A smart phone innovation that UCSB alumni Christian Smith and Chris Herbert invented in 2008 for the Technology Management Program’s ‘New Venture Competition’ has been topping recent consumer electronics reviews.
The Cobra Phone tag —which pairs a smart phone application and a keychain-sized bluetooth device to keep track of belongings as to prevent their being misplaced — is a remodeled version of the graduates’ original prototype, the Phone Halo. On Jan. 13, the Cobra Phone tag beat Microsoft and Sony at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas for Popular Mechanics’ Editor’s Choice award. The product was featured on ABC’s “Live! With Regis and Kelly” five days later.
According to Smith, the Cobra system functions as a two-way alarm between Android, BlackBerry or iPhone cell phones and valuables such as keys or purses. A downloadable application monitors the distance between the phone and the tag and alerts starts the two devices beeping and ringing if they are separated. The Cobra tag is tracked through GPS and also sends alerts through text, Facebook and Twitter to the tag’s owner.
“Over 60 percent of Americans are going to lose or misplace their phones this month,” Herbert said. “The Phone Halo and Cobra Phone Tag alleviate consumers of this problem by providing what Smith calls ‘a complete solution to loss and displacement.’”
The pair originally developed the concept in 2008 for UCSB’s “New Venture Competition” — a business and technology contest sponsored by the Technology Management Program.
“So, we’re sitting at Carrillo Dining Commons the night before the competition and we didn’t know exactly what we were going to do,” Herbert said. “And at that moment, our friend just walked in and said he lost his phone. We realized you can’t lose your phone if it’s always attached to you.”
The pair was defeated that year, but won the competition in 2009 with a “re-vamped strategy and new business model.”
Smith said the seed money from the first place prize allowed them to develop the project.
“With the $7,500 check we rented a house and garage and built live prototypes of the actual tag that would be used,” Smith said.
Their first model, the Phone Halo, was publicly launched in March of 2010 at D.E.M.O. — a consumer electronics launching conference in Palm Springs, Calif.
“After the D.E.M.O. conference, we were in the Wall Street Journal and received a lot of other great press,” he said. “We carried that momentum and started selling on Amazon.”
Phone Halo Technology currently retails for $59.95 on Amazon.com. According to Smith and Herbert, the Cobra Phone Tag will be available online and in retail stores for a comparable price this summer.
TMP Director Bob York, an electrical engineering professor, said the annual competition is known to help students launch successful business ventures.
“UCSB alumni and businessmen David Wong and Steve Cooper really helped them develop the contacts with Cobra Electronics and some Chinese manufacturing companies,” York said. “Fifteen companies have spawned out of TMP so Phone Halo is one of many.”