From the desk of “I’m not sure if that’s a good idea” at CES in Las Vegas comes 444. The early-stage start-up plans to combine pepper spray with some electronics so that a potential attack victim’s friends would be notified can if they do I had to use the repellent spray to get myself out of a tight spot. 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 named 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 an angelic number that represents protection,” Logan says in an interview with TechCrunch. “We are a self-defense company, so the name fits very well with our company and our mission of self-protection.”
The company is still at the beginning of its development; The prototype shown at CES was a 3D printed prototype and early prototype PCB – more of a proof of concept than an actual product so far. The ultimate plan involves a pepper spray aerosol and a bluetooth transmitter that connects to a phone. When the pepper spray is deployed, the device signals the potential victim’s phone, which then sends a message along with the current location to a series of predefined phone numbers.
A spicy getaway
“I see all these women carrying pepper spray devices. They are usually large, pink, and bulky. They’re just pieces of plastic that end up just tossing in your backpack or purse. In a time of peril, they can’t get it in time,” Logan says, explaining that they designed a clip that makes it easier to carry in an available location. “The clip attaches directly to the wearer, whether it’s on their sports bra when they go jogging or around their belt when they’re just walking around campus. No matter what, it’s an arm’s length away, and you don’t have to fiddle around to get caught in a time of peril. When they activate their device, not only do they have six to nine seconds of spray time, but their current location is sent to up to 10 contacts of their choice via an app installed on their phone.”
The company believes 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 for the device is around $35 per unit. That’s significantly cheaper than, say, Flare’s stylish bracelets, but far more expensive than the $7 Amazon charges for the large, pink, bulky pepper sprays the company is replacing.
Is it justifiable?
We were a little curious to find two men at the helm of a company targeting women, but the founder says he sees no conflict in this.
“WWe went through a three to four month program called iCOR at the University of Michigan. We interviewed about 15 of our target audience each week and asked them what they like, what they don’t like, why they use self-defense, why they don’t use self-defense,” Logan says, dismissing a question as to whether it might have made sense to do that Add one or two women to the founding team. “We asked them if they see each other’s current location and if they track each other, things like that. Our company and our product were shaped by this customer finding work.”
Far be it from me to stop a few fledgling entrepreneurs from following their dreams, but given that smartphones have increasingly sophisticated contingency measures built in, I wonder if there really is a place in the market for this product – doubly important, since it cannot communicate with emergency services or friends on its own, it needs to be connected to a smartphone via Bluetooth.
As a 6-foot-4, martial arts-trained ex-cop, I’m willing to concede that it’s possible I’m privilege-blinded in this case, so maybe take my criticism with a handful of sodium chloride. That being said, everything I know about self-defense screams “keep it simple”. A $7 can of pepper spray in one hand and a phone in the other seems more reliable than the solution 444 outlines with his vision for a safer future.