Spexor: Mobile Alarm Device

We would like to protect everything if possible. Our families, our property, our cars. Tobias Riedel and Dr. Marko Häckel have found a solution to simply increase this protection. An interview from the perspective of experts against crime.
Text Matthias Mederer
Photo Matthias Mederer · ramp.pictures

Spexor is a mobile hazard detector that detects intrusion in a variety of environments. Many people feel unsafe when parking their vehicles or leaving their home for a few days. The mobile alarm device is designed to eliminate exactly this feeling of insecurity without having to install complex alarm systems. Spexor is smaller than an Alexa and can basically be taken anywhere.
We talked to the two minds behind Spexor.

How did this idea come about?
Tobias: When I sat down in my car one morning, I found a yellow side cutter on my passenger seat. I just thought to myself, funny, I don't really own something like that. But what I didn't find was my navigation system, my steering wheel, and my rear window.

Marko: Shortly afterward Tobias told me about his horror. Thereupon we thought: Tobias, there must be something small, handy, and mobile with all the sensors that Bosch offers. That was our first thought.

What does the subject of security mean to you personally? What is your understanding of security?
Tobias: I'm the group's engineer here. For them, it's always more a matter of minimizing risk. So the more I can reduce any risk, the better the security will be.

Marko: Apart from that, security is, of course, a very individual thing. I personally do not call myself a security fanatic. Nevertheless, I am very keen to protect the things I can protect with simple means.

Has the feeling of security in Germany for you and your families grown over time? Or do you have the impression that it has become more dangerous?
Marko: I do not have the impression that it has become fundamentally more dangerous in Germany. The feeling of security or the need for it has grown nevertheless. In younger years the willingness to take risks was greater. Things that I did when I was 18 years old, I would not do today. So I think that this is a question of the phase of life.

Tobias: It's the same for me. Even though they broke into my car, I don't feel like I'm unsafe now.

»When I sat down in my car one morning, I found a yellow side cutter on my passenger seat. But what I didn't find was my navigation system, my steering wheel, and my rear window.«

What is the global feeling of the people? Are there any market differences that you can somehow identify?
Marko: There is the so-called Uncertainty Avoidance Index, which describes the need for security or the need to avoid uncertainty. Of course, we looked at this when we made market observations because this index was collected for whole countries.

Is this synonymous with the fear that society feels?
Marko: Yes, that correlates to a certain extent, but it is not a direct connection. It is more about, how well can I as a society or as an individual in a society deal with uncertainty.

From an ingenious point of view, something like the film Minority Report, is that an ideal that you aspire to somewhere?
Tobias: The film in which they prevent the crimes in advance?

Yes, exactly.
Tobias: I mean, you mention ingenuity. Engineers always dream of world domination in one form or another. It's a pretty big vision. But of course, it would be nice if you could predict certain things. By having certain facts, for example, where you should park your 911 and where you'd rather not. There are countries where it is easier to realize this vision than in others. This has a lot to do with the way data is processed. And that is somewhat more complicated in Germany.

To what extent do these large amounts of data help to improve such projections or security features?
Tobias: Data is certainly the key to taking preventive action. It's not just about collecting data, it's about bringing a certain logic into the data. It's about collecting certain contextual information and then at some point generating added value from it.

Marko: There are such approaches to predicting crime de facto on the basis of data - predictive policing. Above all - where else - the USA is active in this area. The “data situation” is better (laughs). Generally speaking, historical crime data are processed there in such a way that predictions are possible or should be possible. In Germany, too, there are approaches to improve the recording of key crime areas.

»Well, we have a bit of a James Bond in it. The most secret thing we do is that we combine standard sensor technology.«

On a different topic: Raising a start-up company is a challenge. How did you approach it?
Tobias: In my opinion, a start-up is much more focused than some other areas. We are four people on the team. That's why we had to push hard from day one. This is also the difficulty that some start-ups have - to be aware of the great responsibility from day one, to focus on a goal, and then to pursue it consistently.

What have you learned for yourself in connection with Spexor?
Marko: I had already co-founded two start-ups in my pre-Bosch days. So I would say that the way I worked was not very new to me. For me personally, it was more the working method as a so-called corporate start-up that was new, i.e. a start-up within a corporate group. And what was new for me was that we were allowed to lead the team as a "dynamic duo with long hair". I think we were able to use the energy and excitement from this close cooperation very well for product development. We challenge each other, question things, make mistakes faster or smaller - and in the end, this way things often turn out better. This applies to everyone in the team. And this also saves us money for coaches or consultants - we do a lot of things ourselves.

How did you guys meet?
Tobias: On Tinder (laughs).

And you both swiped right?
Tobias: Correct. Then we said: Come on, let’ launch a start-up.

Marko: A Founder-Tinder would be an idea. But actually, both of us have been in a team for automated driving at a different location before. That's how we got to know each other. Otherwise, Westphalians and Swabians don't run into each other so often.

Why is Spexor called Spexor?
Marko: The classical philologists among us naturally know: It comes from the Latin "spectare". It means to observe and analyze. We had a very long research phase with our central department for patent and trademark protection to find out which name we could take and had many names before Spexor. We started out with Security Egg.

Tobias: Then came Connected Egg. Many of the names had completely different meanings in other languages. That's how we ended up with spexor.

WWhich technologies from other fields are brought together at Spexor? How can you imagine that?
Tobias: Well, we have a bit of a James Bond in it. The most secret thing we do is that we combine standard sensor technology. We are also already in the process of building our next generation, in which we also want to use Al chips. Here we are working with artificial intelligence. You can think of it like a smartphone - just a little more complex. In addition, the current situation means that the topic of ventilation is more present than ever. That's why we're working on making air quality measurements available via software updates this year.

Is spexor today the starting point from which a journey begins? And if so, where should this journey lead?
Marko: With our own humility and modesty, we are striving for a worldwide crusade. So this is the beginning of much more. We have dozens of ideas on how we can further develop the Spexor idea.

On the other hand, of course, the criminals are not sleeping and are continuing to develop.
Tobias: Correct. The journey in the field of security technology is never over. We have to continue to develop in the same way as those who want to outwit the device. That's why we've also hired hackers to pentest our device and looked at what they do with our device and with the software.

Marko: Exactly, this is a continuous improvement process. And it becomes even more interesting what you can change with the software. Once we have analyzed different environments and found routines, you can optimize it even further.

In other words, just like with the cell phone, does spexor also have regular software updates?
Tobias: Right, there is a certain analogy to the cell phone. You get the software on your device via updates.

Which crime trends are you currently dealing with? Is it really more cyber-crime or is it still the classic crowbar?
Tobias: On the one hand, we always have to keep an eye on how, where, and when a vehicle is broken into, for example. That is always important. Also whether the window is broken or the door is opened. Ultimately, we also want to learn a little bit about which sounds we have to listen to. The other thing that concerns us is cyberhacking. We have to make sure again and again that no one can simply hack any of our devices.

Were you in contact with the police during the development?
Marko: Yes, we have spoken to two state criminal investigation departments. There is also nationwide coordination for car break-ins. In addition, we have of course exchanged information with police officers. And we tried to take this into account.

Were there any surprising points for you that you had not expected at all?
Tobias: For me, it was surprising to see the extent of the theft of car parts. There aren't that many total vehicle thefts. Navigation consoles are stolen on order and these are then delivered somewhere. The criminals do not even know to whom they deliver them. These parts are then stashed in entire aircraft hangars. I find it astonishing with what professionalism the gangs proceed.

Marko: To give the police a chance to catch the criminals, an alarm system that doesn't make a sound would also be interesting. Nowadays, hardly anybody gets scared when the alarm system of a car starts to howl.

The alarm system of the car strikes, but the criminals do not shrink back?
Tobias: When the alarm system goes off, the window is smashed completely until the criminals get to a handbag or whatever. Of course, that also depends on the environment.

Marko: Another deterrent is loud noises inside the car.

So, basically, if the music system would be turned up to full volume, the thief would shy away?
Marko: That also depends on the music (laughs). But yes, that can deter. That was one of the reasons why we said that at Spexor, it is precisely this alarm on the smartphone that is crucial. Our device optionally sounds the alarm inside the vehicle, but more importantly, the owner receives a message on his smartphone and can react quickly, for example by calling the police.

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