Two local tech entrepreneurs are about to make waves in the realm of digital security and mobile technology with the debut of the Quasar IV, an encrypted “superphone,” which will allow users to securely exchange messages and store information away from prying eyes.
For more than two years, Hendersonville-based Kendall Weaver and Shane Remington have been working on the Quasar project — flying to and from Taiwan and San Francisco to meet with the core team responsible for creating the cellphone.
“We’re trying to emphasize ‘superphone’ as opposed to smartphone,” says Weaver of the souped-up cell’s abilities. “It’s more cutting edge than most of what you’ll see.”
Remington is more blunt: “This phone will operate just as a normal Android 4.3 phone … but it’s way beyond the other phones out there. In fact, the features are better than Samsung 5 and iPhone 5.”
The phone looks sleek and sturdy, boasting a 5-inch, 1080 high-definition screen, gorilla glass and waterproof shell. It’s also compatible with other smartphones and comes unlocked or jail-broken (meaning you don’t have to subscribe to a phone carrier to use it). Remington explains it will run on an Android 4.3 platform utilizing their own proprietary Quatrix software, which will act as an encryption blanket.
“Quatrix is a layer that runs on top of Android that protects Android from intrusion,” says Remington. “It also protects your identity, and there are tools within Quatrix that will allow you to encrypt all of your conversations and everything you do on the Web.”
Weaver serves as chief software architect of the highly secret and secure QuaOS and explains how it works: “You turn on your phone, there’s Android, then you press a button, you enter a password, go through some login steps and then you have this whole brand new suite of applications that exist in their own private little world — that are fully encrypted.”
Other technical specs include a quad-core 2.3 gigahertz processor, 3 gigabytes of memory and 64 or 128 GB of encrypted local storage. Weaver says one of the coolest components of the new phone will be its dual rear 13-megapixel cameras. These cameras simulate augmented reality, which integrates technology into real-world environments — an example would be holding a smartphone up to the night sky and having it point out the constellations.
“We’ll be the first cell phone that’s capable of proper augmented reality, including multiple cameras to be able to capture everything with a realistic depth of field,” explains Weaver. “If an object moves behind another object, it has the ability to track that, as opposed to current [models], which try to identify what’s in focus with one camera. It’s like two eyes — it gives you that perspective.”
QSAlpha, the company making the phone, launched an Indiegogo campaign Sept. 17 to move the first 5,000 phones into production. Up until now, Quasar has been self-funded. The project will have 30 days to raise a formidable $3.5 million goal, which, if met, could be a communications game changer. Quasar IV will retail for $785, but the first 350 people to contribute $495 will also qualify for one.
Remington emphasizes that communications sent from a Quasar phone to a nonsecure (non-Quasar) device will not be encrypted. However, the phone should start people thinking about how to protect their digital identity. “With everything that’s going on right now, with the NSA and PRISM, this is a really good way to protect yourself and your business,” adds Remington.
QSAlpha CEO Steve Chao explains in a promotional video that the design and engineering for the phone were inspired by ninja culture. “The essence of digital security is the ability to operate in stealth mode, moving about undetected, leaving no trace in the digital world — the same way a ninja leaves no trace in the real world.” Chao describes the phone as the “ultimate digital defense system” for the “modern-day ninja.”
Chao, Weaver and Remington all say they expect pushback from the cryptography community, but that, in light of revelations about the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs and other cyber-security threats, Quasar fills a need that other phones are not meeting.
In fact, since news of the phone leaked online to tech blog Ars Technica, some technologists have expressed skepticism that propriety encryption can be trusted.
“I think this is going to be difficult to gain people’s trust from the beginning,” says Chao. “The entire PKI [public-key infrastructure] camp are going after us — everyone is going to try to go after us. Our goal is to launch a great product. … My message to the community is to throw our code out there. Every new system requires some time to get started.”
He says once they begin production, he will release the documentation, math formulas and reasoning behind their encryption for those who remain skeptical. “This is not just one encryption algorithm, this is a combination,” explains Chao. “It’s not just the encryption, it’s the logic behind it that makes it super secure.”
Questioned about those who would try to break through Quatrix encryption, Weaver quickly retorts, “They can try.”
Adds Weaver, “We think it will do well in corporate environments and government and private sectors.”
As they prepare for a busy fall of fundraising and production, Weaver and Remington have no intention of leaving Western North Carolina. Quasar’s headquarters will remain in San Francisco, its hardware production in Taipei, Taiwan, and its augmented-reality team in the U.K. The duo will continue to head up software development in the Asheville area.
Says Weaver, “We feel like there’s a good number of people around here that could benefit from employment opportunities. Primarily, we’re looking to set up shop, see what resources from the community are available and what resources we can give back to the community.”
Xpress profiled Remington and Weaver in July on their free Linux-based operating system called Peppermint OS [“Peppermint O Yes,” July 2013]. The pair explains that as a result of working on Peppermint — they were invited to collaborate on Quasar.
Weaver and Remington swear the phone lives up to the hype. “It’s got an absolutely cutting-edge processor that’s faster than anything you’re going to find from any of the competitors presently [and] more RAM than anything you’re going to find … so we’re feeling very strongly about it.
“I’ve been playing around with bits and pieces for quite some time and it’s mesmerizing,” says Weaver. “You put the technology in the hands of the people and it’s, ‘Whoa,” absolute ‘Whoa.’”