The old saying goes “necessity is the mother of invention.” The Marvel comics superhero Iron Man, AKA Tony Stark, created his first armored suit out of scraps and discarded technology in order to escape the captivity of terrorists. However, often it is tragedy that inspires that necessity. Such was the story behind the BodyGuard from ArmStar, an armored sleeve enhanced by modern less-than-lethal deterrent and communications technology.The inspiration for the BodyGuard, according to its inventor David Brown, came out of a series of mountain lion attacks that happened in Orange County, California in 2004. “[They were] very close to my house, on a trail that I’ve been hiking since I was young. There were two women who were mauled and attacked, they survived, there was a man who was alone that day and he was killed.” Brown began to place himself in that situation, contemplating how he would have reacted to a mountain lion attacking him while he was alone. “Normally all I would have on hand with me out there was a water bottle, and you are not going to do too well with a water bottle against a mountain lion. So I thought, if you are going to be alone out there you are going to need something attached to your arm that’s [immediately] available when something happens.”
It's a question that everyone asks themselves after hearing about a tragedy: 'what would I do?' It is impossible to plan for every eventuality, and even if you try to, there is still that element of surprise that could render any preparation useless. David Brown considered all the options before developing the BodyGuard, “I thought about any [one] thing that most people would be wearing on their body, what they’d think could be a weapon. I thought about a gun or a knife in a little holster, [...] it would be a hand-held device. They’d have to pull it out and arm it, whatever it was, it would take a couple of steps, and those steps are moments that are crucial.” Brown also considered the practicality of such an item, that one would have to hold on to it while, in the 'origin' example, being attacked by a mountain lion, or in any personal safety crisis like a mugging. “[Then] fifty percent of your effort is going to be worrying about holding onto your weapon so you don’t drop and have it used against you.”
While he did not take direct inspiration from the Iron Avenger, what he did come up with to solve the worry of holding on to any kind of protection in a crisis bears some resemblance to the technology found in the Iron Man armor. Removed from the whole of the Iron Man suit, namely the powerful and versatile chest mounted Uni-Beam and the iconic helmet that contains advanced targeting and voice-interface technology, Iron Man's gauntlets are by themselves impressive pieces of hardware. In their and their parent armor's 'classic' incarnation, each are impregnable to any force save those on a cosmic scale, and a powerful repulsor weapon built into the palm is designed to work in concert with both the suit's on-board computer and Tony Stark's mind.
"I felt I was onto something [with the BodyGuard], being able to trigger it by just squeezing your hand [onto] a pressure pad in your palm, that’s such a primal reaction, you’re going to make a fist anyway, so the moment you did that you’d be firing your weapon.”
That weapon is a pair of electrodes build into the BodyGuard's forearm that crackles with electricity when triggered and delivers a shock to anyone clutching at the user. Brown explains the electrodes' placement and use: “Having the electricity on the backside of your arm, where even if you were being attacked three on one, having people piled onto you, when you trigger the shock, it’s not going to be going into your body, it’s going away from you. With a flailing motion you could get [your attackers] off of you and make a break for it. It’s not a perfect weapon, it just adds an option to someone who’s maybe not the best fighter in the world or trained in UFC style combat. So if you are disadvantaged by size or ability, the technology works together to help you.”
In conjunction with the electrical stun attack and the BodyGuard's construction from slash-resistant materials, it has a built-in suite of hardware that takes advantage of the advances in personal communication technology. Once the stunner in engaged, a small onboard computer begins to record video and audio while dialing 911 to summon police.
For David Brown it's all about protecting people, “I tend not to call it a weapon, though it tends to fall into that category. I call it a system instead, since it’s doing multiple things to help save your life. The camera is a non-lethal weapon, but I can make people stop fighting when it's revealed that it is filming and that video is going right to the police. In the past you could call 911 and then sure the cops are on their way, but they can’t see what’s going on. Now there’s video being recorded and there will be no disputing [peoples'] actions.”
The BodyGuard has so far gotten rave reviews from those have studied it and even used it in practical demonstrations. After a mock prison riot staged in West Virginia as an exercise to try out the BodyGuard, prison guards clamored for the device to protect themselves not only physically, but with its camera functions, from allegations of abuse from prisoners. magazine also lauded the device, naming it one of the top inventions of 2011.
"The real goal,” explains Brown, “is for it to be in the hands of civilians. They sell shotguns to civilians, why can’t they have this? Basically, it’s a glorified cellphone attached to your arm with a stun gun built into it. It’s not a Positron Glider. It is [technology] you could have right now, just attached to your arm in a way that can’t be taken from you. That’s all I did different.” Though it is in development for law enforcement officers and prison guards, and a military grade version is being estimated at costing between $2500 and $3000, David is adamant about its promise for ordinary citizens, “I want to see girls someday with the civilian ‘girl’ version if it, all pink and blue when they are out walking their dog, and they wouldn’t have to worry about being raped or kidnapped. When they put this thing on, they are safe.”
When asked about its passing resemblance to comic book tech, Brown admits, “I never really was a comic book reader, all the things I can do are real, I‘m using real technology,” instead he draws himself a different pop-culture parallel, “It’s like that old TV show, , I’m just some goofball from the beach. I’m not some kind of Tony Stark super-smart genius, I just thought this was a good idea and it could help some people out.”