01.09.13

New VivoPlay Wristwatch Helps Parents Keep Track of Wayward Kids

Spurred by his 4-year-old son going astray, a Norwegian businessman came up with a watch that talks to smartphones, dialing one of five programmed phone numbers—dad, mom, uncle, and so on. Winston Ross reports from the Consumer Electronics Show.
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Julie Jacobson, Jae C. Hong

Tucked in between the glut of iPhone cases, in the shadow of the dazzle of the next generation of high-definition televisions, choking on the exhaust of the row of self-driving cars, there are a few genuine, heartfelt, worthwhile stories at the Consumer Electronics Show. Real stories, about real people who invented something cool because they were inspired to do it, based on some life-changing event that altered the trajectory of their own—real—lives.

Enter 35-year-old Sten Kirkbak, of Oslo. He was running a trend analytics business there three years ago when a routine trip to the mall turned into the longest 20 minutes of his life, and the genesis of the company he brought to the world’s largest consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, which kicked off Tuesday.

Kirkbak was at the CC Vest mall in Oslo with his 4-year-old son, Filip, and a friend, who had two children in tow. They stopped to eat in Burger King and had left when Filip discovered to his dismay that he’d left his hat inside. Dad went in to retrieve the lid, thinking the boy was with his pal. His pal thought the boy was with his dad.

The first couple minutes, OK surely he’s in the next store down. Four minutes, five minutes go by, and it sets in:

“You realize he’s actually gone,” Kirkbak told The Daily Beast.  

Once word gets out, potential child-snatchers might think twice about scooping up a youngster if he’s got a funny-looking watch on his arm.

Gone, toddling around somewhere in one of the largest malls in Norway. Was he kidnapped? Would he venture out into the parking lot and get hit by a car? Kirkbak had no idea, and no way to find him.

Ten minutes went by, then 20, as the panicked father ran from store to store, scouring. Finally he found the boy just outside the mall, and the crisis had passed. But Kirkbak was a tech guy, and he realized that day that there must be a way to prevent such harrowing moments, moments parents all over the world have found themselves in. Turn your head for a second, your kid disappears.

His only options: slap a GPS tracker on the little squirt or buy him a cellphone. GPS would work only when Filip was outside, though, and 4-year-olds aren’t exactly the most trustworthy candidates for toting around $400 smartphones. So Kirkbak started a company, Evado Filip, to design an app that controls a product, the VivoPlay, to bridge the gap.

It’s a fancy wristwatch that talks to smartphones. Hold the red button on the side for three seconds, and it dials one of five phone numbers programmed by the Evado Filip app. First dad, then mom, then uncle, then whoever. First person doesn’t answer, the watch moves onto the next. It has a speaker and a microphone, so when Pops picks up, little Johnny can describe where he is.

Say he doesn’t push the button, though, and Mom or Dad just wants to locate him. The watch uses first GPS (the most accurate, but it doesn’t work indoors), then triangulated Wif (which isn’t always available), then the cellphone technology GSM (the fail-safe, albeit least accurate, option) to get as precise a location as possible. Simple as that.

Kirkbak hopes the device not only will help freaked-out parents find their kids, but ward off would-be kidnappers. Once word gets out that there are watches like this on the market, potential child snatchers might think twice about scooping up a youngster if he’s got a funny-looking watch on his arm.

The Evado Filip, and VivoPlay, will be launched this summer with a pilot phase in Los Angeles.