Crowdsourced Clunkers: Seemed Like A Good Idea At the Time?
For every brilliant crowdfunded tech idea, there’s a multitude of odd, intrusive, and giggle-inducing ideas that make us scratch our heads, but still manage to get some crowdsourced traction. Here’s a sampling of the ideas that currently have us saying “Hmmm, that’s… interesting.”
Moti: Behavioral science robot that helps you change your habits
First up is Moti, a robot companion that is supposed to help you build better habits. Here’s how it works: You pick a habit you’d like to develop, for instance drinking 8 glasses of water a day. (Careful, though! Each $99 Moti unit only works with one habit at a time.) You put the Moti in a place where you’ll interact with it while you’re practicing your habit, i.e. near the water filter. Then, when you fill your glass, you give the Moti a “satisfying push” on its big, lighted button (or via the app, if you’re away from home), which is supposed to trigger some sort of reward.
Here’s the thing. “Reward” is not defined, other than to say that it can serve up different rewards for each person based on “deep analytics” that it does on their behavior. (Note to Moti: A stack of $50s would probably work really well!) Maybe the idea is that just pushing the button is reward enough? (Not for us.) Or perhaps a truckload of bottled water and a yoga mat will be delivered to your driveway? Only Moti knows.
The description also mentions that Moti might get “angry, sad, or encouraging if you’re slacking off!” We can only imagine what this might entail (especially with that peppy exclamation point), and it doesn’t sound good. Actually, it sounds like the use of 8 words when one would’ve sufficed: “Nag.” As in “Moti might nag you if you’re slacking off!” Great! Can’t wait!
But again, to each their own – the project just launched, and is already about $20K over its $50,000 goal on Kickstarter, with 23 days left to go.
Alchema: Home cider brewing made really expensive
Another project, Alchema, aims to contain the earthy, frothy, fragrant, and often funky process of making hard cider into a connected countertop device that sounds kind of like a variation on a Keurig coffee maker.
A silver-colored plastic case hides the fermentation process from view, and includes a UV light that sanitizes the plastic pitcher before you start adding ingredients. Weight sensors communicate with an app to tell you exactly how much of each ingredient to add for each pre-programmed recipe, so you don’t have to measure or even think about what you’re making (presumably handy if it’s a repeat batch you’re concocting, after having just consumed the prior batch in one sitting.)
The $429 price tag includes 3 single-batch yeast packets; you can add more on to your order for just $1.33. (Or, you could go to a local home brew supply store and get yeast much cheaper.) A built-in hydrometer measures the alcohol content and displays it on the smartphone app. A pop-up notification lets you know when your cider is ready.
As we looked through the photos of Alchema’s prototype, questions kept … well, bubbling to the surface. For instance: A pressure sensor and auto release valve are supposed to do the work of a standard airlock, but are built into the outer case. Hence the entire setup looks like it might be very hard to clean, especially if cider foams up to the top of the vessel during fermentation (and in our experience, it usually does.).
In the press photos, friends gather around what looks like a pitcher of fresh fruit chunks in juice – a squeaky-clean substitute for cider mash. Again, we find ourselves wondering how impressive a party trick it really is, to whip out a big pitcher of unfiltered booze. Even so, there won’t be much to go around – the maximum yield is 2.4 liters, and much less if you start with whole fruit. Not a whole lot of payoff given the time it recommends for fermentation (1-2 weeks for craft cider, 1 week for mead or 16 weeks for wine.)
This product strikes us as a solution without a problem. Alchema commands a really steep price tag for hiding and automating the process of cider brewing, something that most home brewers are actually interested in observing. (Ever watch your mom get a sourdough starter from a friend, then get gleefully grossed out as it continues its journey?) This setup also makes it hard to keep tabs on your brew — so if your cider gets contaminated, you could have a not-so-savory surprise waiting for you.
To us, it still makes a lot more sense to spend a fraction of that money on some glass jugs with airlocks and a hydrometer, or on several cases of hard cider (if the idea of making your own is just too messy.) However, there does appear to be some demand — Alchema wrapped up its Kickstarter campaign last week, raising over $340,000 from 399 backers. A concurrent Indiegogo campaign is 430% funded, having raised another $345,000. We wouldn’t be one bit surprised to find that a lot of these backers are the same folks paying $50/pound for coffee.
TimeCap: Record every second of every day (and then figure out what to do with all that video)
Next up is TimeCap, a ”gorgeous wearable camera” that records your every moment and sends it to the cloud via your smartphone, using Bluetooth 4. It’s advertised as being non-intrusive, so your friends and family members will forget they’re being recorded at all times and act naturally. The maker describes it as a “jeweled brooch,” but to us, it looks more like an eyeball — available in green, or (even worse) red — and it’s hard to imagine wearing one as an accessory, ever, let alone every day.
It’s also hard to fathom the process of digging through 24/7 video coverage to find those precious moments we supposedly want to relive and share with our friends. Finally, the description says that the camera records “from the point-of-view of the person wearing it” but we’d like to point out that really it appears to be recording from the point-of-view of the wearer’s chest.
“I can’t wait to share your sweet nothings on social media.”
We also question how the resolution/cloud storage space would work, if and when these eyeball brooches start shipping. For instance, the video compression type and stream size when sending it “up” to the cloud aren’t specified — yet as two women who hail from the industry we used to call “cable,” we can never say too often that bandwidth is neither infinite nor free, and video remains the bulkiest online traveller. This is even more painfully true for mobile providers.
Moving on to the creepier aspects of this idea — does anyone really want to record every minute and store it in the cloud? Especially with all the security considerations that makers designing for the Internet of Things all too often put on the back burner?
“Are you seriously recording our conversation?”
Apparently yes. Astoundingly, with 8 days left the project is 563% funded on Indiegogo, having raised just over $112,000 toward its $20,000 goal. Yikes.
Technology Nobody Needs
Along with tracking the more promising gadgets and technologies gracing the Internet of Things, we keep a notebook in Evernote titled “The Book of Bad Ideas.” That is where I send all of the eye-rolling, cringe-inducing nightmares that crop up during my daily web scrape. Here are a few of the highlights:
Selfie Sombrero (Acer x Christian Cowan-Sanluis) $980
This glittery, obscenely expensive pink hat-and-tablet combo, which first appeared at London Fashion Week, was designed by the young Dutch designer Christian Cowan-Sanluis. It rotates 360 degrees, allowing you to find your best selfie angle. In case you were wondering, this was inspired by a similar outfit (minus the dangling tablet) that the designer created for Lady Gaga last year.
Quirky Egg Minder ($49)
If you have egg anxiety, fear not: The Quirky Egg Minder is here. This connected egg tray works with a smartphone app to track how many eggs you have, when each individual egg was placed in the tray, and when each egg is set to reach its expiration date. You can even check on your egg tray from the grocery store to see if you need to buy more eggs, and receive text alerts when your eggs are about to expire! As an urban chicken keeper, I strongly recommend investing in the low-tech solution of a few backyard hens and an egg skelter instead.
Sony Smart Wig (prototype only, price TBD)
This one may never see the light of day, but it’s so wonderfully ridiculous that we just can’t leave it off this list. Sony filed a patent at the end of last year for a smart wig, capable of such functions as navigation, health monitoring, and EEG tracking. Even better, Sony’s patent covers a Presentation Wig, designed for use with PowerPoint. The wig allows the user to control a laser pointer with a wiggle of the eyebrows, and advance to the next slide by tugging on the sideburns. Sadly, we’re not joking.
We:Ex Navigate Jacket (price TBD)
The designers of the Navigate jacket are very concerned about the risks of pedestrians using GPS on their phones. Citing an increase in pedestrian traffic accidents involving smartphones, they’ve developed jackets that will lead you around town using LEDs on the sleeves and vibrating shoulder pads. Because we can safely assume that all those smartphone-related pedestrian accidents involve someone intently staring at Google Maps, rather than checking Facebook or emailing the boss. And while you can use earbuds to get audio navigation cues from your phone, surely it will aid your exploration of the city if your sleeves are flashing and your jacket is abuzz with haptic feedback.
Aside from being ridiculous, the Navigate jacket is city-specific, meaning you can’t buy one and use it wherever you go — currently there are versions being tested for New York City, Paris, and Sydney. We don’t have a price tag just yet, but we think the idea of purchasing a distinctive-looking electronic jacket just to get directions to the Louvre is absurd. If you want to stand out as a tourist, this is probably a good bet.
airVR, by Metatecture, is a virtual reality headset that completed its round of funding on Kickstarter on October 16. This project “leverages iOS Retina hardware that is already in millions of peoples’ hands.” In other words, it involves strapping an iPad Mini to your head.
To be fair, it seems this device might actually have a few practical uses – one of the apps, diplopia, claims to help correct lazy and crossed eyes. But we just can’t get over the image of this guy cavorting around with an iPad strapped to his face.
Oh, and they make one for iPhone too:
Satis Smart Toilet ($4,000 no longer available)
This connected toilet, made by Lixil (now owned by American Standard) is no longer on the market – and for good reason. The toilet connected to a smartphone app via WiFi and Bluetooth, though we’re still not clear on why this was a selling point. In case you want to track usage? Or flush from your phone? (Never mind, we don’t really want to know.)
But the steep price tag and questionable utility were not the worst things about the Satis Smart Toilet. A Bluetooth PIN of “0000” was hard-coded into the app, making it possible for anyone with the MySatis app to control any toilet within range. According to a security advisory issued in August of 2013, “an attacker can cause the toilet to repeatedly flush, raising the water usage and therefore utility cost to its owner. Attackers could cause the unit to unexpectedly open/close the lid, activate bidet or air-dry functions, causing discomfort or distress to user.” We’ll just leave you with that mental image….
2013 International CES Scribblings
The Consumer Electronics Show is in full swing at this writing, and as a person who arrives early and leaves late, here’s a few observations.
1. It’s a hypochondriac’s paradise! A wide corridor in the South Hall pulsed with electronic tools for a thinner, fitter world. The digital pedometer wars are on, for starters, and as someone addicted to 10,000 steps/day (year four!), it got my attention. (Especially because my new Nike Fuelband conveniently broke on the first day of the show.)
One vendor – HapiLabs (where the “hapi” is pronounced like the emotion) staved off crowds seeking a peek at its “smart fork.” It vibrates if you eat too quickly. Yes there’s a companion app for your smartphone….
2. Everyone, even the people who make the tumbler locks on your doors, wants to secure and automate your home. It’s another manifestation of advanced fragmentation: The alarm guys are here with home automation mechanisms, as are the tumbler lock guys, and the in-home wiring guys. And the cable guys, for that matter.
3. “The Internet of Things” is alive and well at CES. By now you’ve perhaps given some thought to how many things (computers, tablets, phones) in your life need an Internet connection. Consensus estimation is 10, per household, by 2015; most hard-core tech-enthusiasts are easily in the 30s right now.
4. And largely, that’s before factoring in things that will make use of things like Pandora, or Spotify – your smart TV, your lights, your fridge. Whirlpool demonstrated a kitchen suite with high-end speakers for Internet and/or local audio streaming; Samsung showed a TV with a screen with sound and a browser (think epicurious.com on a stationary screen, rather than perching the laptop on the counter.)
One new vendor – “Smart Things” – aims to use the protocols of the Zigbee Alliance to make our dumb things (lights, thermostats, garage doors, windows) smart.
Probably the big standout, though, was the next chapter in HD — “Ultra HD,” the re-brand of “4K” — there are 8K and 16K versions lined up behind it. If you remember the first you saw HDTV, and thought “wow, this is better than my eyes can see” – Ultra HD is better than that. Stunning visuals.
It’s a long way off, though, much to the chagrin of the CE vendors, who seek the next HD slam dunk. Why: Content doesn’t yet exist that’s high enough in resolution to exercise the capabilities of the $20,000 screens. Forget about “down-rez” (down-sizing resolution) issues. With Ultra-HD, “up-rez” tends to pop up in conversations – how to add bits to existing, Blu-Ray-grade content, to make it rich enough for the screens. And: Cameras and editing gear doesn’t yet exist; the bandwidth to carry it is formidable; it’s too big for HDMI cables … and that’s the short list.
Back to the floor…
This column originally appeared in the Platforms section of Multichannel News.