Startup: The Pepper-Spraying Camera

Author: Brian Rhodes, Published on Jul 22, 2014

Personal safety is a growing concern for many, but a complete solution means carrying several devices: a pepper spray can, siren, and then fumbling with a phone to call the police can all be very difficult when confronted by an attacker.

A startup claims their device simplifies everything into a single unit: Defender. Now, the company has raised $100,000 in its first day on sale. We look at the details and positioning of this product inside.

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Comments (23)

If a user does not own or normally carry a smartphone, the Defender will not be much benefit over traditional self-defense items.

The company plans to release details when it kicks off its indiegogo campaign later this month.

I wonder what a Venn diagram of "people who do not own or carry a smartphone" and "regular indiegogo users" would look like.

LOL! That demographic: 'Deep web' users that got booted off Silkroad, lost all their Bitcoins, and fear the feds are tracking their Droids.

Long live Dark Wallet! You can't stop the signal! And so forth.

Is this similar to guardly or elerts? Can you please clarify / explain?

I recognize those 2 are apps without 'wands' or 'pepper spray devices' but it seems both are targeting similar users - mobile people who want to immediately send security/safety alerts

At a high level, they appear directed at the same potential market: Young (smartphone users), urban (always in cell range), commonly exposed to high-risk areas and times (out late at night, even in seedy areas).

There is nothing terribly unique about using device location to facilitate response, although it appears Guardly has a jump on the idea by using WiFi triangulation in addition to GPS data. In some areas, GPS alone could result in 'approximate' information, and in an emergency seconds always count.

However in my opinion, the pepper spray feature is an important differentiator. Not only can I alert/alarm, but I might also repel the threat. That's simply something those other platforms don't have.

The biggest issue is see on this one is the blutooth. I don't know about you but if i leave my blutooth on all the time my phone is dead whenever i need it. So i guess either you have a dead phone or you just ask the attacker to hold on a sec while you turn on blutooth and sync your pepper spray.

I was really hoping it was a PTZ with a long range pepper spray gun. :-D

Battery life is indeed a vulnerability of the system, both for the phone AND the wand.

Camera: Unlike other personal safety products, Defender includes a still camera and flash that takes a burst of pictures when the trigger is pushed.

Although the impact of five-way sensory convergence is enormous in theory, in practice the effective implementation difficulties are just as big.

In the video notice how the flash is triggered hundreds of millaseconds before the stream can be seen. I think the flash was added to the video after the fact. Why? He doesn't blink at all until the pepper spray hits him, again hundreds of millaseconds later. Blink/flinch response usually < 100ms.

So one problem is that the flash could cause the attacker to have his eyes shut when the pepper spray hits, thereby reducing its deterrence while increasing the rage of the attacker.

Also the picture taking should not delay the stream delivery in any way as it seems to in the video.

But by far the biggest problem is letting the attacker know that you are taking a picture of him! Big mistake, IMHO. Attacker will not know its being sent wirelessly to a central station, and if he is not totally incapacitated (thanks to the flash flinch/warning), the enraged attacker may instinctively try to take the camera/spray away from the victim before fleeing. And though the picture itself may be used in prosecution, how does it actually help the help the victim during the attack or right after?

My prediction is it will not ever make it to production in its current form...

So, not to be flippant, but do you think someone is better off without this device or something similar?

Something similar. In fact exactly similar, just without the flash.

Yeah, I know the chances of the picture actually being good enough for identification drop from (SWAG ahead) ~70% to <15% without a flash.

So flush the flash and:

1) Take the money saved from the flash and buy a better sensor, or

2) Use B/W sensor with better low-light performance at same cost, or

3) Replace with an infrared flash instead

And if the picture still is deemed too poor to be usable, then keep the camera AND the flash and use the savings to

1) Make the siren louder / extend battery life, or

2) Add a blinking identification strobe that starts AFTER the pepper spray

3) Lower the price

So there are a few options. But let me non-flippily ask you a couple questions:

Agree / Disagree:

1) The presence of the captured digital image is not protecting you in any way you during a typical attack.

2) A flash that is triggered a fraction of a second before spray could a) cause a involuntary blink response reducing effectiveness of spray, or b) give an assailant more time to react.

3. An assailant would think (correctly) that their picture is being taken and assuming they were not incapacitated (because of clog, bad aim, blink) would be more likely to pursue the person to retrieve the incriminating camera, since they would not think that it was being wirelessly transmitted.

So what is it worth to you to get a better picture of someone, who is most likely a vagrant or street criminal, to just have a chance to prosecute them days after the attack?

Is it worth getting a greater risk of getting the crap beat out of you?

P.S. Disregard the above if Defender can produce a white paper showing how the flash is timed to confuse the assailant just long enough to start the spray streaming clandestinely, and then to arrive precisely as the eyes are reopening at the optimum time for maximum pepper delivery. :)

The picture up top says it all for me. These guys aren't security whizzes, they are marketing whizzes. It's pretty desperate if you are dispensing pepper spray at that range. In fact the outcome above is not obvious, even though a direct shot is being fired, since somehow the attacker has had time to get a defense of sorts up.The fact is that there is no spray yet on the attackers face, his hands appear to be shielding his face (see how the spray jet ends right at his hands), his eyes are already closed, and there could be some spray blow-back to the woman.To top it off you can tell by the woman's locked forearm that she is most likely flat footed, and so she will be within the attackers grasp if he doesnt drop right away.

Dont get me wrong, that guy is going to be out of commision within 10 seconds for sure. But that's enough time to get slugged a couple times or worse. But these marketing guys dont care about that in this picture, they just want an image of a strong woman in control and repelling a cowering scum-bag. And they are definitely not gonna remove the "glamorous" camera, after all, they need motivated investors.

[IPVM Note: This is satire.]

The deluxe model has a built-in motion detector which initiates an automated taser if the assailant does not go down immediately. If the Taser fails, the built in self-aiming .357 Magnum round finishes the job for you.

At the conclusion of the event the unit is able to automatically assess the situation and calls either an ambulance or the coroner depending on the final results.

At the bottom of the unit is a handy handi-wipe dispenser and a hair-brush that can be used to get cleaned up before the television cameras arrive.

...calls either an ambulance or the coroner depending on the final results.

Or both...

LOL, shouldn't the IPVM spoiler alert go at the end and not the beginning?

For those interested, I asked the developer some questions. Here is their response:

1. Any specs on the pepper spray? Is it OC? How strong? How long of a burst does the unit contain?
Answer: Highest concentration available to Law-Enforcement. It is OC, and it is strong. We will provide different strengths for states that have limitations on strength and Canada where it needs to be labeled as bear spray. The unit contains approximately 5 bursts of 3-4 seconds (or one sustained spray). We will provide replaceable cartridges (also, each unit shipped will include an inert gas canister for testing)
2. If I spray the thing, can I refill it? Or do I throw it away?
Answer: You can drop in a replacement cartridge. It is really easy. Remove the red cap, drop in cartridge, and you are ready to go.
3. What is power like? Batteries? Rechargeable?
Answer: It has an internal batter which will charge via USB. We are testing battery longevity and target about a week of battery life in passive (sleep) mode.
4. What is the cost?
Answer: $179/year. We will basically give the device away for free with 12 months of the service ($14.99/month and we will offer multi-year discounts and discounts for college students. We see college students as a great market for our product and a group that needs a self-defense and security product like the Defender.
5. Does it have a safety? Anything to keep my kids from nailing themselves in the face with pepper spray?
Answer: Yes, it has a safety to prevent misfire and misuse.
6. What kind of range do I get between the Defender and my cellphone?
Answer: We are still testing the range but it will be approximately 10 meters.

Brian, by developer do you mean the software developer, i.e. the guy writing the iphone app? Or are you using developer in a more general sense?

[The] product demo video is worth watch to get an idea of how the product is used:

That is not a product demo video. That would actually require a product. It is not a video of a device taking a flash picture, dispensing juice, with a blaring siren, communicating with any iphone. We don't see any safety removed and besides the artwork still picture, the actual 'product' being used(before, during and incident)is in frame for about 1 second, and then mostly obscured. Not including of course the bizzare outro with the seemingly cavalier swinging of the device in public.

It is a concept video, as you also point out, but thats all it is. Apparently you didn't pass along any of my concerns about sequence of events etc. Were they incoherent or insincere or irrelevant, may I ask.

I guess it just seems like with all the crowdfunding go around, that it is pushing the already ridiculous pre-product lies to a new level. In reality what they are doing is asking "If such a device existed, would you buy it?". Oh, you would?!, then let me get right on it...

@John, you are usually the hopeless skeptic, don't you find this product to be more hype than most, even in this day and age?

"Don't you find this product to be more hype than most, even in this day and age?"

I am skeptical of this whole market because (1) I am not sure if people under duress are going to immediately open an app to send an alert and (2) if they are really under immediate duress, they will not have the time or ability to do so.

Relatively speaking, I think the concept of connecting it to an offensive / defensive weapon (i.e. pepper spray) makes more sense.

I have no idea if they can make it as they have not even started their crowdsourcing campaign.

"Apparently you didn't pass along any of my concerns about sequence of events etc. Were they incoherent or insincere or irrelevant, may I ask."

I've gotten no response, but they have told me they are working up a response.

Thanks! I hope I didn't seem doubting. :(

Member Update: Defender Delayed

You may recall that they started off with incredible momentum:

They reached the initial $100,000 goal in <24 hours. Not even a week later, the company broke $200,000 in sales.

But after that promising start, they soon ran out of 'pep' closing with total funds raised of $232,277. Still with more than double their goal, they should have been able to deliver by the promised Dec/Jan timeframe.

Sadly, no.

We announced in December to all of our contributors that we are taking a few additional months to develop Defender. We are working diligently to get you a delivery schedule and our supporters will be the first to be notified of our production timeline.

and then

Our Estimated delivery date is February 2015.

and now April without a new shipdate.

But due a new program called "Forever Funding", they are opening up the moneyline again.

Our campaign is open. . .again. We are thrilled to be a part of this new program on Indiegogo that allows successful campaigns, like Defender, to continue raising funds.

Successful, eh? At raising money? But this time no one is going for it and so far they have raised less than $500. But they have added some features. Like announcing to the assailant that their "Picture has been sent".

They have also been 'successful' media wise: check it out in this "Will it work?" news piece made with an actual self-defense expert.

Unfortunately, although overall a positive piece, the self-defense expert had some criticism for the device, echoing those in earlier comments above:

Kristina Beard, self-defense instructor for USA Karate in Bartlett, TN, and I played with the prototype... It is, however, very easy to cover The Defender's camera lens with your finger.

Beard loves The Defender's concept of instant defense, suspect identification and alerts to law enforcement and personal contacts at the touch of a button. But she does have concerns about the audio announcement the prototype emits after the button's pressed.

“I'd be concerned that may really frustrate and make my attacker very angry,” Beard noted. “They may have only wanted my purse. Now they're so mad, they may want to take me or hurt me worse. That would be my only concern.”

But there is hope for those looking for more than a $30 T-shirt, the new Beta-test program:

The first supporters to received Defender's will be those that signed up for the Beta Tester program. We will have a limited number of Beta devices available and we will be looking to expand our beta test group.

Who and what exactly do you beta-test it on? I'm not sure what one could safely beta-test on a fully loaded Defender, except maybe the battery life... Maybe it will be a water-filled defender, possibly a collectors edition...

Lastly, @John, after the initial IPVM coverage, Defender no doubt innocently, added a rare IPVM logo to their "Defender in the News" page. But its not even a link, so not sure how you feel about that...

Fascinating update B.

When the bubble does burst, so too will these easy multi-hundred thousand crowdfunding campaigns.

As for their IPVM reference, it is in the 'news'...

New Update from Defender:

We have been long overdue for an update and thank you for your understanding and support as we have experienced delays in our production that have prevented us from keeping the delivery schedule we had initially provided during our campaign. As a hardware startup embarking on the development of a new product and a new market, we have faced many development challenges, but we are confident that we have past the greatest hurdles and we have a clear path to completion...

Reliability isn't optional - With Defender 24/7, we made a commitment to deliver a reliable and trustworthy product. Unfortunately the development has taken much longer, but we refuse to rush out a product that does not meet our commitment to reliability and performance.

Interesting. Defender is apparently not content merely to rest on their consumer crowd funding exploits; now they are looking to entice dealers into reselling their Central Station infrastructure. From their new white paper:

You will also notice over the next few weeks that we will be changing our name to Defender 24/7. We added 24/7 to our name to make it highlight the security monitoring service that we call EVERYWHERE SECURITY™.

Smart Personal Protection provides response by utilizing a central station or alarm monitoring center. Central stations are like call centers, but they specialize in handling monitoring and responding to alarms. Central stations, such as the Defender 24/7 Monitoring Center, receive inbound notifications from alarms and make outbound calls to 911 centers.

For the security industry, Smart Personal Protection is the long awaited answer for “What’s next?” Defender 24/7 will be able to be sold and distributed via existing home security companies directly to their own customers, allowing these companies to use their existing monitoring center as the response center for their customers. The backend API provides a seamless user experience for consumers and an additional revenue stream for security providers.

Sign up before its too late.

Addendum. This 'whitepaper' is unlike any I've come across. Take a look at this section, with a 'full blown' customer's half-baked testimony: (Must be a beta-tester, since the product is not out.)

Maybe this was intended as a comic relief, but exactly what part of the narrative do you think is part of the product and what part is pure fiction?

  • Defender Neighborhood Safety Net?
  • Report Crime to news agencies?
  • Smart Watch Integration?
  • GPS mapping?
  • Angieslist partnering?
  • Heart rate monitoring?
  • Intrusion integration with automatic Defender Response?

That last one might get them in the most hot water. Look for the lawsuit entitled The Burg Blaster vs. The Jetsons...

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