Concerned Mompreneur Develops Driver Watchdog Device
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

Christian Johnson never intended on becoming an inventor. But when her son was ready to start driving, she was not only worried about what all parents of teenaged drivers worry about—distracted driving, she was also distressed about the possibility that her son could end up a victim of DWB (Driving While Black). Then about three months after her son began driving, her mother had a diabetic stroke while driving.

So Johnson, 38, decided to develop Driver Watchdog, a smart driving safety device with dual cameras that allows users to see inside and outside of their vehicles through a secure mobile application.

[RELATED: 5 Mobile Apps to Help Keep Children Safe]

“In the wake of all the police misconduct, my anxiety was through the roof,” says Johnson, a single mother. “I started looking for a product that did what I wanted it to do, including real time monitoring and notifications. I started putting together all of the different features I wanted and it just grew from there.”

The product, which requires no professional installation, will notify up to five contacts in the case of an emergency. Drivers can press a panic button during a police stop, and the device also notifies owners in the event of any trauma that happens to the vehicle. Driver Watchdog also detects high acceleration, hard braking, and more. The geo-fencing feature notifies owners by email, text or phone if the car enters an owner-defined restricted area, and the two wide-angle HD cameras are also enabled with motion detection and night vision. The latter feature can be useful for drivers approaching their automobiles in a desolate parking garage late at night, notes Johnson. The device comes with a long-lasting battery that can be charged with a USB port.

Owners have the option to view data in real-time or review footage and vehicle information (stored in the cloud) at a later date. Unlike its competition–OnStar or Progressive’s Snapshot–vehicle data is not under surveillance by a third party.

“I’m a consumer and I made this specifically for consumers. OnStar freaks me out because it is a third-party monitoring group. It’s so invasive. Driver Watchdog is for your eyes only. You do what you want with your own evidence,” says Johnson, who recently completed an accelerated Master’s in Tech program at the University of Buffalo. “Plus, since there is no dashboard or screen, the driver isn’t distracted by it.”

Working inside the D!G (Design Innovation Garage), an incubator in Buffalo, New York, Johnson, a solopreneur, heads up a team of six. Thus far, she has bootstrapped the company using $65,000 from her savings along with help from family and friends. In June, she also obtained a $30,000 loan from the Buffalo Urban League’s Minority and Women Technical Assistance and Loan Fund, and won a minority business grant from First Niagara Bank and National Grid Corporation.

“Our goal and mission is to help save lives and provide jobs in Buffalo. We want to use recycled products and have Driver Watchdog assembled in the United States,” says Johnson.

The company launched an Indiegogo Campaign in May to help bring the product to market. Johnson expects that Driver Watchdog will be available for purchase in November for $399, but shoppers can pre-order the technology now on Indiegogo for $229. Subscription service will cost between $9.99 and 19.99/month depending on how much data is used, and users will be able to add the data onto their AT&T, Verizon, Sprint or T-mobile cell phone bill.

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.