On the morning of Dec. 4, 1997, Orlando Robinson, then a 25-year-old law school student, was driving his fiancée Dionyell Walton, a social worker, to her office. Busy finishing up a report, Walton neglected to buckle her seat belt. When another driver ran a red light and collided into Robinson’s car, it cut Dionyell’s life short.
Robinson, a self-described tinkerer, came up with the idea of a safety module to prevent such tragedies in the future. Determined, he digested every book and manual he could find to learn the necessary circuitry to make his idea a reality. To pay for it all, Robinson took out a second mortgage on his house and sold some other property he owned. He also turned to friends for support. All told, Robinson raised roughly $10,000 to purchase the necessary components and to pay for the manufacturing of the module.
By 1998, his hard work came to fruition. Robinson launched his own company, D&D Innovations Inc. and its first product, the Seatbelt Shifter Lock. Attaching to the shifter lock solenoid (the device that prevents motorists from shifting automatic transmissions unless the foot is on the brake pedal) the Seatbelt Shifter Lock does not allow the driver to take the vehicle out of park until all occupied seatbelts are fastened. Pressure sensors installed in the seats tell the module which ones are occupied.
To date, Robinson’s invention is installed in some 300 vehicles, including those owned by Wrigley’s and Pep Boys. His company is currently in negotiations with two of the Big Three automakers. Though he would not comment on which two he hopes to do business with, Robinson, 29, says he’s “optimistic” about landing a contract. Revenues for D&D totaled approximately $800,000 for 2001, and Robinson expects a significant increase should his business land contracts currently in negotiations. “The original equipment manufacturer [with whom] negotiations are most serious with will probably be somewhere around $9 million,” says Robinson. “And that should happen this year.” He proposed that Seatbelt Shifter Lock — which only works with automatic transmissions — be offered as an option rather than a standard feature.
The name of the company is a tribute to his late fiancée. One D is for his fiancée Dionyell. The other is for Princess Diana, who was killed in a 1997 automobile accident. “My fiancée admired Princess Diana and when Princess Diana died, my fiancée was shaken up,” says Robinson. “It was ironic that my fiancée died in the same way as a woman she admired so much.”
D&D Innovations has a few other products, including a security device similar to the Seatbelt Shifter Lock in which motorist can lock the gear shifter in the park position using a remote control device similar to a car alarm. This prevents an auto thief from engaging the transmission by hot-wiring or with an ignition key. Despite the tragic death of his fiancée, Robinson finds motivation in her memory. “I lost someone I loved and I don’t want her death to be in vain.”
D&D Innovations Inc.,