Sound the Alarm

Prize-winning Northumberland inventor is one to watch

IMAGINE THE TYPICAL TECH INNOVATOR, THE FACE OF A NEW START UP. If the image that comes to mind is cowboy meets computer nerd – the basement-dwelling, Zuckerberg-type – picture Amy Arthur instead. Yes, she’s young and confident, but she’s also deeply connected to the needs of the world around her. Though the 24 year-old looks every bit as fresh-faced as her age would suggest, the experience and passion that fuel her work make her the match of any startup hopeful.

Amy, a Baltimore resident, is the inventor of Claxon, a personal security technology that allows the wearer to set off an alarm, hands-free, in case of emergency. The device, currently about half the size of a Triscuit cracker, is designed to clip onto a shoe, and sound an alarm when the foot is moved according to a specific pattern.

The idea for Claxon has been transformed from idea to prototype in an incredibly short period of time. Last May, while working out at the gym, Amy heard a news report about the significant rates of sexual assault suffered by hotel workers. “I thought ‘What? There has to be something out there already. This is crazy.’ It’s obviously such a big problem, someone’s already solved it,” she said.

But what seemed an obvious solution to Amy, wasn’t available on the market. The only security devices she could find were designed to be operated by hand, which meant that if a victim’s hands were held back, they couldn’t call for help. “If you’re a housekeeper, you’re not going to hold a device as you vacuum the floor and scrub toilets. That’s not practical, it doesn’t make sense.”

Soon after her initial research and concept development, Amy brought her idea to John Hayden, the “Venture Catalyst” at Venture13, an innovation and entrepreneurship centre that opened in Cobourg in 2018. Hayden says Claxon proved an excellent testcase of the collaborative innovation happening at Venture13.

After their initial meeting, Hayden connected Amy with Alex Papanicolaou, a hardware designer working out of Venture13’s collaborative co-working space. With his expertise in engineering hardware and feedback from the hobbyists at Northumberland Makers, who also have a lab at Venture13, Amy was able to take Claxon from idea to award-winning prototype in a few short months.

To hear Amy talk of it, she wouldn’t want you to get the wrong idea: it’s not like she’s always been an inventor. After all, she didn’t come up with her list of invention ideas – including radiation t-shirts, wearable carbon monoxide monitors, and a concept for storing stem cells at home – until she was 16 years old. By the time Amy was midway through a science degree at McMaster University, she had seen a school project idea – blue-light glasses for sufferers of seasonal affective disorder – all the way to the prototype stage.

Currently a student in the Forensic Psychology program at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Amy has a fascination for the psychological processes of a criminal mind. Her interest was fuelled by TV shows like Criminal Minds – and by a real-life professional encounter with an acquaintance who committed murder just a few days after shaking her hand. That led to an interest in policing, enrollment in a new degree program, and a summer internship with the Ontario Provincial Police.

The tale of an entrepreneur overcoming obstacles is tried and true, but Amy seems to embrace challenges as input that she can utilize to discover a better solution. While Amy was working as an intern for the OPP this past summer, an officer pointed out that her original concept for an alarm built into a shoe had a crucial flaw: “He said ‘Okay, but my wife has 20 pairs of shoes.’” Moving from building a high-tech shoe into a high-tech clip-on immediately simplified the product and accelerated the process.

While her initiative and curious mind may be innate, Amy has also been shaped by her experiences along the way. An intensely competitive gymnast throughout childhood, she suffered an injury in her teen years that brought that all-consuming activity to an end. The injury was life-altering, and Amy was challenged to give herself time to recover. Part of that process was to find alternatives to the dreams she’d had, while retaining the communication skills and drive she developed over years at the gym. “I think that experience has given me a lot of optimism that I didn’t think I had,” she says.

Last fall, Venture13 hosted their second-ever “Pitch to the Chief”, a policing-focused tech contest judged by Cobourg Police Chief Kai Liu and members of the Police Services Board that comes with a cash prize and an opportunity for policing and security-focused innovators to connect their concept with a real police force. Less than six months after first seeing the news report that sparked Claxon, and despite being up against competitors who’d put millions of dollars into research and development, Amy’s pitch was confident, clear, and, ultimately, a winner.

“Amy is an exceptional person: inventive, spirited, driven to contribute her considerable talent and energy to a worthy cause like personal safety,” Venture13’ s John Hayden says. “She is a natural presenter and leader and she certainly wowed everyone when she made her presentation at our ‘Pitch to the Chief ’ competition.”

Amy isn’t shy about talking about the expectations that a young woman in tech is up against. She sees winning this competition as a validation of her idea, her product, and ultimately, her right to confidently call herself an inventor.

“There’s so much criticism that it makes me want to push through,” she says. “I’m going to prove you wrong. Watch me.”

Story by:
Meghan Sheffield

Photography by:
Sasha Sefter

[Spring 2019 departments]