Sensor inventors have hunter safety in sights

Last updated 05:00 08/02/2014

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Wellington startup Hunter Safety Lab is close to pulling the trigger on its new safety device, reports Martin Moore of Unlimited magazine. 

Wellington startup Hunter Safety Lab is in talks with New Zealand and international distributors and hopes to have its new hunting safety device on the shelves by this year's deer mating season.

The device, called IRIS, is a rifle attachment designed to improve hunting safety by beeping and flashing when the hunter is aiming at a person wearing an IRIS vest or cap.

Hunter Safety Lab's first batch of 1000 units is due out in the next three to four weeks, and the company plans to have the sensors, vest and caps in New Zealand stores by March, when the "roar" is expected to begin.

"It's mating season, when they do the big bellowing, and the hunters will get excited and go in after them," co-founder Michael Scott said. "Historically it's when most accidents tend to happen."

A New Zealander dies in a hunting accident on average once every nine months, and non-lethal incidents and near misses are even more common, he said.

"They're particularly tragic because generally here almost exclusively the person who is shot is shot by their companion, which is normally a close friend or even a family member."

The company is also in talks with international distributors and aims to start exporting the system to America and Europe later this year in time for the northern hemisphere hunting seasons.

"The primary reason for that is that [America is] the biggest market for that sort of stuff. It's way bigger than over here. There's approximately around 20 million [hunters]," Mr Scott said.

In Europe he believes there is also a potential market among non-hunters enjoying the outdoors, as they would be able to buy the detectable vests and caps separately.

"They've had a lot of pressure from people who want to get rid of hunting because of the danger and because there's a lot more interaction in shared areas with bush walkers and mushroom pickers, " he said.

The IRIS system is unique on the market outside of military grade friend or foe identification systems, and is substantially cheaper, Mr Scott said.

First conceived of by Mr Scott and his co-founder David Grove in 2009, Hunter Safety Lab has gone through roughly $1 million of the pair's own funds, seed investment, Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment grants and angel investment to get to the launch.

The pair made use of business incubators to help get their business off the ground, going through the Wellington-based Activate programme to assess its viability then moving on to Creative HQ for business development assistance.

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"This was two guys who had clear domain knowledge, they were hunters themselves, had actually experienced the fear of the problem they were solving," Creative HQ business strategist David Allison said.

"They had an ability to execute in the form that they were both designers, they were used to taking a real world problem and building a solution around it. The gap that they had was around the business side, which we hope to fill," he said.

However, there are still challenges to overcome. While Hunter Safety Lab had surveyed American customers, it was a big market and the company would need to get its name known with limited funds, Mr Allison said.

The IRIS system has a range of about 180 metres on open ground, and can detect the vest and cap even when they are partially obscured by brush, although this reduces the range. Most accidents happen at a distance of about 40 metres, Mr Scott said.

However, the device is not designed to be a replacement for following the rules for safe hunting, he said.

"It can't identify the target for you, but should you make that mistake and be convinced that you're looking at a deer it can offer . . . a last-minute warning to prevent that happening."

New Zealand Deerstalkers' Association president Tim McCarthy supports the concept of the IRIS system, but says he is concerned that it may give hunters a sense of false confidence, as other people using the bush may not be using the devices.

"They're only a hunting aid, they're not a backstop . . . I'm not negative about it, I think it's a very good idea, but it still doesn't take away your basic responsibility, " he said.

Unlimited magazine, published by Fairfax Media, is New Zealand's leading digital business magazine dedicated to entrepreneurs, startups, leaders and innovators. To subscribe, go to unlimitedmagazine.co.nz

- The Marlborough Express

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