“Offline is online,” says Sean O’Sullivan. That might sound like a quote from 1984. But O’Sullivan, co-founder of Haxlr8r, a hardware startup incubator based in San Francisco, Calif., and Shenzhen, China, was referring to the trend of things that aren’t obviously computers, like seat cushions and tennis rackets, turning into connected devices.
Haxlr8r launched its fourth class of startups last week, and all had reasonably interesting ideas that could indeed be successful products, at least at some level. Out of a group of ten startup ideas, I expect to see a few that make me shake my head and wonder how a lame idea got this far. I didn’t do that last week.
Benjamin Joffee, a general partner in Haxlr8r, says that is no accident. The incubator, he says, aims to avoid the hazardous “wares”: funware (fun but no market), easyware (anyone can make it), sameware (similar to existing products), solutionware (amazing technology that hasn’t yet found a problem it’s good at solving), vaporware (can’t be made), lameware (good intentions but the compromises needed to get it to market lead to disappointment), failware (successfully built something nobody wants), lateware (woke up competitors who beat it to market), lossware (no product margins), borewear (people quickly lose interest and stop using it), futureware (amazing technology that are too far ahead of what the market can support), and localware (too tied to a small local ecosystem to make it in the world).
The ten launching last week:
Hoard [photo, right] is developing a network of smart, app-programmable, lockers for people involved in sharing businesses (like Airbnb) to use to exchange keys. A simple concept, but, if they can pull it off, it’s a brilliant way to ride the growth of the sharing economy. Hoard plans to put its Wi-Fi-connected kiosks into commercial locations and 24-hour convenience stores, charging users either per-use or subscription fees.
Shot Stats is quantifying tennis, using a motion tracker, Bluetooth, and a phone app. It graphs shots, displays their speed, and it can even combine the data with a video. The hardware package is designed to attach to a tennis racket like a vibration dampener. The gadget is priced at $125 to $200 on Kickstarter, and the lowest pricing category is already sold out.
Otto’s camera [photo top], designed around the Raspberry Pi compute module, is intended for hackers to customize. It’s listed for $150 and up on Kickstarter, and getting some buzz on raspberrypi.org.
Niwa [photo, right] took a step beyond from the quantified self to the quantified plant, designing a fully automatic "smart growing system," which optimizes growing conditions for whatever plant is inside of it. The company uses orchids and tomatoes as demonstration plants, and touts the benefits of homegrown vegetables, but admits that with a price tag of $500, a key market may be folks who want to grow medicinal plants.
Syrmo is another company riding the quantified self movement, but in this case, it's quantifying a specific sport. Syrmo took on skateboarding; it is building a small module with a motion tracker and Bluetooth capability that attaches between the wheel mount and the deck of the skateboard, and communicates with a smartphone to record movement, including height, airtime, and speed. It can reproduce those motions as an animation, and if the phone is being used to record video of a trick, it synchronizes that data with the video, even triggering a slow motion mode for key moments. The company will be selling the gadget for $60 on Kickstarter and plans a $140 retail price.
Kast is trying to bring down the cost of 3D printers that use a liquid resin hardened by UV, a technology that can do more precise designs at a higher speed than the extruded plastic printers now used by hobbyists. At $2000 to $3000, the company doesn’t think it’s a consumer product, but is looking to get it into schools and small businesses.
Two robotics companies launched at Haxlr8r, both aimed at taking robots into small businesses. Rational Robotics has designed a painting robot for small autobody shops—it’s not big enough to paint a car, but it can efficiently take a good-sized piece of a car. The company says the robot saves money by using less paint for a more uniform finish and eliminates worker exposure to hazardous fumes, and will pay back its cost ($20,000 to $60,000 plus usage fees, with the higher price assuming lower usage fees) within six to eight months.
The other small business robot company launching, Avidbots [photo, right] has designed a $13,00 floor sweeping and washing robot to be used by cleaning services.
Dharma’s plan is to move quantified self technology into the chair cushion, measuring motion and vital statistics. It’s a little odd to think of your heart rate as being measured from the, er, bottom up, but it seemed effective.
Quitbit’s smart lighter isn’t revolutionary and doesn’t do a whole lot. But what it does—track the number of times a smoker lights up in a day in an effort to help the smoker reduce cigarette use or quit—it does so in a simple enough $70 to $140 package that people might just use.
Photos: Tekla Perry
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.