Local inventor poised to launch personal black box

Image of a black box Nigel Fibbs, an Ottawa-based inventor, is poised to launch his latest innovation: a small electronic device which he affectionately refers to as the "Personal Black Box". In a nutshell, the personal black box is an extremely small, extremelyportable, recording device whose sole purpose is to maintain an audio-visual record for a short time interval just prior to, and shortly following, the user's death. Sound macabre?

"I got the idea after reading a famous last words article," Fibbs said, "from something like the Darwin Awards. One guy had smashed out a wall with a sledgehammer just after having muttered 'I'm pretty sure this isn't a supporting wall'. Some other famous last words were 'It's ok, it's not loaded' and 'Of course I took the fuses out'. It could be very valuable for those people who like exploring, climbing mountains or jumping out of aeroplanes and so forth", Fibbs continued, "when suddenly realizing that it was really a very silly idea and wish that they could have recorded some last message for their loved ones."

Commenting on the necessity for the device and on anticipated consumer demand, Fibbs asserted "There were about two million people killed just last year simply because they decided to leave their comfort zones. The news is always full of stupid shit that people do and I imagine we all got a few stunts which didn't make the the front page out of sheer luck. There could be some pretty educational or interesting ones besides the more generic 'Oh fuck' ones."

Image of microchip on fingertip Thanks largely to the physical size and increased storage capacity of micro-memory cards, recording devices have become significantly smaller and far more portable. Personal recording devices are not a novel idea, Fibbs concedes, pointing to other portable recording devices like the uCorder by Ires Technologies or the Memoto Lifelogging Camera which originated on Kickstarter. Fibbs is quick to point out that the Personal Black Box differs from those gadgets in a very signficant way.

Whereas the uCorder, reviewed here, is essentially an inexpensive, low-resolution, wearable miniature camcorder, it effectively records everything in its wake. The unit, once powered on, continues to record real-time video until the unit is powered off, runs out of memory or runs out of power; whichever comes first. The Memoto, reviewed here, is essentially a wearable digital miniture camera which snaps individual still photographs, the frequency of which is controlled by an intevalometer. Every 30 seconds the Memoto takes a 5-megapixel photo which can subsequently be compiled and viewed as a single, soundless, stop-motion video.

Fibbs' 'Personal Black Box' differs in that its primary objective, unlike these other recording devices, is not life-logging but, instead, death-logging. Its purpose is not to capture those sweet special moments when the planets and stars seem to have aligned and such that favourable conditions prevail. On the contrary, the Personal Black Box's sole raison d'etre is to capture that brief period in time when things went wrong; in some cases, horribly wrong.

"The Personal Black Box is equipped with a programable loop mode which can be set to 5, 15 or 30 minute recording intervals, depending on available memory. A pulse tranducer, in contact with either the earlobe or wrist, acts as the system's loop control.", the inventor said. "In the simplest of terms, the device is effectively tethered to the user, monitoring the user's pulse. The dead man's switch, Fibbs explained, "operates much like on an outboard motor which switches off when we fall overboard." As the device is currently moving from its prototype into production, concerns over copyright and intellectual property precluded the Ottawa inventor from providing a more comprehensive summary of the product's specification, however, he did assert that the device employs an innovative piezoelectric sensor and integrated Bluetooth technology to communicate with its propreitary smartphone application software. "While most of them use a quartz crystal," Fibbs added, "we've considered more recent research which fires a laser through your earlobe to sense the change in blood colour with every heart beat."

Image of camera earrings Fibbs envisions several "flavours" of the Personal Black Box depending, of course, on consumer demand. "The camera could go in a hat or belt buckle" he said, elaborating on some of the possibilities, including the possibility of special order custom designs "tailored to the needs of the individual". The production model, however, scheduled for commercial release in late-October (just in time for the Christmas rush), will be the 'Personal Black Box Earrings' model, fashioned upon the prototype.

"It really works delightfully well," Fibbs said. "Our early testing on mice proved quite successful. Their large ears made them suitable candiates for wearing the prototype earrings model. I've got to say though; a mouse wearing diamond earrings did look a bit silly. We have hours of video from hundreds of test mice who went for the cheese." Commenting on human trials, Fibbs added, "It was quite happenchance that the device's loop mode was disrupted during human trials when one of our beta-testers, God rest his soul, choked on a matza ball and met a rather unexpected end right at the kitchen table. We all miss Moshe very much."

Submitted by Jeff Dubois, 01 April 2013