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A local company makes the OrigoSafe interlock device, aimed at creating safer roads and highways.
[STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
The OrigoSafe requires the insertion of a smartphone to allow the equipped vehicle to be started. The phone can still be used hands-free via Bluetooth or similar technology.Photo taken March 11, 2013Photo taken March 11, 2013 Origo, a Roanoke company founded by Clay Skelton, has developed a new ignition interlock system that requires drivers to secure their phone in a docking station with an authorization code, before their vehicle can start. The product is called ORIGOSafe (TM). Origo is Latin and means to begin a journey.]
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
Clay Skelton, Origo's founder, is an information technology specialist who said he first became interested in safety while working for Advance Auto Parts.
Monday, March 11, 2013
For drivers who can’t put down their cellphones, but know they should, there is now some high-tech encouragement: an ignition interlock system.
A Roanoke County company is beginning national sales of a locally made device called OrigoSafe. The system requires drivers to secure their phones in a docking station before the vehicle will start.
For parents of young drivers, or fleet operators with many trucks on the road, “we’re selling verifiable compliance” that all in-vehicle phone use is hands-free, said Brady Sheffer, senior vice president of the small private company .
The goal of the product, which costs $279 plus $100 to install, is to “end hand-held cell phone use while driving, addressing a national public safety problem,” a news release said.
That’s the risky part of phone use, company officials said as they pointed to research at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. One study found that conversing by phone while driving — the talking and listening part — adds little to the risk of a crash. It is the reaching, dialing and other tasks that draw the eyes from the road that dangerously distract drivers, Tech researchers have found.
Company leaders demonstrated the product for area media Monday at their Commonwealth Drive office in Roanoke County and are scheduled to give a presentation today at the National Press Club in Washington.
Users must have a smartphone and must use a phone case that comes with the docking station. When the cased phone is docked, it unites the phone’s charging port with system electronics wired to the vehicle. A designated administrator, such as a parent or company supervisor, programs the system using a small, connected touch pad.
Under the OrigoSafe method, which the company hopes to patent, the smartphone of each authorized driver functions like an ignition key. The vehicle won’t move unless a recognized phone is docked and left there.
With the phone in the dock, the screen is no longer in view.
However, a user can continue to talk and send and receive messages over the docked phone while driving using Bluetooth or similar technologies that permit hands-free operation, either by voice command or buttons on the dash or steering wheel. Such systems come on many new vehicles, OrigoSafe said.
To support truckers, some of whom park with the engine running overnight, Origo was designed so a user who first sets the parking brake can undock and use his or her phone normally without triggering the alarm. A parent might do the same thing while waiting in a long line of stopped vehicles to pick up a child at school, company officials said.
To combat distracted driving by phone-wielding motorists, Ray LaHood, secretary of transportation, and others have advocated turning off the phone or placing it well out of reach in the trunk or glove compartment. Sheffer said company officials interviewed scores of business people who warned “productivity on the road is important.”
Disabling or powering down the phone for safety purposes while driving “just didn’t work” because it meant lost productivity, Sheffer said.
A marketing slogan calls Origo “the only true solution to distracted driving that completely removes the phone from the driver’s hand, while still allowing full productivity and connectivity while on the road.”
But what if there’s an emergency?
If a user undocks the phone while driving, the system shrieks a warning sound but the engine stays on and the vehicle can be driven. The user would have his phone back and it would work normally
To guard against unauthorized or unnecessary undocking, a designated administrator such as a fleet company supervisor or a parent would then have to reboot the system for that user to operate the vehicle again after the next time it is shut off.
Clay Skelton, the company’s founder, is an information technology specialist who said he first became interested in safety while working for Advance Auto Parts in a safety-oversight position at a warehouse, with its forklift crews and worker compliance mandates. The software engineer spent 14 years at Advance and worked four years at another company before delving into Origo, which is a business name for Mill Mountain Capital LLC.
Skelton said that during the project, he was rear-ended by a driver he had seen texting at the wheel only moments before. “He felt horrible,” Skelton said.
Skelton would not say how much money a group of private investors has spent on the project, but officials said the company is fully funded and will this month begin shipping the first units sold.
“We’ve had people want to give us money, but we don’t need it,” said Cheryl Lynch, director of marketing.
The device is for sale at driveorigo.com.
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