In a small corner space of the Twitter building known as “Runway,” 10 hardware startups fresh from the HAXLR8R accelerator program showed off their new creations Thursday afternoon. Themes ranged from wearables to gaming to potentially life-changing technology for premature babies.
HAXLR8R is based in Shenzhen, China, to ensure startups are in contact with factories from the infancy of an idea. Co-founder Zach Hoeken Smith, who took many lessons from his time as a founder at 3D printer maker MakerBot, said it’s essential that hardware companies design their products with the parts they will be manufactured with in their final form. Otherwise, they will run into huge problems when they move from prototype to production.
“No hardware plan survives contact with a factory,” HAXLR8R co-founder Cyril Ebersweiler said.
Here’s a look at the 10 hardware startups, each of which pitched a product at the demo day.
Everpurse: A purse that charges smartphones dropped into a designated pocket. It can be charged wirelessly and now comes with an app.
Co-founder Liz Salcedo said she thought of the Everpurse concept after constantly running low on battery power while running around San Francisco.
“We started with the idea that the relationship between fashion and technology should go deeper. Our goal is to create the technology of fashion.”
Salcedo announced the new app will allow owners to track their purse and important belongings like keys via a thin circuit board. The company will release a wallet next year.
Conclusion: This serves the same purpose as any charge-extending device, but I still want one! The purses look nice and it looks very easy to use.
Curio: A robot toy and software combo. You can create new robots and have them interact with games on a smart phone or tablet—no cords necessary.
“The norm for robotic toys is for them to be highly functional. But for Curio, our goal was for maximum expressiveness,” co-founder Mike Knuepfel said.
The app can be used to control the robot’s actions and emotions. In the long term, the team would like to see branded robots introduced and increased age-specific content for the app.
They plan to launch on Kickstarter, where they will first target makers and early-adopters and ship in late 2014. Users will be able to create their own software and 3D print robot components.
Conclusion: This reminds me of the interactivity that comes with the most recent model of Furby. I like that they’ve made the robots customizable.
Notch: A small triangular disc that monitors movement and advises wearers on how to improve.
How long does it take to learn how to do a back flip? Usually it takes more than 1,000 tries. Co-founder Stepan Boltalin said Notch can be attached to a body part to track complicated movements like flipping off a wall, kicking a soccer ball or shooting a free throw. Then the wearer can review the data to correct their motion and learn more quickly.
The startup launched the device on Kickstarter Thursday and is offering early backers a line of clothing specially made to integrate Notches.
Conclusion: I don’t quite buy that this gives you better feedback than watching a video of yourself. But maybe hyperactive people would say otherwise.
Roadie: A tuning device that attaches to any string instrument’s knobs and tunes it automatically. It can also can track the quality of strings and let their user know when they need to be replaced.
Co-founder Bassam Jalgha’s guitar was really out of tune. He plucked at the strings as he placed the Roadie over his guitar’s nobs. Ten seconds later, the Roadie beeped. The guitar was tuned.
The device will cost $99, and it pairs with a free manual tuner. It is now available for preorder on Kickstarter.
Conclusion: Cool. I know some beginning guitar players who could really use one of these.
WearPoint: Tact is a wearable or handheld square disc that can be used to control devices like Google Glass.
The creators of WearPoint hold that Google Glass is odd to use in everyday life because it requires you to speak out loud or gesture near your face.
“OK, Glass, Google ‘awkward,’” co-founder Sam Force said.
Tact can clip onto a bracelet, necklace or belt loop, so wearers can place it wherever they like. Force noted students as a prime market. They can wear Glass in class and interact with it without making any obvious gestures. Tact can control other devices too, like phones.
Conclusion: I get why this is useful for Google Glass, but not really why I’d use it to control my smartphone.
BabyBe: A small mattress for premature babies that can be used in incubators. The mother holds a turtle-shaped device to her chest, which takes in and transmits her heartbeat, breathing and voice to the mattress. The artificial heartbeat comforts and stimulates the baby.
Pulling a premature baby out of an incubator for the contact its parents crave can be dangerous. But a premature baby may spend weeks in the incubator, stunting bonding between child and parent.
BabyBe provides a device to replicate contact for the baby in a safe way. It also comes paired with an app for parents to track their baby. Co-founder Camilo Anabalon said the company is now going through clinical trials and then FDA certification. It launched today on IndieGoGo.
Conclusion: I’m not familiar with the science behind a device like this, but it sounds like a very meaningful application.
Palette: Block-like modules that allow the user to create custom controllers, no hardware skills required.
The mouse and keyboard have their limits as input devices, especially for repetitive, high-precision tasks.
“What if there was a way that an interface could grow with your needs?” co-founder Calvin Chu said.
Palette‘s block-like modules snap together like Legos, allowing people to create a series of dials, sliders and buttons that perfectly fit their needs. The team sees applications in gaming, photography and more.
It launched today on Kickstarter, beginning at $99. The team eventually wants to add additional modules, such as joysticks.
Conclusion: Sold. The appeal for photographers is obvious. You can use a slider to fine-tune edits like color balance.
Vigo: A device worn on the ear that tracks fatigue signs like blinking patterns. It warns the wearer when they are tired.
We’re always worrying about how much juice is left in our devices’ batteries, but “what about us?” co-founder Drew Karabionos said.
Vigo tracks how alert the wearer is. If it decides they are tired, or if they sit idle for a set amount of time they have determined to be too long, it can buzz or flash as an alarm. Karabionos said the data it collects can track the wearer’s longterm mental well-being, while devices like Fitbits track physical well-being.
Conclusion: I could see this being big among heavy drivers, but I can’t imagine using it in everyday life. Plus it looks almost as goofy as Google Glass.
Petcube: A block via which pet owners can communicate and play with their furry friend.
Your pet is lonely when he’s at home alone, according to co-founder Yaroslav Axhhnyuk. Remotely controlling a laser for them to play with can solve that.
Even if you don’t have a pet, you can download the app and play with the pets of people who have made access to their Petcube publicly available. The startup would also like to install them in pet shelters. Eventually, it would also like to build connceted collars and bowls.
Conclusion: Cute. The build-in camera you can use to photograph your pet would appeal most to me. As a person without pets, I’m totally going to download the app and find some new kitty BFFs.
Dustcloud: A laser-tag like game that combines a small plastic “gun” with an iPhone app, which automatically logs game statistics.
Urban gaming is booming, and the division between real-life and digital play is blurring. Dustcloud lets you play laser tag against friends and strangers by giving you targets you “dust” with a tiny plastic gun.
“I actually have a legitimate way of meetings strangers” via the game, co-founder Howard Hunt said.
Dusts are automatically tracked via an app. Users’ profiles display their photo and gaming record.
Conclusion: Sounds like a good time. I can’t imagine enough people adopting it that you can easily play with strangers, but playing with friends would be fun enough.
This story was updated at 9 p.m. PT on November 24, 2013, to state that the BabyMe device is only for hospital use. It is not made for use in the home.