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Reinventing lost and found: behind the scenes of the award-winning Telstra Locator

Tech and Innovation Devices

Posted on August 1, 2019

7 min read

When creating a new product from the ground up, its design and functionality are interwoven; form and function are intimately connected. When the Telstra Locator team realised this, they knew they needed to throw out everything they had been working on to that point.

The Telstra Locator tag family

Telstra Locator was designed with a simple goal in mind: to help customers find their things, by attaching a Locator tag to their things and using the Telstra Locator App* to help find them when needed.

Telstra Locator tag

Ring your tag when it’s within range of your smartphone to hear a tone, or use the map on the app to help find things that are far away. So far, Telstra Locator users have found phones, bikes, keys and even dogs who have run away from home during thunderstorms.

The Telstra Locator network helps you find your lost things by giving you an approximate last known location. Within this network, opted-in Telstra 24×7 app users, Telstra Air-enabled payphones and Wi-Fi modems are all helping to search for your lost stuff.

If your keys fall out of your bag, if your phone is dropped on a bus, or your dog runs away at the first sign of thunder, the Telstra Locator app will allow you to tap into this finding network to help you find your things again – safe and sound.

When the Locator team was developing the product with this ultimate goal in mind, they knew they’d run into some challenges.

From the ground up

Telstra Locator design iterations
The first designs of Telstra Locator after the initial design sprint.

When starting this project, the team knew they needed to develop a unique solution that brought together our existing technology assets, as well as creating a new Bluetooth finding network. By doing this, they were able to launch a range of devices that use different radio types to create a unique Australian first. 

After an international search, multiple device assessments and exhaustive market research, the team realised that they couldn’t find an existing product that would fit the ultimate needs of what should bear the Locator name.

Nothing suited the design sprint outcomes, demanding a careful balance across size, battery life, radio performance, safety and privacy requirements. That’s when the team knew Locator was going to be more than a straightforward accessory for Telstra.

Locator was a chance to think and work differently, embracing new Agile methodologies across our business, and to work faster and smarter than ever to design something elegant and essential. The team designed the end-to-end solution for the finding network, new Location of Things platform, application and the Locator tags themselves.

One of those team members was Ali Sadreddini from the IoT Engineering team, who immediately recognised the scale of the gauntlet thrown down.

“Delivering a product with a startup mindset in a company like Telstra was challenging. Bringing together a world-first combination of Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and in the future, Cat M1 technology, Telstra Locator is as unique as the team that built the network, platform, app and device software – all in-house.”

Telstra Locator

Kate Jordan, Product Manager for Locator, agreed, saying that “roadblocks were common” in the project.

“One of the biggest challenges facing our device team and engineers was how to build Locator tags that were small enough to attach to keys, wallets and pets, whilst also having a reasonable battery life. The combination of Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Cat-M1 technology allowed us to strike this balance,” she said, adding that “slowly, the mindsets of others shifted, and the progression of Telstra Locator continued.”

Over the course of the project, the Locator team designed the physical tags, as well as the front-end Locator app, and engineered how it would all link up with software and cloud infrastructure. The end result of their hard work is a product that can not only achieve its mission, but that has a design to directly inform its function: simple, yet significant.

Simple meets safe

We worked in partnership with Sydney-based Product Designers
LX Group and Industrial Designers Design + Industry, to achieve the iterative development of the Tags. When the first Locator product design prototypes were completed Telstra Locator was, at that time, a small disc that was designed to go everywhere, including places it was never designed to be – like the hands of a child prone to putting things in their mouth, for example.

Telstra Locator parts
The first batch of Telstra Locator Bluetooth Tags in produc

Scott Ho­­well, Senior Product Specialist on Locator and proud father of two, worked with the Locator team to make the product deliver on function while meeting the demanding requirements of his family – including his children’s safety.

“To get to where we are today with Telstra Locator, we had to go through multiple design iterations with our partners to ensure that we were giving the customer what we felt was a safe and also a robust solution,” Howell said, thinking of his own kids. “What we found during our journey was that we had a Bluetooth device that we felt needed to be nice and secure, and to make sure that when we actually got it out into the market, we could have a device that you could feel comfortable using.

“One of the key things we did as a result was to put in a safety locking mechanism on the rear of the device, which enables us to use a physical tool and rotate that to unlock the pin, meaning you can’t open or unlock the device without that special tool. That then reduces the risk of a child getting access to this battery and potentially ingesting it, which was the key concern we had here,” he said.

The addition of a small tool in the Locator kit brought with it a new problem: kids could swallow that instead! To solve this, Howell says that a bit of chemical engineering was called for.

Telstra Locator tag

The team added a step to the manufacturing process of the unlocking tool that would see it coated in a material called denatonium benzoate.

It’s used in a range of products from nail polish through to household chemicals, and it’s the most bitter-tasting chemical compound on the planet. It’s generally employed to stop little people from putting things in their mouths.

Most recently, it was used to stop kids from swallowing the small plastic cartridges used to store Nintendo Switch video games – and moreover, it’s also non-toxic. “If it was to be potentially put into a child’s mouth, it would actually be spit right back out due to its bitter taste,” Howell said.

This extra step was the clincher to meet the safety standards we expect for products we would use and recommend to our own families.

Fashion’s never finished

Telstra Locator app

Even though the first two Telstra Locator tags – Bluetooth and Wi-Fi – are now available in Telstra stores and online, the team still couldn’t sit still. “For an Agile team, a product is never ‘finished’, and the team is continuing to expand the product and improve the customer experience,” product owner Craig Newton says. “Launching Telstra Locator in all stores was the culmination of solving many solid physical, technical and aesthetic challenges, all with our customers at the centre.”

The end result of the hard work is a product that not only achieves its mission but has a design to directly inform its function: simple, yet significant.

The Locator team’s efforts have recently been recognised and rewarded with a 2019 Good Design Award. The Good Design Awards recognise excellence in Australian design, creativity and excellence.

This award represents a significant milestone in the ongoing journey to making Telstra Locator the best finding product in the world.

Telstra Locator Good Design Awards

*Telstra Locator requires a monthly Telstra Locator subscription on your account. Find out more at Telstra.com/locator