Two weeks ago, as I was going home after work, I noticed four young guys walking behind me. I assumed that I was slowing them down and edged closer to the wall to let them pass through, only to realize that the boys were now intentionally blocking my way – ambling too slow for me to be able to walk normally and zigzagging their pace so I couldn’t walk past. I tried to get off the sidewalk and even tried to cross the road but always, one of them would be standing in my way, snickering at his friends. Frustrated, and slightly alarmed, I decided to stop walking altogether and wait until they walked away. And what did they do? They stopped walking too, then went to stand a few feet ahead. That’s when I called my cousin to come pick me up. But what if my cell phone wasn’t working? What if my cousin hadn’t picked up? What if the scenario was a lot more serious than I had judged it to be? Silent Beacon is a wearable, waterproof, Bluetooth device that sends real-time GPS alerts to your emergency contacts whenever you suspect a threat to your safety. Developed by Germantown entrepreneur Kenneth Kelly, Silent Beacon also has a mobile app version of its device, and a 24-hour call-center service to ensure added safety of your near and dear.
Silent Beacon‘s progress map is impressive. Barely a month into its crowd-funding project on Indiegogo, it has raised nearly $55,000 (quite a lot more than its goal of $20,000) for mass production and distribution of its services. The Silent Beacon device is a small, round-ish smartphone (or tablet and PC) accessory that runs on non-rechargeable batteries, measures about 40mm in length and 8mm in depth, and costs $60 (the lowest price for a gadget of its kind). The company has already begun manufacturing, is taking pre-orders, and is estimated to begin shipping in September later this year. Read on for an exclusive interview with Kenneth Kelley, owner and creator of Silent Beacon, as conducted by your own Geek Insider, Ananya Shrestha.
How did the idea and motivation behind Silent Beacon arise and what were you doing before it came into existence?
I was working on another project and in the background I would hear CNN talk about how violent crimes are on the rise. A violent crime occurs every 26 seconds in the US and it shocked me. We have more mobile phones then there are humans; why is help not getting there in time? It is because you can’t use your cell phone in an emergency, you can’t pinpoint your exact location in a car accident, no criminal will allow you the luxury of using your cell phone. So I decided there needs to be a device that can not only call 911 but alert your friends and family of your emergency, and with one touch of a button, so you can focus on getting yourself out of your current predicament.
In the past few years, there’s been a steady rise in the development of personal safety apps, home security apps, and the likes. Do you think society today has a greater need for apps like these? Would you say that its getting more dangerous?
Criminals are getting smarter, cell phones are getting more technical, and I think entrepreneurs are noticing the gap between being convenient and safety getting wider. We are just here to pull that back together and seamlessly integrate into our customers lives.
So we know Silent Beacon features the device, app, and the 24-hour call center. How are these three integrated together? How exactly do they work, with and without each other? In what ways is Silent Beacon different from other safety apps out there?
One press of the Silent Beacon product and you can alert all your loved ones. It sends them your GPS location where they can track you in real time. There is also a nudge feature in case you just feel unsafe but are not in danger. The app is free and can be used any time the same way.
The reason we have the product is because in an emergency, your cell phone is not as accessible as you may imagine. The call center option is for those who live alone, are faced with disabilities or are just frail and need the extra support. Unlike Life Alert and other companies, this is an option you do not need to pay for a monthly fee to be protected, just if you want that extra support.
It seems like most of the safety apps these days are geared towards women’s safety but we noticed in your campaign video that Silent Beacon caters to pretty much everyone, from children to the elderly and the able-bodied to those with disease or disabilities. To me at least, it looks like Silent Beacon was created keeping in mind the fact that anyone, anywhere could be in need of help. How is Silent Beacon created to be made accessible to these different demographics?
I am a guy and I would not consider myself someone who fits the category of needing a safety device for many of the reasons children and women may. However, I ride a motorcycle off by myself and to be able to give my family peace of mind that if something happens I can instantly alert them, well that’s a no-brainer.
I noticed a few start ups making jewelry, well I don’t wear jewelry and neither does my mom or dad so it’s not something practical. A small device I can fit in my pocket is, or have on my keychain like my car alarm. Silent Beacon is for everyone and that’s why we made it so universal. I want to save lives, that’s it. It’s not a fashion show or a competition against other companies.
What was the design process like? What were some of the most challenging aspects of it?
Making sure that false alerts were minimum was my biggest concern. We have made two indentations on either side of the device which must be pressed – no accidental alerts while in your pocket or if you sit on it. This was not challenging, but very important and we think we did a great job with the design.
So I read that you decided to go with crowd-funding because selling the Silent Beacon rights for a higher price would make the device less affordable to the public. Sticking to Indiegogo, you’ve been able to provide the device to people for $60, a very low price for a gadget of its kind. How do you feel about your decision now?
I am very happy. We wanted to make sure we got out there first and without the delusion we see from corporations coming in and changing the price tag and model. I even see influences on other Indiegogo campaigns and if that’s what they want to do that’s fine, but this is to save lives, no greed or hidden motive. I make enough money from my other companies to enjoy the lifestyle I want. This is for the people, my contribution to society if you will.
I have another question about the device that I’m sure a lot of the people looking into it have wondered about too. Since Silent Beacon is connected via Bluetooth (the range of which isn’t always that great) how does it affect the device’s usability?
The only function of the device is to send one signal to the app; the rest is done inside your phone. We have tested upwards of 70 meters and it has worked. This is a cell phone accessory so your phone does need to be present, the alternative is a GPS unit, but with that comes monthly payments and very limited methods in which your loved ones can be notified. Silent Beacon utilizes your phone, so it can send emails, text messages, push notifications, and other alerts all at once to multiple people.
Are there any aspects of Silent Beacon that you would like to improve on or develop further?
We are developing a medical version, the pet version, and a home version that uses newer technology for people who are inside their homes.
You also mentioned your other companies, so how has your experience with them helped with setting up this project? Also, could you tell us a little bit about your creative team over at Silent Beacon?
My last venture was a software company which allowed me to surround myself with a great team who already knew the ins and outs.
As far as the creative team, I created the idea, the design, the website, and overall look of the mobile app. The team led by our mobile architect, Asif, was able to take my vision and code/program the bank end to do exactly what we needed it to do. So unfortunately, I am the only guy creating everything, then having my employees carry out the plan, which they do flawlessly!
What are some of your immediate goals regarding Silent Beacon?
Getting it in the hands of our great consumers so it can do its job and help in emergencies!
What does the future of the Silent Beacon company look like at the moment?
We want to be on the cutting edge of the most recent technology. We will constantly be updating as components get smaller and cheaper to allow our customers to always have the best technology out there. I feel companies like Life Alert have really let their customers down and it’s depressing. Even John Walshes “great call” boasts how great it is, but it is a flip phone that costs more money (and monthly costs) than a smartphone… go figure.
At the end then, apart from using Silent Beacon or apps like it, what advice would you like to give to out our readers about keeping themselves, their loved ones, and their communities safe?
It sounds cliché but, be aware of your surroundings, protect your family, and don’t give anyone the chance to make you a victim.