Two-man company in Fort Collins innovating backup cameras for autos

FORT COLLINS — A small tech company run by two former Hewlett-Packard engineers have figured out a way to design a simple, easy-install, nearly wireless backup camera for cars.

Trail Ridge Technologies LLC is a Fort Collins-based company consisting of Bob Morain and Mitch Hanks, both of whom took early retirement from H-P in 2008. Hanks, a hardware engineer, and Morain, a software engineer, partnered to create a company that would simplify complex products and bring them into people’s lives.

After experimenting with marketing a few different products, including an MP3 player, electronic note taker and handheld scanner, Trail Ridge wanted to move beyond marketing and create its own product.

The QuickVu camera came from a tragic personal story: As a teenager, Morain was in the car when a friend’s mom stopped at a roadside stand. Morain said it could have only taken a minute, but as the woman went to back up her car, she didn’t know that in the time she was out a two-year-old girl was behind the vehicle.

Morain said the image of the girl being struck stayed with him all this time, and so Trail Tridge took the opportunity to bridge the gap between cars that have built-in cameras for hefty packages or cameras that can be installed with heavy rewiring and drilling into the vehicle.

After a few wired and radio wave-based models, Trail Ridge debuted its latest iteration — The QuickVu Digital has one cord that connects it to the car’s cigarette lighter. The rest is wireless.

It’s the only truly wireless camera, Morain said, and that’s because it operates unlike any camera of its kind.

Unlike most backup cameras, which are connected to the car’s reverse lights to know when the car is in reverse and therefore when the camera must be in operation, Trail Ridge’s product uses a little deductive reasoning to know when it needs to work.

“Our camera does not know if the car is in reverse, it has to guess,” Morain told BizWest. “But most backing is done when the car is just turned on, we found. So when the power outlet is switched on when the car is started, our monitor is turned on and sends a signal to the camera. Depending on preferences, after 15 seconds to two minutes, it turns off. And in rare instances when you do want to back up and the car is already on, you just tap a button on the monitor.”

The seemingly simple solution lets Trail Ridge offer a camera that’s a reasonable price — $259 for the 4.3 inch monitor and camera, which mounts to the license plate and is powered by AA batteries. Unlike previous models of the QuickVu, which used radio transmissions, this latest model’s point-to-point digital system can’t be interrupted by bluetooth or cell phone calls. Unlike other company’s products, Morain said this product doesn’t need to be spliced into a car’s wiring, meaning a simple install that doesn’t require an outside professional to drill into a vehicle and rewire.

“We can’t keep them in stock,” Morain said, who added there are about 50 orders pending. Moving forward, the company has ramped up production to keep up and is promoting the camera through targeted ads and a TV spot.

“We just ran out of stock again,” he said. “It’s going crazy right now.”