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Dimitri Musafia

Recovering a stolen violin - via smartphone?!

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Hello everyone,

We all have old smartphones sitting around that still work, don't we? Taking one of these, turning it on with the GPS enabled and all the ringers off, and hiding it inside the violin case somewhere could help locate the case in the event of theft.

All that you'd need to do is report the theft to the police, give them the unique IMEI number of the phone and the number of the SIM card, and they should be able to locate the stolen instrument in a jiffy via the cellphone tower grid (assuming the case wasn't discarded). Even an old flip-phone could probably work almost as well. 

That much in theory at least, but would the police actually do the search? Does any one have any first-hand knowledge of people or objects being located in this manner? Any thoughts?    

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in that case the violin would need to be lost or stolen in time before the phone's battery runs out, and one of the main reasons why people buy a new phone is the previous one had gotten a short battery life...

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Assuming it works I think it depends on what country you are in as to what the police response would be. I have heard stories in the UK of cars being stolen and having tracking devices which then went on to show the exact location of the vehicle in a warehouse somewhere, but the police were not interested to investigate. It may also depends on regional police resources.

However I have also witnessed some amazing police skills in tracking down a stolen instrument, so I'm just not sure that the response is always consistent. 

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1 hour ago, Shelbow said:

Assuming it works I think it depends on what country you are in as to what the police response would be. I have heard stories in the UK of cars being stolen and having tracking devices which then went on to show the exact location of the vehicle in a warehouse somewhere, but the police were not interested to investigate. It may also depends on regional police resources.

However I have also witnessed some amazing police skills in tracking down a stolen instrument, so I'm just not sure that the response is always consistent. 

You're probably right, and in fact that's exactly why I posted this. 

Right now a mini-GPS tracker seem to be the preferred anti-theft device for instruments, because you can track it yourself, but if you locate your violin in a warehouse you can't just barge in there, you still need the police. The problems with stand-alone GPS trackers are however multiple, and not easy to resolve., which is why I'm trying to find a different, simpler solution.   

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3 minutes ago, BassClef said:

https://relaygo.com/families/products/relay
 

this device is hidden in my daughter’s backpack at all times. It tracks location and we can communicate through it as well if need be. $50 plus $10/month. There are probably other things made specifically for tracking people/objects.

Thanks for the tip, but the big 4G problem remains: you can use a given 4G device in your country of residence, but when you enter another country where the frequencies don't match it won't work. Not good for the travelling soloist.  

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Watch this video about VanMoof bikes, they have tracking devices and they guarantee to recover bikes with their own vigilante teams or they give you a new bike I think. 

 

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Not to be the bit of grit in the works but...

Thieves are more resourceful these days. More people are using these devices and if your bike, violin, kid have been targeted and they know what they’re doing, they use a Faraday to block transmission until they locate the device and toss it.

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Nothing is secure these days if someone really wants it. There are some great lock picking vids on youtube.

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22 minutes ago, Shelbow said:

Nothing is secure these days if someone really wants it. There are some great lock picking vids on youtube.

True, but some thieves are idiots, maybe on drugs, looking for opportunity. Think of the London subway Strad theft. Anti-theft devices can come in useful in these events.

I own a classic automobile which can be compared to a Strad, in the sense that if stolen you can't sell it, because the chassis number would immediately go onto the hot list. You can't break it up for parts, because the same chassis number is on the parts everywhere, except the glass. There you find the license plate number, etched in. 

I installed an anti-theft device on it anyway, because I don't want some kids hotwiring it and going on a joyride and smashing it up some place.

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4 hours ago, Michael Darnton said:

When the Lipinski Strad was stolen in Milwaukee a few years ago, the first thing the thief did was dump the case..... and the hidden phone in it.....in a snowdrift along the way.

Tracker would need to be covertly embedded into the tailpiece, button, or chin rest.

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11 hours ago, Michael Darnton said:

When the Lipinski Strad was stolen in Milwaukee a few years ago, the first thing the thief did was dump the case..... and the hidden phone in it.....in a snowdrift along the way.

I am well aware of that incident (I had built the case for Mr. Almond) but researching the subject through the database of the insurance company for which I am consultant it seems that quite often instruments are recovered with the original case. This is why when instruments are stolen, the make and model of the case is usually listed.

Imagine walking out of a London tube station with a "naked" Strad in your hand while the owner is frantically calling the police. You don't think that the thief would attract unwanted attention? "What, the guy with the violin out in the open? He went that way…". 

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Personally, I've lost count of the number of one-off electronics projects with sensors, battery etc. that I've started where I've gone through initial design and found prices for components, only to realise that the cost will exceed that of a low-end modern phone and the performance would be significantly worse.

Which is to say I completely understand the original viewpoint, and am curious whether there are any compelling reasons (that don't also apply to equivalent stand-alone solutions) why using them in this way wouldn't work.

I imagine that quite a few of the limitations given above could be worked-around in custom software - buffering GPS postions on the device, and sending by text/email or uploading to a server every 10/15 minutes (or whenever signal allowed), or as soon as triggered by a light/contact sensor indicating the sase has been opened for example. Accelerometer data could also be gathered in the same way, which might prove valuable when shipping instruments too: If it was dropped, from how high and at what time did it happen.

And I would be amazed if there weren't lots of others thinking about similar uses - it might be worth looking out for projects on crowd-funding platforms to develop the software and repurpose low-end smart phones in this way. It might also be worth approaching a local university to partly fund a final year project (or offer a prize) to see if you couldn't find a truly custom solution to your problem, if this is of serious interest to you.

Best of luck, and I would be very interested to hear how you get on if you take things further. 

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Notsodeepblue, what you suggest was already developed in 2006 in association with the Polytechnic University of Turin, the Siti Institute, and myself, with funding by the San Paolo Foundation. This probably world's first "smart case" did everything you mention (Geo-localization, accelerometer, etc), including also monitoring of temperature and humidity, although it remained a prototype for lack of demand.

Since then these devices have been miniaturized and the cost brought way down, however they remain clunky to use and with too many limitations, to the point in which I've seen that people who purchased them end up not using them. Hence, my proposal for simplifying the solution altogether.    

  

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As Bass Clef has said, could this be miniaturised enough to fit in a special tailpiece or chinrest without a negative effect on the performance of the instrument? 

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58 minutes ago, Shelbow said:

As Bass Clef has said, could this be miniaturised enough to fit in a special tailpiece or chinrest without a negative effect on the performance of the instrument? 

The problem is more conceptual. With typical GPS devices you need GPS satellite reception, a phone module to comunicate with the device, and of course a battery.

GPS devices suffer from lack of coverage inside buildings and even among them (like in Manhattan). Up to now, these devices used a 2G phone module which had worldwide coverage (GSM/GPRS), but 2G is being phased out and there are, according to our tech partner, way too many 4G frequencies in use in different countries with lock-up protocols and the like to make a 4G device useable worldwide. And of course, fitting everything including a SIM card, antenna and battery into a chip that goes under the chinrest, while possible, is at the moment not on the market.  

The only thing that could come close to what you suggest, at this time, is a Bluetooth device like Tile, for example. https://www.thetileapp.com/ Conceptually totally different, but it relies on Bluetooth technology, with its own limitations. 

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2 hours ago, Dimitri Musafia said:

Notsodeepblue, what you suggest was already developed in 2006 in association with the Polytechnic University of Turin, the Siti Institute, and myself, with funding by the San Paolo Foundation. This probably world's first "smart case" did everything you mention (Geo-localization, accelerometer, etc), including also monitoring of temperature and humidity, although it remained a prototype for lack of demand.

Thanks - very interesting. Did you get anything published (even if more of a promotional nature), as I'd be interested to read more if available?

1 hour ago, Dimitri Musafia said:

The only thing that could come close to what you suggest, at this time, is a Bluetooth device like Tile, for example. https://www.thetileapp.com/ Conceptually totally different, but it relies on Bluetooth technology, with its own limitations. 

Can you see RFID being option at all (i.e. probably passive tag discretely attached to the tracked object, fully-featured reader within the case performing remote communications in event of unplanned separation)?

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11 hours ago, Dimitri Musafia said:

I am well aware of that incident (I had built the case for Mr. Almond) but researching the subject through the database of the insurance company for which I am consultant it seems that quite often instruments are recovered with the original case. This is why when instruments are stolen, the make and model of the case is usually listed.

Imagine walking out of a London tube station with a "naked" Strad in your hand while the owner is frantically calling the police. You don't think that the thief would attract unwanted attention? "What, the guy with the violin out in the open? He went that way…". 

From what I can tell it appears that many instrument thefts are not professional jobs but rather crimes of opportunity.  There was a case in Massachusetts recently where the thieves stole a violin hoping to get a few  bucks at a pawnshop (they got $50 for a Gagliano). Luckily the pawnshop owner called the police. If you have an expensive violin, some sort of tracker would certainly help with these kids of cases, as well as with the cases where you accidently leave it in a taxi or whatever. 

Christopher Reuning, the owner of Reuning & Son Violins, an appraiser and dealer of violins in Boston, said it was not uncommon for stolen violins to be sold to a pawnshop at a very low price. “Stolen violins are impossible to sell,” he said. “People usually think they are a guitar.”

 

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12 minutes ago, _Alex said:

From what I can tell it appears that many instrument thefts are not professional jobs but rather crimes of opportunity.  There was a case in Massachusetts recently where the thieves stole a violin hoping to get a few  bucks at a pawnshop (they got $50 for a Gagliano). Luckily the pawnshop owner called the police. If you have an expensive violin, some sort of tracker would certainly help with these kids of cases, as well as with the cases where you accidently leave it in a taxi or whatever. 

Christopher Reuning, the owner of Reuning & Son Violins, an appraiser and dealer of violins in Boston, said it was not uncommon for stolen violins to be sold to a pawnshop at a very low price. “Stolen violins are impossible to sell,” he said. “People usually think they are a guitar.”

 

Whaaat?

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18 hours ago, notsodeepblue said:

Thanks - very interesting. Did you get anything published (even if more of a promotional nature), as I'd be interested to read more if available?

Can you see RFID being option at all (i.e. probably passive tag discretely attached to the tracked object, fully-featured reader within the case performing remote communications in event of unplanned separation)?

Regarding the "smart case", yes there was a press conference at the Stradivari Institute and a write-up (the money spent had to accounted for!), but honestly I don't remember where. When I have a moment I'll check the journal of the Italian Association of Violin Making, maybe there's something there. Below is what the case looked like. 

With reference to RFID, certainly there is opportunity in this field, and I'm sure that the CIA and the KGB already have lots of devices which could be useful even now, I'm just saying that at this time they're not on the market to my knowledge.  

SmartCase.jpg

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