After retiring from Verizon Wireless in 2002, former safety supervisor Ron Pothul, 67, developed a solution to the commonplace problem of cellphone-fueled distracted driving.
Pothul’s idea, the “Dock-n-Lock” system, was a safeguard: In order to start the ignition, the driver must put his cellphone in a secured box that then stays locked until the engine is off.
Pothul had written a patent but only got serious after his 17-year-old daughter, texting while driving, hit two cars at 45 mph. She had no major injuries, but the accident was a key turning point for Pothul: It prompted him to make his tinkering a priority.
The company moved its headquarters from Sarasota, Fla., where Pothul lived, to Charlotte, where South Charlotte resident and start-up specialist John Arciero became CEO. Arciero connected the company with local product development firm Enventys, which helped them hone the idea and came on as a partner.
From injury to serendipity
Arciero, 54, heard about Dock-n-Lock while competing in a national tennis tournament. His longtime doubles partner, Val Wilder, had coached Pothul’s son in tennis. Wilder was injured in the semifinals, so – forced to drop out of the tournament – “we sat in a bar and started talking,” Arciero says.
Wilder mentioned Pothul’s project and suggested that the two connect.
Pothul and Arciero met in June 2012. Soon after, Arciero was helping run the company from Charlotte. Pothul’s son, Jeff, 37, moved to Charlotte to be the chief operating officer.
The concept for Dock-n-Lock is simple, Arciero says, but building an intuitive box that can operate in every make and model of car was difficult. That’s where Enventys came in.
Arciero says the lock box, about 7 inches wide and 2 inches tall, is easy to install and fits in the dashboard the same way a replacement radio does.
The lock box “reads” a special chip installed on the phone. Once the phone is locked in the box, the car will start. (The driver can access incoming calls through a blue-tooth option.)
Dock-n-Lock’s target markets are commercial fleet drivers and parents of teen drivers, who are more prone to distracted driving. The fleet model, which includes a tracking system, will retail for about $399, Arciero said. The consumer model will be $200, installation included.
The invention is a timely one. Because of increased distracted-driving accidents in 2011, the federal government prohibited interstate truck and bus drivers from using hand-held cellphones while operating vehicles. North Carolina law prohibits all drivers from texting, games and email while driving.
Arciero hopes the Dock-n-Lock eventually can lower insurance rates for families using them.
Last week, Dock-n-Lock executives presented their prototype in Las Vegas at the International Consumer Electronics Show, the biggest trade show in the Americas. They demo-ed the product for hundreds of consumers and potential investors. The company is seeking additional angel investors and will soon look to private equity.
Though he wouldn’t give a specific development costs, Arciero said taking an idea such as Dock-n-Lock from conception to introductory model could cost from $250,000 to $2 million. The company needs a Charlotte-area fleet to pilot the technology.
“Free of charge, we’ll provide the units, the testing and all of the reporting,” said Arciero. “Who will be the first to raise their hand?”