Total Pageviews

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Stun Guns and Video Generate a Surprising Match

Taser International, a manufacturer of electronic stun guns, is not the company most people would expect to be bumping elbows with the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Dropbox as it looks for acquisitions.

Taser is the best-known maker of a class of weapons known as electric control devices, which are intended to give law enforcement officials a nonlethal method of immobilizing suspects with electrical shocks.

But a medical study last year said the devices could pose significant health risks, including cardiac arrest, and Amnesty International, the human rights group, released a report blaming Tasers for the deaths of at least 500 people held in custody in the United States since 2001. And Taser is currently named as a defendant in 23 lawsuits in which plaintiffs say wrongful death or personal injury stemmed from its devices, according to the company's most recent quarterly filing with securities regulators. Taser has said its products are less risky for civilians than firearms.

It was the lawsuits that, through a chain of events, brought Taser into closer contact with Silicon Valley companies. About seven years ago, Taser developed a miniature camera that attached to its devices so law enforcement officers could record the situations in which the devices were needed. Eventually, Taser began offering wearable cameras that officers could clip to their glasses, chests and helmets.

“We said, how can we help law enforcement and ourselves and anyone using our devices tell the truth about the situation,” said Jason Droege, general manager of Evidence.com, a cloud service run by Taser.

But police officers shooting video through wearable cameras and smartphones have created big new technology challenges for police departments, which must manage the vast numbers of photos and videos that the devices capture. The files have to be stored securely, with audit trails that show who had access to them and other controls that prevent tampering. Taser created Evidence.com to help law enforcement agencies do all this.

In an effort to bolster its new direction, Taser plans to announce on Thursday that it has acquired a start-up based in Seattle called Familiar that is in a business that seems to have almost no connection with Taser's own. Familiar runs a service that turns ordinary smartphones and tablets into digital picture frames, letting friends and family members automatically broadcast photos and videos to each others' devices.

Facebook, Dropbox and Twitter also had conversations with Familiar about an acquisition, according to a person briefed on the discussions who declined to be named because the conversations were confidential.

Slater Tow, a spokesman for Facebook, declined to comment, as did Jim Prosser, a spokesman for Twitter. Dropbox did not respond to a request for comment.

As part of the deal, which this person said was for less than $10 million, five people from Familiar will join Taser. Mr. Droege said Taser was attracted to the expertise that Familiar had in creating a consumer-friendly service for securely moving video and images among devices.

“For us, that's super important,” he said.