Lowell native develops personal safety device for missing children

LOWELL — A trip to Disney World is every kid’s dream, but it can quickly turn into any parent’s nightmare: Big crowds in an overstimulating environment means young children could easily get lost.

Joshua Paquin had those exact fears as he planned a trip with his six-year-old daughter Charlotte to the Happiest Place on Earth. Charlotte also happens to have Autism Spectrum Disorder and is partially nonverbal, so with the craziness that is Disney, Paquin said he had some concerns.

“The dad side of me doesn’t like that combo,” he said.

But Paquin, who was born and raised in Lowell, is now developing a device to hopefully alleviate his and other parents’ worries. CharlieTag — named after his daughter — is a unique QR code that contains contact information for a child’s parents or guardians in the event the child becomes separated or goes missing.

The Manchester, NH resident intends for children at parks, fairs, amusement parks and other busy spaces to wear the code — which will be contained in a locket, on a keychain or even a sticker on the skin — so that someone can scan the code and know how to help the lost child. The parents’ guardians would then be alerted that someone scanned the code.

But unlike other personal safety gadgets, Paquin said his first priority was to ensure the information on that code was secure.

“An AirTag, where it’s broadcast to all iPhones around the area… those are just open, but you don’t necessarily want your information getting in somebody else’s hands,” Paquin said. “It’s all black box technology already in existence today, and I was surprised that nobody had really pushed for something like that.”

The code would be somewhat physically secured by being enclosed in pieces of jewelry, only to be used in an emergency.

Paquin and three other dads are the team behind CharlieTag, which has been officially in the works for a few months now. Since launching their Kickstarter earlier this month, the team has received $900, as of Dec. 28. The fundraiser runs through Jan. 23.

Five prototypes exist so far, Paquin said, and he’s given one to his daughter’s teacher at Billerica Public Schools, a restaurateur in Lowell and other friends and family who can help spread the word. Paquin said he also hopes to introduce a premium subscription service, with added features and security measures.

About 337,000 children were reported missing in the United States last year, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. For young children and those with disabilities, Paquin and other parents are even more fearful.

It’s a passion project for him and the other “working dads,” Paquin said, and although he isn’t set on pricing for the service, he wants to keep it accessible for everyone.

“I grew up in Shaughnessy Terrace. Very humble beginnings, growing up in the projects,” Paquin said. “I wanted to do this because I feel like I can do a lot of good, not just with the product and services, but the freedoms that it’ll give me to give back with that success.”

Orlando Diaz, of Haverhill, who runs CharlieTag’s marketing and customer engagement, has been on board for about three months now.

As a father of four, his youngest being only 3 years old, Diaz understood the mission of CharlieTag immediately. His “number-one priority” has always been ensuring the safety of his kids, he said, especially his toddler.

“She’s still learning how to talk and everything, but being in a situation where she can’t communicate her basic needs and things of that nature though, that doesn’t sit well with me,” Diaz said. “The whole idea behind CharlieTag spoke to me in that sense.”

At the Deerfield Fair, Paquin recalls hearing the loudspeaker announce a missing child “at least seven times.”

“I see a big need,” he added.

Preston Conner, the head of CharlieTag’s tech operations, said he remembers being a kid who would occasionally go unsupervised and get into trouble. But now, as a parent, he wants different for his kid.

“I’ve been hearing about child trafficking and other trafficking things,” Conner said. “I figured (CharlieTag) would be really good, it would help out a lot.”

Although CharlieTag is still in development and several months away from being publicly available, Paquin said his Charlie did get her Disney trip after all, on July 4 this year.

“She had an awesome time,” he said.

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