Phoenix man’s nightmare inspires Bloodhound, an app to locate missing people

William Scot Grey, founder of Bloodhound, sits behind his desk at his Phoenix home. Bloodhound helps track those with dementia who wander off. It is one of the five finalists in the Phoenix Smart City App Hack competition. (Photo by Jacqueline Padilla/Cronkite News)

William Scot Grey spent about 36 hours in panic nearly a year ago. His father, Ray, had not returned home from walking his dog. Minutes turned into hours, which turned into more than a day.

“It’s a painful experience to think that your dad is freezing to death or dying,” Phoenix resident William Grey said. “(Your dad has) always been there for you. And suddenly, you’re racing around trying to help him out and you can’t.”

Twenty miles away from his home, Ray Grey was found in an abandoned shopping area near Central Avenue and Thomas Road. Although both his dad and the dog were safe, William Grey continued to worry.

Doctors had diagnosed Ray Grey with dementia, and his son predicted the wandering episode would likely occur again. William Grey said he realized that he passed his father’s location many times during his search, and he could have brought him home sooner.

The experience led William Grey to develop his new app: Bloodhound.

Local apps compete in Phoenix competition

The Phoenix Smart City App Hack, co-hosted by the city of Phoenix and the Institute for Digital Progress, promotes development of civic-focused mobile or web-based apps. Here are the five local finalists seeking to head to the international championships in Barcelona, Spain, this fall.

Bloodhound – To help those who suffer dementia or diseases that may affect the brain, Bloodhound serves as a way to return them safely home. Using Bluetooth enabled gadget, it sends an alert to app users that a missing person is nearby.

ParkX – An app that attempts to bring parking meters to the 21st century. The technology allows drivers to pay directly from their smartphones, monitor time left, and add extra money electronically.

Synergy AZ – A platform that connects volunteers with projects. The app helps improve the Phoenix metro community by providing residents a network of people to assist with their civic projects.

Bus Plus – The app may help bus commuters in the Valley better plan their day. Each public bus will be tracked a mile away, allowing users to view detailed information about its route, speed and number.

Her – Self-described as “Amazon meets Siri,” this app uses software that can comprehend language patterns. The result is allowing users to shop, buy and text via voice on any smartphone device.

Source: City of Phoenix

Last year, the son competed in a local hackathon, an event where programmers come together to solve a problem and build websites, apps or robots. The hackathon was looking to find interesting ways to implement Bluetooth technology, a way to send signals to phones without wireless Internet. Although many companies now use it to alert shoppers to new products, William Grey saw it as a solution for his dad and others.

“I figured if it could be used to locate shoes or purses, it could be used to locate people, too,” he said.

Bloodhound is a finalist for the Phoenix Smart City App Hack the first city-sponsored competition that identifies budding apps designed to positively impact the community.

The Bloodhound app is one of five in Arizona competing to represent the city at the International Smart City Expo in Barcelona, Spain, this fall.

A panel of industry experts, college professors, serial entrepreneurs and city representatives moved Bloodhound forward. It’s now in the acceleration phase, where it will receive help from local businesses to develop its technology.

Here’s how Bloodhound works: Users purchase a microchip device from the company and provide information about their loved one, including a photo, contact information and medical background through the app. Users can attach the device to a keychain or sew it inside their loved one’s clothing.

Once they report a person as missing, the company enables the chip device. Anybody who has the Bloodhound app on their smartphone or tablet nearby will get a notification that a missing person is close. They can then offer help.

In the past few months, William Grey and his small team have worked on the programming and format of the app before marketing it further. The business plan is to make money by selling the Bluetooth-enabled device while offering the app for free. They have not yet determined a price for the device.

According to the Mayo Clinic, nearly 3 million people in the U.S. suffer from a form of dementia. And in Arizona, about 120,000 people in 2015 reported having Alzheimer’s, the most common type of dementia.

And it’s a problem Ray Grey knows well. He advocated for the mentally disabled for much of his life. As the head of Toby House, the largest non-profit for the mentally ill in the state, he fought against budget cuts for public programs.

“Dad did a lot of good work for a lot of people,” William Grey said, noting that he feels his technology is, in a way, following in his father’s footsteps.

Bloodhound could help other populations as well. Parents of young children with autism have expressed interest, along with pet owners, William Grey said.

He also points to the ability to place the devices on historical buildings, as users could easily learn about its history and importance while walking by.

And businesses could use the application as a marketing weapon by uploading deals and coupons and pinging a nearby device.

“The new slogan we are trying to implement is ‘find,'” William Grey said. “You start going for information on cities, background information on places you’re visiting. People, places, events, and then you’re also able to save lives.”

But the app faces challenges. Many people with dementia want to feel a sense of autonomy and may be hesitant to be tracked and monitored.

Additionally, Bloodhound needs to have a significant number of users to ensure that the crowdsourcing method can locate a missing person. To meet that goal, he may have a ways to go: There are only a handful of downloads to date. And the chip device only “pings” if somebody who has the app is about 50 feet or closer.

Regardless of the success of Bloodhound, Grey said his experience with his dad will always be the business’ North Star.

“Using the masses, you can create lifesavers out of general people. People that ordinarily would watch the news and see the firemen fighting the fires in California and feel like it’s distant and not related to them and nothing they can do about it,” William Grey said. “This is a way that everyday people, every day, going about their day can save a life.”