From the ‘I’m not sure this is a good idea’ desk at CES in Las Vegas comes 444. The early-stage startup plans to combine pepper spray with some electronics so that friends of a potential attack victim can be notified when they I have had to deploy the defense spray to get out of a jam. The company is the brainchild of Logan Nash and Matt Rogan, who met at the University of Michigan and began developing the technology nine months ago.
“We called the company 444 because our target market is college women between the ages of 18 and 24. A very popular trend right now is angel numbers. And 444 is a number that stands for protection, Logan tells TechCrunch in an interview. “We are a self-defense company, so the name ties in very well with our company and our mission of self-protection.”
The company is at the very earliest stages of development; the prototype it showed at CES was a 3d printed prototype, and an early prototype PCB – more a proof of concept than an actual product so far. The ultimate plan is to include a pepper spray aerosol and a Bluetooth transmitter that connects to a phone. If the pepper spray is deployed, the device signals the potential victim’s phone, which then sends a message along with its current location to a series of predefined phone numbers.
A spicy holiday
“I see all these women carrying pepper spray devices. They are usually large, pink and lumpy. They are just pieces of plastic that end up just being thrown in your bag or purse. In a time of danger, they can’t get it in time, Logan says, explaining that they designed a clip that makes it easier to carry in an accessible location. “The clip attaches directly to the wearer, whether it’s their sports bra if they’re going for a run, or their belt if they’re just walking around campus. So no matter what, it’s an arm’s length away and you’re not fumbling around to get into a time of danger. When they activate the device, not only will they have six to nine seconds of spray time, but their current location will also be sent to up to 10 contacts they choose through an app installed on their phone.”
The company believes that this second line of defense – texting your contacts – is very important, and claims it has customer discovery interviews to back it up. The target price point for the device is around $35 per unit. That’s significantly cheaper than, say, the fashion bracelets from Flare, but a lot more expensive than the $7 Amazon charges for the big, pink, bulky pepper sprays the company replaces.
Is it justifiable?
We were a little curious to find two men at the helm of a company aimed at women, but the founder says he sees no conflict there.
“WI went through a program called iCOR at the University of Michigan, which was a three-to-four month course. We interviewed about 15 of our target audience every week, asking them what they like, what they don’t like, why they use self-defense, why they don’t use self-defense, Logan says, dismissing questions about whether it might have made sense to add a woman or two in the founding team. “We asked them if they look at each other’s current location and if they track each other, things like that. Our company and product was shaped by that customer discovery effort.”
Far be it from me to dissuade a couple of young entrepreneurs from following their dreams, but given that smartphones are starting to have more and more sophisticated preparedness measures built in, I wonder if there really is a market place for this product – doubly so given that it cannot communicate with emergency services or friends on their own, but must be connected via Bluetooth to a smartphone.
As a 6-foot-4, martial arts-trained ex-cop, I’m willing to admit that it’s possible I’m blinded by privilege in this case, so maybe take my criticism with a pinch of sodium chloride. That being said, everything I know about self defense screams “keep it simple.” A $7 canister of pepper spray in one hand and a phone in the other seems more reliable than the solution 444 outlines with its vision for a safer future.