Picture this, bro: Taser maker buys digital picture frame startup

Thu Oct 10, 2013 6:45pm EDT

Is Taser International hedging its bets, in case its non-lethal weapons run into legal or other obstacles?

That could be one explanation why the maker of the electric shock device for law enforcement is building up its media chops. On Thursday, Taser announced that it has purchased a Seattle-based startup called Familiar that enables computers, smartphones, and tablets to be used as digital picture frames for sharing photos and videos.

Familiar offers a free app that displays those images from birthday parties, graduations, beach trips, and keg parties that form the lynchpins of many families’ memories. The photos are rotated as screensavers and can be sent around, just to make sure you won’t forget which tribe you belong to.

Taser Study, Amnesty

Reportedly, Facebook, Dropbox and Twitter had also been interested in snapping up the venture capital-backed Familiar, which Taser is said to have gotten for less than $10 million. Five of Familiar’s staff are now going to work for Taser.

Why would Taser want to enter such a market?

Last year, a study published online in the journal Circulation said that Tasers can induce irregular heart rhythms and lead to cardiac arrest. Dr. Bryon Lee, director of the electrophysiology lab at UC/San Francisco, told The New York Times that “this is no longer arguable,” because it “is a scientific fact.”

The study looked at eight people who entered cardiac arrest after being shocked by a Taser X26. Seven of the eight died. Tasers use barbs shot into skin and clothing to transmit a current. Additionally, an Amnesty International report has called for more limits on police use, citing data it said showed “at least 500 people in the United States have died since 2001” after being shocked by Tasers wielded by law enforcement personnel.

Evidence.com

To help deal with such controversies, Taser has developed wearable cameras so that police can record the circumstances in which they use the weapons. The company also created a cloud-based service, called Evidence.com, that helps law enforcement store and manage their collection of photos and videos.

Perhaps the Familiar acquisition can help Taser expand the ways in which law enforcement’s photos and videos can be shared and displayed. Or, perhaps, the company is setting up a media ecosystem in case the whole Taser thing becomes too much of a liability.

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