Electronics On Vacation—You May Win A Prize!

July 19, 2004
Now that summer's here, it's time to plan your vacation. But what kinds of gadgets are you going to bring with you? A recent issue of a popular men's magazine made some recommendations. Of course, music players topped the magazine's must-take...

Now that summer's here, it's time to plan your vacation. But what kinds of gadgets are you going to bring with you? A recent issue of a popular men's magazine made some recommendations. Of course, music players topped the magazine's must-take list. And if there's any hope of escaping the chaos of always-on messaging—and design emergencies—laptops and BlackBerries should be left at home! But what about carrying a GPS transponder that tracks you wherever you go? It may not be as bad as you think, as long as you're one of Coca-Cola's lucky winners.

Instead of the legendary secret formula, about 120 cans of Coke will include a GPS transponder and GSM cell-phone capabilities this summer. If you open a 12-pack and find one of these custom electronic devices, you could win a new SUV, a home entertainment center, or other prizes. But there's a catch. Winners must agree to 24/7 GPS surveillance via the can.

Lucky can-finders press a button on the can to make a cell call directly to Coke headquarters. During that call, Coke will ask them if they'll agree to participate in the Unexpected Summer contest. If they say yes, the finders then press a second button to activate the GPS tracking feature. Coke search teams will surprise the winners with their prizes anytime—and anywhere—within a three-week period after the can's activation. According to the commercials, the grand prize Chevy SUV may be delivered to the winners by helicopter!

I don't know if any of you readers will be fortunate enough to be among the lucky Coke guzzlers gladly agreeing to satellite surveillance, with their activated cans' locations visible to a global audience via www.unexpectedsummer.com. But I did think you might be curious to find out a bit more about the engineering behind this fizzy "fun with electronics" promo.

I tracked down Brian Troxell, director of engineering at Airo Wireless, the U.S. arm of Finland's Benefon, the company that engineered the cans. Troxell has been enjoying his 15 minutes of fame, as he's been interviewed by several national TV shows, USA Today, and now Electronic Design.

The contest began in Australia, says Troxell, where Coke conducted a similar and very popular promotion last summer. In the Aussie version, Benefon inserted commercial off-the-shelf GPS handsets inside liter bottles of Coke. For the U.S., Coke changed things by designing the custom phone so it would be the same size and weight as a can of the "real thing." Airo Wireless, as Benefon's U.S. division, had an added advantage in being located in Atlanta, Coca-Cola's headquarters city.

To make the Coke phones, Benefon used heavy plastic packaging that's also water-resistant, just in case the 12-pack gets thrown into the cooler. The outside of the can includes the call and GPS activation buttons, a microphone, and a speaker. The company modified its Track Pro phone to fit inside the can by folding over the GSM phone antenna, moving the battery pack off the unit's back, and folding the pack over. The Track Pro is a rugged handset with a wide operating temperature range and the ability to survive a 12-foot drop, says Troxell, so it was the natural choice for morphing into the Coke can!

Troxell adds that the Track Pro's GPS signal is "rock solid" because it uses "actual" GPS communications, versus "assisted GPS" employed in some other handsets (using a cellular carrier's network for communicating the GPS data). If those handsets go out of cell range, the GPS function dies. The Benefon/Airo sets tie in the actual satellite signal and integrate the data via the phone's SMS text function.


Of course, the chances of finding one of the winning Coke cans are very slim, so why not take advantage of the much better odds if you participate in Electronic Design's "Day in The Life" photo essay contest? All you have to do is pick up your camera and get some action shots of you and your team at work. We'll be picking a grand prize winner for best photo series as well as the best "on the job" photo. If we publish one of your photos in the issue, you are a guaranteed winner—not to mention you get your 15 minutes of fame without having to be tracked by GPS for three weeks! For Photo Essay entry details, see page 16.

Have a great summer!

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