Science

Startups on ‘mobile frontier’ let you control computers with your eyes, make virtual friends, explore space

makerswarmSAN FRANCISCO- During a session titled “mobile frontiers” at Demo Mobile, five startups presented their products that are pushing the boundaries of mobile computing. These entrepreneurs are combining advanced technology with huge, creative ideas to usher in the future for smartphones.

“This is like the sci-fi dreams people wrote about decades ago,” Demo executive producer Erick Schonfeld said in an interview. “They are finally coming true. The most interesting thins happening in computing today are happening on mobile. These companies are pushing well beyond mobile phones and the internet of things, they are giving a sense of the possibilities and opportunities available.”

Maya Design is a technology research and design lab that seeks to “tame complexity.” On stage, President and CEO Mickey McManus presented flying drones that are activated by a watch.  Once the drones touched down again, they introduced the audience to MakerSwarm, or an “authoring tool for the Internet of Everything.”

“We live in a world of unbounded, malignant technological complexity,” he said on stage. “Rather than making humans more computer literate, we want the world to become more human literate, otherwise we will all become servants to our machines. Rather than coding, we want to build apps across atoms and bits, to create a social network of products and services.

MakerSwarm gives people visual tools so they can see the capabilities in every device (like sensors, a compass, or cameras) and drag-and-drop it into a new app, which can also connect to your social network. The goal is to enable anyone with technical expertise to build Internet of Things experiences, and turn anyone into a maker.

Following Maya Design was a company called Sherpa, which claims to be the “number one virtual personal assistant for the Spanish speaking world.” After ten years of research and development on natural language processing, Sherpa entered the US market today. The easy comparison is a Spanish-speaking Siri, but founder Xabier Uribe said on stage that Sherpa has greater capabilities because it is multi-lingual and based on multiple databases. Users can conduct complicated flight searches, ask “Who is President Obama” or request a Queen song to play. Sherpa also learns from user habits and provides guidance “not based on what we want the system to do, but based on what we actually do.” Sherpa is free and available through Google Play.

Following Sherpa was company that lets you control mobile devices with your eyes. That is the stuff of science fiction right there. The Eye Tribe makes software that enables eye control on mobile devices using sub millimeter eyeball tracking that CEO Sune Alstrup Johansen said can tell where someone is looking at a screen with accuracy compared to the size of a fingertip. It makes interaction with a mobile device as effortless as possible, so you can play a game or progress in an e-book without lifting a finger. On the business side, designers, researchers, and marketers can use the collected data to gain greater insight into user engagement and behavior.

While The Eye Tribe lets you feel telekinetic, Volio provides you with a simulated, virtual, video friend. Volio’s technology simulates conversation using artificial intelligence to give real people the characteristics of virtual assistants. On stage, founder Ron Croen had a conversation with his own Volio about what he ate for breakfast.

Volio has already partnered with Esquire magazine, where people can “chat” with Esquire columnists. For example, the Volio of a drinks expert named David Wondrich could ask a user questions about their favorite type of liquor, narrow down drink choices, and then guide them through the process of making a cocktail. The technology creates major opportunities for brands to connect with their consumers (and vice versa) and for customer support in a way that melds the comfort of real human contact with the convenience of technology.

The final company to present in mobile frontiers was Nanosatisfi which is taking mobile technology to space. The company has built a space and data imaging platform that offers affordable and convenient access to space. Founder Peter Platzer is a high-energy physicist who spent most of his career on Wall Street, but is now folioing his passion. His goal is to explore space without all the time, money, and bureaucracy that it involves to launch satellites. Nanosatisfi makes nano satellites that are equipped with cameras and various sensors. The collected data has possible applications in science education, weather analysis, and for governmental or military purposes.

Photo credit: The DEMO Conference