By Mary Grady, Contributing editor
Consumer technologies that use GPS to track aircraft in flight are adding features all the time, and this week one of the more popular vendors, Spidertracks, of New Zealand, announced new capabilities in its latest device, the Spider S5. The new unit retains the small footprint of the earlier models, but adds integrated Bluetooth communications to enable two-way messaging, SOS alerting, and real-time flight tracking, the company said on Wednesday. The S5 is portable, and no installation is required. Using a free app called Spidertxt, users can connect their smartphones to the S5 unit via Bluetooth, and send and receive text messages to any mobile phone on the ground.
The system uses the Iridium satellite network to make those connections. The Spidertxt app is now available for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, the company said this week, as well as Android and Blackberry smartphones and tablets. Spidertxt can also send short messages to email. Consumer tracking devices like Spidertracks were recently cited as a factor in helping to improve aviation's safety record in Alaska, where search-and-rescue is especially challenging.