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Gadget would ease phone use for outdoor enthusiasts

Highlands Ranch man seeks funds for product to go mainstream

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When he is cruising through the Backcountry Wilderness Area on his mountain bike, Anthony Dobaj prefers to listen to music. But in the past, he found it difficult to pull his iPhone out of his pocket and change the song while also maneuvering his bike.

“I've been thinking about this for a long time because it is a pain point for me,” said Dobaj, president of Gadgettronix, a start-up tech company based in Denver that specializes in wearable technologies. “I just kept waiting for a satisfactory solution to present itself but it never did.”

In 2012, he visualized a solution that would eventually be coined Gestr. The small circular black device allows users to interact with their smartphones with a tap or swipe of a finger.

Dobaj, sitting in his home that conveniently backs up to the Backcountry in Highlands Ranch, slips a magnetic ring on his finger and effortlessly swipes across the gadget. The music on his iPhone gets louder. He swipes a different direction and the song changes. He taps the gadget once and the music shuts off. He puts a ski glove on and gets the same outcomes.

“It needs refinement,” he said, “but it's a game changer.”

To make the concept a reality, Dobaj partnered with Allegro Micro, a supplier of sensor technology based in Massachusetts, and three students from the computer science department of Oregon State University, where Dobaj received a degree in electrical engineering.

Last summer, Benjamin Brewster, who runs the capstone project course for Oregon State University's online computer science program, picked students who were familiar with the hardware and software used in Gestr, he said.

In 27 weeks, the students developed a pilot of the gadget using a sensor developed by Allegro Micro. Gestures made with a magnetic ring activate the sensor, which hooks into a smartphone's Bluetooth — similar to how a Fitbit or Apple Watch connects to a smartphone. Still underway, an app will allow users to assign functions to each gesture, such as swiping up for a phone call.

“While the students are frequently able to work with real-world clients on projects each term, this one was particularly satisfying. It was fun, educational, and a necessary component of a soon-to-be commercial project,” Brewster said. “Seeing the students complete things like this every term is the best part of my job.”

The target audience for the product is outdoor enthusiasts: skiers, snowboarders, runners and cyclists in cities and on mountain trails. Down the road, Dobaj hopes to partner with garment manufacturers to make the technology compatible with different types of clothing.

Benefits of the device, Dobaj said, are convenience, safety and cost. The retail price point is $75.

Before Gestr goes mainstream, Dobaj and his team need to raise between $150,000 and $200,000 to polish the design — which will use a smaller internal sensor —pass regulatory standards and produce the product for retail. Dobaj plans to raise funds by participating in events geared to start-ups and creating a crowdfunding campaign in the upcoming weeks on Indiegogo, a website that allows users to seek funds for ideas, charities or startup companies. He hopes to see his product available on Amazon by the end of the ski season, he said.

A product developer by trade, Dobaj considers himself an innovator.

“Creativity is the key,” he said. “That is how we move forward.”

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