Spider-Man Inspired Real-Life Ankle Monitors

Spider-Man Inspired Real-Life Ankle Monitors

Ankle monitors—electronic tags convicts wear so we can track them without imprisoning them—go back at least as far as the 1960s. A couple of researchers at Harvard put together a prototype, and their goal was humanitarian: They thought prisoners would fare a lot better if they were released and monitored instead of left to rot in jail. These researchers were brothers known as the Gable Twins, and we know that makes them sound like comic book characters, but they were real (you'll have to wait a couple paragraphs more for the comic book connection).

Their invention didn't take off. Plenty of people agreed prison's bad and needs to be reformed, but the strange new scientific device sounded sinister. Picture all the fears people have now about getting microchipped, except more reasonable because everyone had less info back then. Would the Gable Twins be tracking all our children next, the public wondered? And what if the twins were using their new gizmos to control criminals' minds using invisible signals?

We're not joking; those were the exact objections people raised. It didn't help that the Gable Twins were being advised by Timothy Leary, famed LSD guru. The ankle monitor stood no chance of going anywhere unless it got a vote of confidence from someone in authority. 

That finally came in 1977, thanks to a New Mexico judge named Jack Love. Jack Love also sounds like a comic book character, and he wasn't, but he was a comic reader. He saw a newspaper strip about the villain Kingpin snapping a radar cuff onto Spider-Man. He took this idea to a computer company, who used the Gables' research and Love's connections to sell the idea to states. 

Their ankle monitor, whose general design is still used today, was a bit different from the Gables'. Instead of broadcasting over the radio, which required a channel specifically approved by the FCC, the monitor just communicated at a short range with a device in the prisoner's home, which in turn communicated with the police over a landline. Also, police came up with an innovation the Gables never dreamed of: They'd charge inmates for the cost of their own bracelets. And so, suddenly, ankle monitors sounded like a great idea. 

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For more comic book inventions, check out:

5 Amazing Things Invented by Donald Duck (Seriously)

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