According to a recent report, panic buttons are among one of the most wanted wearables. The problem is, there's not that many out there. Well, not high profile ones anyway. We've covered crowdfunded success stories like Athena and Leaf's Safer smart jewellery in the past, but there's not been one device that has really put the concept of a personal safety wearable on the map.
Nimb hopes it can change all that. The smart ring elegantly conceals a button that can send out a distress signal to alert friends, families and emergency services as well as record audio via your smartphone, which could be used in evidence.
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The small team based out of New York is approaching the end of a Kickstarter campaign where it's already raised the money required to mass produce its piece of smart jewellery. We wanted to find out what happens after Kickstarter. Before that though, we went back to the beginning to find out why the small startup felt it had to make Nimb.
"It all started around two years ago," says Kathy Roma, co-founder and communications director for Nimb.
"Our CEO Leo Bereschansky talked to his friend and she told this story of how she was stalked by her ex-partner and spent an entire hour arguing with him outside the front of her door calling for help. No one came out. She said the guy held her hands and couldn't use her phone to call for help and her bag where she had the pepper spray and some other self defence devices. That was not an option really."
"So that story struck Leo really deeply and he started thinking of something for this situation where you are in an emergency and you can't reach for your phone, which is quite a frequent case if you're being assaulted or if you have some health issues. That was the trigger."
The design dilemma
The decision to make a smart ring over a belt, bracelet or necklace was a quick one. The team wanted something that was the easiest to use with the touch of your finger or thumb and a ring felt the obvious choice. Nimb isn't ruling out adding other wearables to the collection in the future that could be worn elsewhere on the body.
While the decision to opt for a ring was an easy one, getting the design right was more difficult. "We knew that if the ring wasn't likeable or cool, no one would want to use it," explained Roma. "Emergencies don't happen everyday, but that's the point. We have to wear something that fits with your normal life and everyday style."
"We don't differentiate between men and women, but we had women in mind when we designed it. We managed to do something really nice for both the male and female hand."
After playing with dozens of prototypes, Nimb decided to go with a look that came from an unlikely source. "The guy who made the current design is an architect," Roma told us. "He spent his entire career projecting buildings and open space. This was his first attempt in jewellery and wearables. We worked with some jewellery companies and some industrial design companies, but we went with the architect design because it was a really good looking ring that was light and comfortable."
With the design picked, the next big challenges was trying to cram in every technological component into that small body. That includes the battery, the vibrating components and a Bluetooth antenna. So it's perhaps not surprising that the decision was made to abandon plans for a more feature packed device. "We thought about making it more like a fitness tracker," Roma told us. "We can still do the fitness tracking aspects, but that's not the way we see our product. When we started the Kickstarter campaign, we asked people if they wanted extra features, but no one did."
More than a smart ring
What becomes abundantly clear is that Nimb believes that its smart ring is just the start of increasing personal safety and is conscious not to over promise what it can deliver. "You can't predict anything or eliminate every possibility of the emergency. What we do is try to do is significantly increase the chances of a better outcome for yourself in the emergency situation."
There's also ambitions for something greater than one single device. "What we want to do is build a solid system that is deeply integrated into existing institutions of public safety in different countries," Roma explained.
"We think about this crowdsourced nature of security where people can come forward and help people in trouble in the most efficient way. Cooperating with the police to share valuable information. We want a flexible system where you can use different applications and devices and stay connected with people you love and care about or the members of your community. To build communities where people can help people."
You can't predict anything or eliminate every possibility of an emergency. What we try to do is significantly increase the chances of a better outcome for yourself in an emergency situation
Right now, Nimb is designed to be used in the US for now, but Roma knows that the smart ring could prove valuable in other regions across the world and it's thinking a lot about emerging markets where the problem of personal safety is huge. That's hasn't stopped the outpouring of responses that currently fill Roma's email inbox. "I've received letters from people from all over the world," she said. "Their stories are touching, sometimes they are horrible. But there's a lot of hope that we can find a solution."
Nimb might be one of the first panic button smart rings we've seen, but it's certainly not the first smart ring that's surfaced over the past couple of years. Some have been good, others, not so good. Nimb has been keeping a close eye on the competition and is wary about making some of the same mistakes. "We've identified two main problems with smart rings," Roma said. "The first is design. You have to be really careful about something people have to wear on their hands.
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"The next thing is ergonomics. It should be really easy to use, quick and quiet. If you need the other hand to press the emergency button it doesn't make any sense. It happened to a couple of our competitors. They put the button on the outer radius of the ring so you can't push the button without the other hand"
With the Kickstarter campaign set to come to an end, Nimb is already looking to the future both short term and long term. That includes integrating its system into existing security systems like the 911 dispatch system and other public security systems.
It's already thinking about the next generation hardware as well. "The next generation Nimb will be completely independent from the smartphone," Roma told us. "We've managed to place the GSM chip into the ring. We can put a microphone in as well. Our designers and our engineering team have already confirmed that it will be pretty much possible. We want to be at the forefront of making personal safety devices."