the park--you can know where your brothers are at the other end," said Christopher Kotalik, 11, who was using the wristwatch for the first time to coordinate meetings with his two brothers and a friend.

For Chris' mother, Francis, the watches take some of the frustration out of a day at the park with three children.

"It doesn't take the place of just letting the kids run around for eight hours without adult supervision, but the older kids I can let go for two hours or so without worrying because I know where they are," Francis said.

"They're wonderful; I think every park should have them."

ParkWatch is betting they will. The company, a subsidiary of Vertex RSI, said it is in negotiations with "common name" theme parks to offer similar services.