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The Science Behind: AirTags

What are AirTags?

You might have seen these small disks floating around, in fact, you might even have one yourself! Apple released these gadgets on the 30th of April, 2021 and they are tracking devices that can be located on the ‘Find My’ app from Apple.

How do they work?

AirTags run on a basic CR2032 (batteries in calculators, motherboards, toys, etc.) battery that only needs to be replaced after a year. They are tracked with ultra-wideband technology (UWB) which is similar to, but more precise than, Bluetooth. UWB was known as “pulse radio” in the early 2000s and is now used in medical and military equipment. Billions of radio pulses emit from a UWB transmitter across the wide spectrum frequency and reach the UWB receiver which translates the pulses into data (much like how bats use echolocation!). UWB technology is great at tracking because the shorter the pulses are, the more accurate they will be, and UWB sends about 1 pulse per nanosecond (1 billion per second). UWB is relatively cheap, consumes less battery, has an accuracy of 10 cm (3.9 inches), and has a range of 200 m (656 ft).

AirTag dangers

With great power comes great responsibility, but some do abuse this power. Criminals have been slipping AirTags into people’s (specifically women’s) belongings or vehicles to stalk their every move, which is a potential human trafficking tactic. Apple’s devices are able to detect AirTags and send alerts to prevent this. To get these alerts on android, however, users need to download the ‘Tracker Detect’ app.

Owners of AirTags can’t be tracked due to privacy concerns and police have not been taking these cases seriously so please stay alert and keep safe!



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