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Local inventor braves CBC’s Dragon’s Den

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Tim Newman with his MiSyren branded vehicle. Photo by Justin Medve, QNet News

By Justin Medve [1]

BELLEVILLE – Tim Newman shows no signs of slowing down on his goal of keeping roads safe for emergency responders and motorists.

The Belleville resident has developed MiSyren [2], a system that allows quick broadcast of a warning message from police, fire and ambulance drivers to other vehicles. Last Wednesday, Canadians watched him pitch it on CBC’s [3] Dragon’s Den [4], a program that gives entrepreneurs a chance to show off their “million-dollar idea” to a panel of investors.

But it was a long road for MiSyren before that opportunity came along.

Newman’s invention came about because of something that happened to him six years ago, he told QNet News last week. He was driving on four-lane Old Highway 2 when the siren of an ambulance pierced his vehicle. In an effort not to slow down the ambulance, he sped up and pulled in front of a truck in the next lane. The truck driver was unaware of why he had been cut off and pulled into the path of the ambulance. The tense look Newman saw on the ambulance driver’s face got him thinking.

“I realized based on his reaction this must happen more than just once. This must happen a lot,” he said.

So Newman set out to find a solution that could be built into everyone’s ride.

MiSyren interface

The MiSyren interface for emergency responders. Photo by Justin Medve, QNet News

His original plan was to install a device in every vehicle that would broadcast a message from first responders. But installation would have cost about $2 per vehicle, which would quickly add up for automakers, as he learned in a conversation he had with the president of Ford North America [5]. That conversation was a turning point, Newman said.

With the help of students at Toronto’s Seneca College [6], Newman developed an app for iPhone [7], Android [8] and Blackberry [9] devices. He avoided development costs thanks to a grant to the college from the Ontario Centres of Excellence [10] that gives students workplace experience.

The app became available in June 2015. It has since received over 1,500 downloads, though initially it works only in the Belleville area through a pilot partnership with the Belleville fire and police departments.

“They have been helpful the whole way along,” Newman said.

Police officers and firefighters heading to an emergency launch the message by using their smartphones to choose from a selection of pre-recorded messages. Once they pick the most useful message, it is broadcast to app owners driving in the vicinity.

Here’s one example of the messages:

http://www.qnetnews.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/1-Fire-fighters-on-route.mp3 [11]

All the messages start with a siren to alert the driver. Then there’s a concise message and a segment of silence to give the driver time to digest the message before the phone or sound system goes back to music, GPS [12] directions or whatever else it was doing.

But making motorists more alert and reducing the chance of accidents isn’t all MiSyren accomplishes. When first responders don’t have to suddenly brake, accelerate or swerve, wear and tear on emergency vehicles is reduced, Newman said.

His business model would see every emergency vehicle outfitted for $20 a month. The app would stay free for motorists.

To get the word out about MiSyren and gain business experience, Newman has connected with development agencies including Launch Lab [13] in Kingston. He has also presented at events like GrindSpace XL [14] and Tech.Co’s Startup of the Year Competition [15]. He is currently a semifinalist in the Global Automotive Innovation Challenge [16].

On top of these experiences came Newman’s Dragon’s Den pitch. He was an avid fan of the show, he said: “For me it’s not just entertainment – for me it’s business advice.”

He decided that national exposure was a logical step for promoting MiSyren, so went to a Dragon’s Den audition in Montreal a year ago. His pitch was chosen, and the show was filmed in Toronto last April.

He had to keep the results mostly to himself until his segment was shown. So on the evening of its air date, Newman shared the experience with friends, family and fellow innovators at the Dugout Grill [17] in Belleville. “One-third of Canada watches (Dragon’s Den) every week – it’s amazing. So when you think of one-third of Belleville watching that, why not do it publicly?” he said, explaining the gathering.

While he failed to get the investment he was looking for from the Dragons, he was happy with the exposure for MiSyren.

“The one thing that was most important to me was to make sure that my product was going to be portrayed in the right light,” Newman said.

Looking forward, he said, he hopes to integrate MiSyren into driving software such as OnStar [22], and possibly expand it to areas other than emergency services, like mail trucks or snowplows – “anything where there’s a traffic irregularity and the driver would need to know.”

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