NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Losing your car keys these days is a big, expensive deal. Smart keys with anti-theft chips inside aren't cheap to replace. If you carry around a set of late-model car keys, you face several hundreds of dollars in replacement costs. I write from experience after losing my own keys on a recent road trip. (We weren't driving my car so I didn't notice until 1,000 miles later.) Replacing my lost Toyota ( ADR) Prius smart key cost nearly $400. I'm saving up to replace the second car's smart key. Smarter people than myself have invented technology to find lost things and several launched this year on popular crowdfunding sites. While Clapper-inspired key finders are available, perhaps this new class was inspired by a desire to create a better high-tech lost and found. Here's hoping that mixing lost things with technology and mobile apps will get us to a point where we can always find our keys. A few of the new hopefuls:
Hone Hone, a successful Kickstarter project from Geoffrey Litwack, is part gadget, part mobile app. The sleek key fob relies on Bluetooth to pair it with one's iPhone and related app. Tap the Hone app's "find" button and your keys start beeping. Don't hear them? Walk around. A built-in proximity sensor shows you when you're getting closer. Hone has a 164-foot range and the low-power communicator lasts up to 6 months. One phone can pair with multiple Hones -- up to 128, says Litwack. And if you lose both phone and keys? Call your phone! Hone plans to start selling products to the public in March for $60 at gethone.com. Stick-N-Find Stick-N-Find's low-energy stickers are the size of a quarter and they stick to anything -- keys, phones, kids and pets. Of course, they cost more than a quarter. With built-in Bluetooth, a light and other electronics, the stickers communicate with a nearby smartphone. Using an iPhone or Android app, you get a visual idea of where the lost object is located within a 100-foot range. It'll even notify you if a sticker suddenly goes out of range, as demonstrated in the company's video of a little girl running out of a playground and her mom scrambling after her -- that would have come in handy when my keys went missing on my road trip.
The stickers use typical watch batteries, which last about a year. This project also turned to crowdfunding to get started. Through Jan. 14, you can back the project at Indiegogo and buy stickers for as little as $15 each. Afterward, it'll cost you about $20 a sticker at sticknfind.com.
iMpulse Another crowdfunding success is the iMpulse Controller, which targets mobile gamers who happen to misplace their keys. Really, though, the key-fob device is intended to be used as a remote control for games on a smartphone. It's for the person who misses that tactile response of pushing a button. Besides serving as a portable Bluetooth joystick, iMpulse also turns into a key finder and a camera-phone remote so you don't have to set a timer. Early backers of the Kickstarter project got a chance to buy an iMpulse for $25 and creators are opening up pre-orders at impulsecontroller.com/storefront.php for the same price, plus shipping and handling. When the product becomes widely available, which could be as soon as the second quarter of 2013, the company expects retail prices to be around $40. BiKN The BiKN, pronounced beacon, mashes mobile app and two pieces of hardware with a heavy dose of Apple ( AAPL)-influenced design. BiKN, introduced earlier this year, uses the lesser-known 802.15.4 wireless technology, which isn't built into iPhones, hence a special case is required. It also requires "tags," which look like key fobs and must be attached to every item you don't want to lose. A benefit of the 2-piece hardware setup is that the BiKN phone case comes with its own battery so it doesn't run down the phone's. The tags, meanwhile, can be recharged over USB. A starter kit comes with two tags and an iPhone case for $130 at bikn.com. MicroTrax Putting a label on your keychain can help with its recovery. But it's not wise to attach your home address to a keychain with your house and car keys. Third party services, like BoomerangIt and StuffBak provide tags with ID numbers and act as the go between for losers and finders.
But another company, MicroTrax in Montana, does that and adds an extra level of security with MicroDots. These tiny ID tags are the size of a pin point. They are glued to devices using an adhesive that can be seen under ultraviolet light. So, if a thief rips off the larger, visible label, the discreet MicroDots still offer evidence of ownership since each is encoded with microscopic ID numbers. MicroTrax, which has more than 10,000 items registered in its database, works with law enforcement to help identify and recover stolen goods. Owner Bridger Stratford has one main tip for users: Don't forget to register items at Micro-Trax.com so the service can do its job. A surprising number of buyers don't bother with that simple step, he said. The $50 kit includes a year of service, which is $30 annually. Zomm Another mobile app mashed with key fob, Zomm has been around a bit longer than the rest -- two years. It uses Bluetooth to link a smartphone (Android or iPhone) with the key fob. But beyond finding keys within 30 feet of the phone, Zomm adds a few other features, including turning into a speaker for hands-free talking while driving and acts as a panic alarm. The Zomm is $60, while the apps are free at zomm.com.