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The best of HAXLR8R’s hardware startup demo day: robots for all, friendship bracelets for some

The HAXLR8R startup accelerator introduced its fifth class of hardware startups Wednesday–10 early-stage companies that were able to spend 3.5 months in Shenzhen, China, building a working prototype.

The founders were a noticeably diverse group; four out of 10 presentations were delivered by women, and the teams hailed from countries like China, Sweden, France and Canada, on top of the U.S.

Their products were also diverse, but with themes obvious throughout. Robots had a particularly strong showing this time around, accounting for five of the projects pitched. All 10 devices were connected.

Here’s a closer look at each of the startups that debuted at demo day:

CELL: Industrial applications for robots are well known, but children are a big target for the robotics sector. CELL is one of the latest sophisticated robot toys that allow kids to rearrange modules into whatever shape they would like and then program movement with a mobile device. CELL also plans to sell accessories like wheels and cameras that can augment what the robots can do.

It’s a lot like TinkerBots, though users are limited to mostly round modules. CELL didn’t say what its product will cost. TinkerBots is rather expensive, so there is room for a cheaper option.

CELL will launch on Kickstarter in December.

The CELL robot can be configured in tons of different ways to create whatever you would like. Photo by Signe Brewster.
The CELL robot can be configured in tons of different ways to create whatever you would like. Photo by Signe Brewster.

Clarity: During their time in Shenzhen, Clarity‘s team witnessed first-hand how worried people in China have become about air quality.

Clarity is their answer. It’s an egg-shaped pod that can clip on to a belt loop or backpack and continuously monitor what substances are in the air. If things get really bad, it can alert its user to head indoors. It also creates a crowdsourced map via other Clarity users to say exactly which parks and streets might be the best bet for clear air. The team expects to begin marketing it in China in May.

“You can stop wondering about what you are breathing and start making smart decisions to protect yourself,” business lead Hannah Hagen said.

Clarity is a tiny pod that can easily clip onto a purse or backpack to track air quality wherever the wearer takes it. Photo by Signe Brewster.
Clarity is a tiny pod that can easily clip onto a purse or backpack to track air quality wherever the wearer takes it. Photo by Signe Brewster.

Form: Form‘s Point is one part Nest and one part Dropcam, with a big omission: a camera. The team behind it said that was a very purposeful choice meant to establish what it called “soft security.” Basically, you don’t have to worry about video of your private home leaking from the cloud.

To make up for its lack of vision, Point relies on its other senses. It can pair the sound of crashing glass with a change in temperature to definitively decide that a window has broken.

“We designed Point because we wanted it in our own homes, and in the process we found places where it was really needed, places where cameras couldn’t go,” CEO Nils Mattisson said.

Point is currently selling on Kickstarter for $59 to $79. It plans to ship to corporate partners in April and backers by the end of next summer.

Form's founders call their device "soft security" because it does not include a camera. Photo by Signe Brewster.
Form’s founders call their device “soft security” because it does not include a camera. Photo by Signe Brewster.

Katia: The cost to build a robot is dropping quickly, and robotic arms have been one of the biggest benefactors. Katia is the latest option. It will sell for $2,000, with a smaller version called TOBI available for $500.

It is built to be an open platform, which means you can stick a camera, or a claw for a 3D printer extruder on its end–whatever you want. The robot can be programmed just by moving it, making it very user friendly.

Katia's robotic arm can be trained just by moving it, meaning it doesn't need any complicated programming. Photo by Signe Brewster.
Katia’s robotic arm can be trained just by moving it, meaning it doesn’t need any complicated programming. Photo by Signe Brewster.

Linkitz: Are you female? Were you once a child? If so, then you probably remember friendship bracelets. Linkitz is their modern descendant, and designed to get girls interested in technology and programming.

Children can program Linkitz with a simple interface to take on different abilities. They can blink when a friend is nearby or be used to send a simple message.

For a wearable device, Linkitz looked like it had a way to go design-wise. The giant pin that sticks out of each module is very, very obvious, to the point that it’s hard to imagine anyone wearing one on a necklace.

Linkitz modules can let a wearer know when a friend is nearby. Photo by Signe Brewster.
Linkitz modules can let a wearer know when a friend is nearby. Photo by Signe Brewster.

OpenTrons: Life scientists have two options: Spend a big chunk of their time moving liquid from dish to dish as a part of their research, or outsource the work to machines that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

OpenTrons‘ new machine costs $2,000 and is open source, a move its founders hope will coax widespread adoption.

“Our life science experts spend most of their time doing manual labor, and it’s slowing down research,” co-founder Will Canine said. “We’re trying to accelerate the design and build test cycle.”

OpenTrons is also open sourcing a software platform that allows researchers to share the programs they create with colleagues and the greater community.

OpenTrons uses open source hardware and software to make bioscience research more accessible. Photo by Signe Brewster.
OpenTrons uses open source hardware and software to make bioscience research more accessible. Photo by Signe Brewster.

Petronics: Humans don’t get to have all the fun with robots. Petronics is building a robotic mouse for cats, and it looks like it will give birth to a whole new genre of funny cat videos.

Its secret is that it’s truly an autonomous robot. Instead of running around and waiting for a cat to chase it, Mousr waits for a cat to interact and then responds, running away when they get close or dodging their maneuvers.

“There is no other toy sophisticated enough to allow your cat to engage in its natural hunting patterns,” co-founder Michael Freeman said.

Mousr is now selling on Kickstarter, beginning at $100. Petronics plans to begin shipping units in October 2015.

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Prynt: The Polaroid camera has not been forgotten. Prynt has the latest spin on the digital pocket printer with a mobile phone case that spits out palm-sized snapshots.

The prototype at demo day produced low-quality images, but in the age of the selfie, the appeal is pretty clear. Prynt will release an API that allows the development of more specific applications like custom business cards and postcards.

Prynt will launch at CES in January. It will sell for $129. Each piece of photo paper will cost 30 cents, proving expensive film cartridges also have not been forgotten.

Prynt CEO Clement Perrot (left), demo day attendees and I (second to left) paused for a Prynt selfie that printed instantly. Photo by Signe Brewster.
Prynt CEO Clement Perrot (left), demo day attendees and I (second to left) paused for a Prynt selfie that printed instantly. Photo by Signe Brewster.

Robo: Robo is yet another modular robot toy. Its team didn’t have a prototype on display, but from their images the robot looks even more similar to TinkerBots.

It can be programmed with a visual interface and has enough smarts to maneuver around obstacles in a room or even detect colors. Accessories like wheels and cameras, plus a Lego adapter, can expand what it does.

It will sell for $129.

Robo modules connect to form interactive robots. Image by Robo.
Robo modules connect to form interactive robots. Image by Robo.

Voltera: So every creator now has access to a 3D printer, but bringing their creations to life is more difficult. Circuit printers can fill that space by cutting down the time it takes to get a custom circuit board from two weeks to two hours.

“Buildng hardware sucks. It sucks so much that every company in this room moved to China to work faster,” business development lead Alroy Almeida said. “With Voltera, if you need custom circuits, just press print.”

There are already lots of circuit printer options out there, but the Voltera V-One has some extra tricks. It prints silver nanoparticle conductive ink on many different types of boards and includes a heater to put the finishing touches on a board. It can also print multiple layers.

Voltera prints working circuits in just a few hours. Photo by Signe Brewster.
Voltera prints working circuits in just a few hours. Photo by Signe Brewster.

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