This Ghost Hunting Handheld Is an iPhone For Talking to the Dead

A published poet, archivist, and part-time paranormal investigator has assembled a team of engineers to build the world’s most advanced all-in-one ghost hunting machine.

Jan 23 2015, 4:30pm

GhostArk's handheld ghost hunting device will be available this summer for $250 Naturally, we'll be testing its claims. Photo via GhostArk

A published poet, archivist, and part-time paranormal investigator—in partnership with his son and a team of Japanese-trained robotics engineers—is creating the most advanced yet easy-to-use ghost hunting apparatus the world has ever seen.

Or so they say.

An Italian company called Ghost Ark claims it really is building a hand-held device to help you hunt ghosts. According to the GhostArk team, the matte-black box seen on their website, with backlit knobs and a waveform display, will "make 'Ghost Hunting' easy and accessible to all."

It will be available for purchase this summer for $250 dollars.

I spoke with Massimo Rossi, the chief executive officer of GhostArk, over Skype. The conversation was translated by Alessandro Valerani, the company's marketing manager and author of its blog (also, a former squash coach and author, because no-one at the company comes without a backstory, apparently). While Rossi was open about himself and the team, he remained cagey throughout our conversation about the device's manufacturing and funding, citing concerns about competition.

Now in his fifties, Rossi's interest in paranormal investigation started as a young boy. He attended séances, and as a teen, tried to find evidence of ghostly presences by scattering flour on the floor. He tried all the latest ghost-hunting technologies as they became available—portable faraday cages, digital recorders and white noise generators—but found them lacking.

GhostArk's founder and CEO Massimo Rossi. Photo via Massimo Rossi

Over the years, he says he has trained "with a palaeontologist, and people that restore ancient manuscripts," and worked professionally as an archivist. He has published several volumes of romantic and erotic poetry, as well as a play.

But despite these other interests, he has also remained preoccupied with ghosts. On his blog, he describes going to the civic library, where he works, in Venice over the Christmas holidays, and using a radio scanner to search for spirits. In another post, he cheerfully details spending several hours alone on Poveglia island—home to an abandoned insane asylum built on plague graves— while his son waited in the car to drive him home.

Finally, frustrated with the lack of an all-in-one device combining his go-to ghost-hunting tools, Massimo took out an ad for engineers and marketers, and the GhostArk team was born.

To those unfamiliar with the art of ghost hunting, the GhostArk probably comes off as pretty impressive. The group claims their device records ambient temperature and air pressure, as well as local electromagnetic fields. This information is automatically logged in giant spreadsheets for later analysis, but can also be monitored on the GhostArk's screen in real time. The device has multiple microphones for ambient recording, and can sweep through different radio frequencies for the presence of ghostly messages. A white noise generator is also included, because it is believed that spirits sometimes communicate by shaping ambient noise into sounds.

The device looks reassuringly tough—in computer generated renders, at least—and is designed for quick battery swaps in the event a mischievous spirit decides to prematurely drain its power, according to one of many helpful explanations on the GhostArk blog. And because the device combines several tools into one, the user's other hand is free to navigate whichever abandoned castle or orphanage he or she happens to be working in that day.

Oh, and it's supposed to look really cool—like an iPhone, but for talking to dead people. "It is consciously designed to appeal to everyone, not just people with an interest in paranormal," said Rossi. His son, Gian Maria Rossi, takes over the line to explain that he designed the device and website himself. Originally a chef, Gian worked as a DJ and graphic designer before settling on web and product design—the soft blue backlight behind the knobs and buttons is a nod to his time spent DJing, another profession that works in the dark.

Gian describes himself as more of a skeptic than his father—common of the rest of the staff, too—but admits there are things he cannot explain. Valerani, the marketer, was also skeptical, but believes that "to be scientific is to get all the variables in one place, and then look for patterns."

The device is designed for quick battery swaps in the event a mischievous spirit decides to prematurely drain its power.

"The engineers were pretty surprised, because it's kind of bizarre, making technology explain something like this," said Massimo. "But having to test the device, this kind of curiosity came to them."

Of course, skepticism is a hurdle all start-ups have to deal with—doubly so if your product claims to detect ghosts. Already, it's been noted that the GhostArk website seems purpose built to have articles written about it. There's also the challenge of delivering a physical product that matches its promise. Although Rossi claims to have a Japanese trained robotics engineer and several radio engineers on staff, the device still only exists as an image on a page.

When I asked who was funding the project, Rossi replied, "you're talking to him" (although, technically, I was speaking to his translator).

It's possible the world of ghost hunting isn't the best fit for slickly designed tech devices, either. Mickey Goccol, the leader of North London Paranormal Investigations, says some of his group's best spirit contacts were made with their cheapest equipment. "Spirits can be hundreds of years old. The simplest equipment is probably best," he told me over the phone, suggesting that ghosts may have as much trouble making sense of new devices as grandparents do.

On the other hand, the Ghost Ark team seem adept at managing expectations. "Ghost Hunting" is in scare quotes throughout the site, and nothing on the site or blog makes any claim stranger than those made by existing devices available for purchase on sites such as Ghostoutlet (which also sells ghost soap). It's simply billed as a measurement device for variables that some people believe are telltale signs of a ghostly presence. It doesn't explicitly claim that it will actually trap you a ghost.

And it does seem there is a market ready to accept it. Rossi and Alessandro recently appeared on a paranormal investigation podcast. The host gushed about the design, saying "it looks like how I hoped something like this would look!" which sounds like money in the bank for GhostArk.

Goccol, despite a few reservations, is intrigued by the potential of the device to streamline investigations and standardize data collection across team members. "Overall it's good to see someone trying to move things forward," he said. "We're definitely gonna' order one and try it out."

Motherboard also asked to test GhostArk's device, and they agreed to send a prototype over when it's ready. We'll let you know if it comes—and what we find.