Ghost hunters love their gadgets. From EMF meters and REM pods to motion sensors and SLS cameras, if it beeps, lights up, or gives an alternate view of the world, they seem to be all over it. One such device recently being marketed to ghost hunters turned out to be a rebranded cat toy.
Rebranding of old devices is nothing new to the paranormal community. If fact many of the popular “cutting edge” devices currently being used have been in circulation for years. The Safe Range EMF became known as the popular “K2 meter” after appearing on an episode of Ghost Hunters (Season 3, Episode 12). It was introduced by self-proclaimed medium Chris Fleming, who even sold them in a rebranded box as “Ghost Detector Communication.” The Xbox Kinect game accessory was rebranded as the Structured Lights Sensor (SLS) camera (Digital Dowsing 2009) after appearing on an episode of Ghost Adventures (Season 9, Episode 8). Bill Chapel, who introduced the rebranded device, went so far as to 3D-print a new outer casing for the Kinect, adding “Digital Dowsing Xcam SLS” on the front.
The latest rebranded device first came to my attention by way of Earthbound Voices Paranormal, a husband-and-wife paranormal team from the Kansas City area (with several more teams also contacting me later). They were concerned that a light-up cat toy, sold by Ethical Products Inc., was being repackaged as a new paranormal device—and at a higher price (which is often the case). After some conversation, I was asked if I would investigate this particular device. I was supplied links to both the paranormal device and the cat toy suspected of rebranding. It wasn’t hard to see how similar the two products were, so I decided to take a closer look and ordered both products (several of each, so I could test them).
The gadget in question is called The Vibration Activated Light Sphere from Des-Tech Paranormal Research Equipment. Des-Tech is run by Cody Ray DesBiens, a ghost hunter from the Boston, Massachusetts, area involved with two ghost hunting groups based out of Rhode Island: the Rhode Island Society for the Examination of Unusual Phenomena and The Atlantic Paranormal Society (known for their TV series Ghost Hunters). On his Facebook page, he states he “specializes in audio and investigation technology with knowledge in electronics and physics.”
Looking closer at the Vibration Sphere device, it is described on the package as “the easiest device for spirit communication!” The device resembles a clear, plastic golf ball measuring one and a half inches in diameter. Inside the ball, we find a circuit board with three LEDs, a push-button on/off switch, three AG3 batteries, and a tilt sensor. When the switched is turned on, three LEDs blink sporadically for five seconds whenever the ball is disturbed.
After receiving both the Light Sphere paranormal devices and Ethical Products’ cat toys, I disassembled both devices to get a better look at the internal components. It was obvious these devices came from the same supplier, as they used the same parts with only the circuit board being a slightly different style; most likely this was due to a different production run or a supplier switching manufacturers.
I contacted DesBiens, via his Des-Tech page, to inquire about the similarities. I sent the following query, “After receiving the item, I could not help but notice the similarities between your product and a cat toy manufactured by Ethical Products, Inc. Are the light spheres simply repackaged cat toys?” He responded to my inquiry within a few hours: “The device I am selling, I have worked directly with the manufacturer to secure branding rights as well as improve for paranormal investigations. This device has had internal modifications done (including a new accelerometer) at my request to make it more efficient and not as sensitive for an investigation environment.” To me, this was a “yes” to my question, though in a round-about way. I decided to investigate further before reaching out to him again.
There were two points in his response that piqued my curiosity: the “internal modifications” and particularly the “new accelerometer” he had requested. This accelerometer is mentioned repeatedly throughout his promotion of the device. On a video posted to his Des-Tech Facebook page on March 8, 2019, he states “We’ve had our manufacturer install a sensitive accelerometer within the device. Now basically what that is, is just a little electrical component that detects vibrations and movement” (Des-Tech 2019). Further down the page, a contest to win one of these devices is advertised, stating in the description “[the devices] have a sensitive accelerometer installed at our request for better use on investigations!” I could not help but wonder exactly what made it “better” for investigations.
I first set out to learn exactly what accelerometers are and how they work. A quick search online brought me to the Federick’s Company, an industry leading innovator and manufacturer of tilt measurement and vacuum measurement products. On their website, I found information that explains “Accelerometers measure, you guessed it, acceleration! But they’re also used to measure vibration, shock, and tilt (inclination). Accelerometers measure tilt by looking at the acceleration they experience from earth’s gravity” (Federick’s 2018). With this information, I once again compared the Vibration Spheres and cat toys I had disassembled side-by-side. The only component I found that was supposed to be an accelerometer consisted of two metal plates separated by a red-colored plastic middle piece (separating the metal plates), with a metal ball inside. The tiny component was held together with blue heat-shrink wrap. It is important to note that the cat toy has an identical sensor.
I’m not an expert in electronics and wasn’t sure about what kind of accelerometer I was looking at, so I reached out to two people with substantial backgrounds in electronics: Samantha Everett, an Electrical/Environmental Systems Craftsman, and Jon Vanover, ScD, a Doctor of Computer Science. After sending several images, Vanover suggested that the so-called accelerometer was not an accelerometer, but a mechanical tilt sensor. Vanover explains, “so, what the BB does is make contact when its moving. This is not an accelerometer, as it would need to measure direction and velocity to be an accelerometer. This is a typical circuit for a toy and only makes intermittent contact when the ball is rolling.” Everett also gave me a similar explanation, adding that DesBiens might perhaps not be as knowledgeable about his product as he suggests.
After a lengthy search, I was able to confirm what the part was: a Tilt Sensor from a supplier called Waveshare, an international technical provider of hardware. According to the user manual, “this vibrating sensor is essentially an application of a mercury switch. In a condition of vibrating or tilting, the sensor may enable the switch to close or loose.” The manual goes on to describe that this sensor can be applied as “vibrating detection, anti-theft alarm, smart car, electronic building blocks, etc.” (Waveshare 2019). This made me curious as to the claim made by DesBiens, when he specifically mentioned having his device modified with new accelerometer, per his request.
Everett also commented on the possible meaning of “internal modifications” mentioned by DesBiens, explaining “a modification can really mean anything. If they used a different type of metal—that’s a modification. Copper conducts better than aluminum: New and improved!” When comparing the two products, the only differences were cosmetic, e.g., same circuit board design with slight style change (but did not affect the operation). In my time as an auto and aviation mechanic, I’ve seen these slight style modifications quite often either when a new production run is ordered (after the last run was exhausted) or the company switched vendor suppliers. I took another look at the circuit boards from the two devices, each had an imprint of part number: the cat toy was C6016 and the Vibration sphere had IS337. However, after cracking open another vibration sphere, I found it had the same C6016 board as the cat toys, confirming that this was the same exact device.
I reached out to Ethical Products Inc., which sold the identical product, to inquire about what they knew of this repackaging of a cat toy as a paranormal device. I received a call back from Jeanette Wall, the Product Development Manager for Ethical Products, Inc. She informed me that Ethical Products was not the original manufacturer/supplier of the toy but purchased the product from a supplier in Japan and distributed them under their own name. Although Wall could not reveal who their supplier was, I was able to pick up enough detail to initiate a search.
I found the website of Alibaba.com, a global platform for wholesale trade, serving millions of buyers and suppliers around the world (Alibaba 2019). While doing a page-by-page search through Alibaba’s suppliers and products, I came across the “Magic Cat Ball LED Pet Flashing Ball” from Suzhou QQQ Pet Products Co., Ltd. The images of this product are identical to the paranormal device and cat toy, and wholesale at $.98 each for a 100-unit order. The Alibaba site provides additional information, including total transactions over the last twelve months. I found only two purchases over the last year: one on January 12 and another February 11, 2019. The customer name was withheld, but when I checked the Buyer Reviews (only 2, both from same user), it only partially obscured the name: C***********S. This matched well with the name Cody R. Desbiens, so I was pretty confident I had the right place. I also noticed an image from the QQQ Pet Products page was the same image used for the Des-Tech logo.
Now that I knew where these products came from and confirmed that they were indeed cheap cat toys, I wanted to test them side-by-side. DesBiens and the packaging of his version make conflicting claims; in his initial response to me, DesBiens states a new accelerometer—which isn’t actually present—was used to “make it more efficient and not as sensitive for an investigation environment.” However, the front packaging of his device states “Sensitive to even the slightest movement.” I set out to see if there was a difference between the two versions and if so, which was the more sensitive.
I set up three of the balls I purchased from Ethical Product, Inc. alongside two from Des-Tech, on the floor in my living room. All balls were marked according to where I purchased them, and I set a video camera on them for the next few hours. I allowed this simple test to run throughout the day; amid the daily routine of a family consisting of two adults, one teenager, and a small dog; walking, going up and down the stairs, chasing toys—the dog, not me—and even sitting still while delivery trucks came down the street. Initial results showed the Des-Tech version was triggered a lot more than the other. However, once I changed the orientation of the balls—and hence the angle of the internal tilt sensor—I found the results became random; both versions were set off by different actions. Activation of the balls really depended on how the tilt sensor was situated. Even the act of shifting my body while in a seated position on the floor would cause the ball to light up in some positions, while not in a different position.
I took all the information I gathered and again reached out to Cody DesBiens, asking for an interview to address the issues I’d found. We connected via Skype and I explained who I was and what I was doing. Desbiens is a polite, young man who was extremely open with me. He didn’t shy away from my questions and, to me, is a genuinely nice guy. I first related the information about the supplier I found, and he confirmed I had the right one. When I asked directly about this being a cat toy, he acknowledged it and provided a complete background story; he had been using these toys for a while and when people asked where they could be found, DesBiens gave out the name of the retail store. After a while, the store no longer carried the product, but people were still asking for them. He found a supplier and purchased 200 units (in two orders) for resale; basically, there was a demand, and he filled it.
I asked about the missing accelerometer, even showing him (via Skype video) both products side-by-side, indicating the identical tilt sensor and lack of accelerometer in both. He appeared genuinely shocked, stating that the supplier used the term “accelerometer” and even upsold him on an upgraded model that would make it less sensitive (which is contradictory to his packaging that states “Sensitive to even the slightest vibration”). In addition, DesBiens claims he also paid extra for upgraded batteries, which turned out to be the common AG3 batteries often seen in toys such as this. These two upgrades encompass the “internal modifications” advertised on his webpage. If what he says is true, it appears that DesBiens was duped.
Desbiens has some electrical background from attending a vocational school, which makes the above issues stand out a bit more. Sure, the supplier he dealt with sold him upgrades and parts that were not installed, but it was still his responsibility to check that these upgrades were implemented. The plastic balls come apart rather easily, allowing the inspection of the internal parts. A little glue, which is all that holds the ball together, would quickly leave no trace of the inspection. In our conversation, Desbiens acknowledged this mistake with humility. I know many others that would have blamed everyone else for the mistake and/or got angry with me for pointing this out; DesBiens owned it, and I respect that.
I also related the results of my simple experiments to him, which were different than what he had observed. DesBiens described very basic ideas of testing: putting the device down in an allegedly haunted location and seeing if it lights up. He did mention they (his team) tried banging things and walking around to set off the device. When it didn’t go off, he assumed this was satisfactory to claim his version of the device was less sensitive. As I found from my testing, orientation of the tilt sensor plays a part in whether the device will light up or not. This was not something DesBiens had accounted for. There’s also the issue of confirmation bias that comes with such devices, and we see it constantly throughout the paranormal-themed TV shows. When a gadget lights up, makes a noise, or indicates a reading and the paranormalists can’t quickly find a reason, the common assumption is it means “ghost” (or Bigfoot or UFO). These assumptions are often what fuel amateur investigations and the main ingredient for TV show ratings.
So, what’s the point of investigating this? Well, people from the hobby of ghost hunting were curious about someone upselling a cheap toy and reached out asking for help. That’s usually good enough for me. This is the sort of thing I like digging into. For example, in the contest video I mentioned earlier, DesBiens specifically states “We’ve had our manufacturer install … ” (Des-Tech 2019), giving the viewer the impression that he came up with this device himself, when he obviously did not. On March 1, 2019, the Des-Tech Paranormal Research Equipment Facebook page posted: “In 2018 Cody founded Des-Tech Paranormal Research Equipment, a company devoted to the creation and distribution of new technology for paranormal research.” The only device available for sale, as of this writing, is the Vibration Activated Light Sphere; something he did not create and is certainly not new technology.
Something else that bothered me was the simple fact this is a cheap cat toy, which can be purchased online for as little as $3.49 (Chewy.com), while the rebranded version is being sold for $11.04. I purchased a three-pack (for testing) from Amazon for $13. If you really want to play with a light-up ball, you can find similar balls at toy stores, pet stores, and even drug stores; I found a large bin of them at Rite Aid for $1.50 each.
To be fair, DesBiens is certainly not getting rich off these things. By the time he paid for overseas shipping, upgrades he never received, and shipping to the final customer, he makes very little profit. And what little he does make from these sales, he donates to the Tomorrow Fund, an organization founded in 1985 to ease the traumatic financial and emotional stress of childhood cancer (which helped DesBiens while he battled–and won– leukemia).
I want to conclude this article by stating this was research not about “exposing DesBiens” trying to scam the ghost hunting community. Yes, he made some assumptions based on what he was told by the supplier and his personal beliefs in the paranormal … and he may have employed some marketing tactic embellishments, but I didn’t get the impression he was deliberately misleading anyone. He is genuinely a nice guy and perfectly within his right to brand a product his own way, which the supplier informed him he could and helped him design the package insert. My investigation into this product is on the side of “buyer beware,” helping interested parties’ access to more information.
I would encourage DesBiens, and any others, to better familiarize themselves with the products they’re selling and/or using; take it apart, verify what’s inside and any modifications before promoting it, and seek out knowledgeable people to help test it (not just your buddies). And lastly, be honest with your audience; if it’s a cat toy, admit it’s a cat toy rather than giving the impression you came up with an idea yourself.
- Alibaba.com. 2019.
- Chewy.com. 2019. Ethical Pet LED Motion Activated Ball Cat Toy. Available at https://www.chewy.com/ethical-pet-led-motion-activated/dp/180988?utm_source=google-product&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=hg&utm_content=Ethical%20Pet&utm_term=&gclid=Cj0KCQjwwODlBRDuARIsAMy_28UI5k0QeKdPzkqRVeVsKp5TAxgOR18snFfcSHVrCQPHG3qsQCUMCZ0aAohcEALw_wcB.
- Des-Tech. 2019. Facebook post March 9. Available at https://www.facebook.com/305531136745543/videos/394887011302222/.
- DesBiens, Cody. 2019. Personal conversation via Skype.
- Digital Dowsing LLC. 2009. Xcam SLS ‘Structured Light Sensor’ Camera System. Available at https://www.digitaldowsing.com/product/xcam-sls/.
- Fredericks Company, The. 2018. What’s the difference between an accelerometer and a tilt sensor? Available at https://www.frederickscompany.com/whats-the-difference-between-an-accelerometer-and-a-tilt-sensor/.
- Ghost Hunters. Manson Murders. Season 3, Episode 12 Original Airdate 18 July 2007.
- Ghost Adventures. St. James Hotel. Season 9, Episode 8. Original Airdate 12 April 2014.
- J&K Pet Services. 2014. Spot LED Motion Activated Cat Ball – Product Review by J&K Pet Services (Dingy, Mac & Bear). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjdQ7aHYozs.
- K-II Enterprises. 2019. Safe Range EMF. Available at https://www.kiienterprises.com/kiimeter.html.
- Lai, Wing. 2011. Led Motion Activated Cat Ball. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUzU_QlzK9c.
- Tomorrow Fun, The. 2018. Available at https://www.tomorrowfund.org/.
- Vanover Sc.D., Jon. 2019. Personal correspondence.
- Waveshare International Limited. 2019. Tilt Sensor. Available at https://www.waveshare.com/tilt-sensor.htm.