SAN FRANCISCO- Hardware is in the midst of a Renaissance. Today at HAXLR8R’s demo day, ten hot hardware startups presented their products after completing a 15-week accelerator program in Shenzhen China. The program is designed to help entrepreneurs with innovative hardware concepts and prototypes and help turn them into commercial realities.
During 111 days in China, participants receive mentorship, seed funding, and support figuring out the details of manufacturing, supply chain management, and distribution. HAXLR8R’s goal is to put hardware entrepreneurs as close to the production facilities as possible. Hardware has long been an outcast of startup society because of the challenges involved in manufacturing, scaling and distributing products. That is now changing thanks to crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, technological advancements in 3-D printing and computer-aided design, and the success of companies like Pebble, Ouya, and Square.
Getting a hardware startup off the ground involves more overhead and physical logistics than software companies, and HAXLR8R smooths this process for entrepreneurs with ideas, but without the resources or expertise to execute on them without advise and support.
HAXLR8R founder Sean O’Sullivan said that in one year HAXLR8R went from being “an outlier and an oddity” as the world’s first hardware accelerator to being on the cusp of a new trend.
“Hardware accelerators are fundamentally different than software and much more important — the need is massive,” he said during an opening announcement. “Before the maker movement, we in America lost ingenuity and productivity when it comes to hardware manufacturing. We are training the next generation of inventors how to build stuff, and how to build it well and affordably. One of or two of these companies could go on to change society.”
Spark is a platform for connected hardware that makes it easier to build wifi-enabled products. Founder Zach Supalla said that many hardware manufacturers aren’t software savvy. Spark combines a tiny development board and software to embed wifi in any product, including (in theory) a connected PB&J sandwich. The Spark Cloud is like ‘Heroku for hardware’, providing startups with an infrastructure and REST API so products powered by Spark can be extended with apps and connected. Spark has raised over $253,000 on Kickstarter and has closed a round of seed financing.
Lightup provides an electronics construction kit and accompanying digital tutor application that “empowers kids to solve challenges of future.” Founder Josh Chan said the goal is to get kids exciting about making things and to help them understand the fundamentals of technology using real components. The tutor is built on Artificial Intelligence technology so kids can ask questions and receive actual answers and see simulations, even when no-one is around to help. Lightup is geared for middle-school aged kids. Lightup is launching a Kickstarter campaign this Thursday. Kits range in price from $30 to $200 and using them, kids can build anything from lunch box alarms to TV remotes.
Blinkiverse has developed open source building blocks to control and manipulate LED lights so anyone can create exciting, creative LED installations. BlinkyTape is intended to make working with LED lights as simple as possible, for people without technical expertise. BlinkyTape is a full-color light tape that is controlled by a custom light processor called the BlinkyBoard. There is also a software program for adding in custom animations and music. Founder Matt Mets donned an LED-wired hat during his presentation and announced that Blinkiverse launched its Kickstarter campaign this morning.
Hex makes flying drones that are accessible and kid-friendly. This open platform aerial robot can fly on its own or be managed by a mobile app. Users can program a navigational route, as well as mount cameras and mechanical arms. Potential applications include outdoor sports filming, aerial imaging, search and rescue, as well as to check things like high voltage power lines. Hex is in the process of creating an open source community to explore the possibilities of ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’ (UAV). Later this year, Hex will conduct a crowdfunding campaign for its Hex Mini copter.
Vibease is a smart vibrator. It combines a squishy Bluetooth enabled pink piece of hardware and mobile technology to give women “the best orgasm experience ever,” at least according to founder Dema Tio.
“Sex is part of basic human needs,” he said on stage. “We love sex so much because of orgasm. But more than half women don’t have orgasms, single women need orgasms too. We create an immersive experience for women. Vibease vibrates according to your fantasies.”
The mobile app features a “marketplace for erotica” with over 20 videos to choose from. The whole experience combines what Tio identified as the four elements of female orgasm- audio, emotion, fantasy, and clitoral stimulation. Women can select a fantasy they find appealing and control the vibrator with their smartphone. The app saves your preferences and data, so you can create your own patterns. Vibease is available for pre-order at $79.99.
Molecule Synth is a modular construction kit for people to create their own electronic musical instruments. “It opens up the world of music to the world of invention and electronic protyping,” said founder Travis Feldman during his presentation. The device is like a traditional keyboard synthesizer that has been bren down into elements of speaker/amp, sound generator, and pitch control. Using interchangeable hexagons and iOS applications, people can manipulate those elements with “LEGO-like interchangeability” which changes the sounds. Molecule Synth has raised over $30,000 on Kickstarter and has plans for more sounds and iOS apps where users can share their compositions with each other.
Helios is ‘reinventing the bike experience’ with handlebars that contain smart headlights and blinkers. The lights are connected vi Blutooth to an iOS app that bikers can customize and control. Bikers can also turn the lights on and off from their phone, get navigational directors, and track their bike from anywhere in the world. The handlebars have GPS so riders always know their bike’s location. Helios also contains a visual speedometer hat changes color based on your speed.
“Bikers’ main concerns are security and safety,” said founder Kenny Gibbs. “600 people died on bike rides and 40,000 were injured last year. Not to mention that 1.5 million bikes were stolen. Helios solves those problems.”
Helios has partnered with major bike distributors and is launching a consumer campaign on Kickstarter this weekend. The company’s goal is to create the world’s first and best smart bike.
Yeelink is a platform that helps makers and enterprises create electronic connected devices and app-enabled hardware. The Chinese startup provides “appcessory” solutions to make building connected devices easier. Yeelink’s plan is to get into the home automation market and work with major Chinese manufacturers to create smart air quality sensos, home security systems etc…
Fabule is creating “expressive devices for creatives homes.” Its first product Clyde is an LED lamp that can be tinkered with to customize its personality and behavior. The light has bendy legs so he can be tilted or hung and looks a bit like a jellyfish. Clyde can be made to respond to touch, ambient light levels, or remote control. Fabule is designing a suite of personalities including “Afraid of the dark” and “touchy feel,” and the controller is Arduino compatible, so people can design their own. Founder Amanda Williams said that many people want more warmth, welcome, and creativity from their smart devices and Clyde’s “delightful and quirky” personality make him a pleasant addition to any home. Fabule launched on Kickstarter this morning and is exploring distribution partnerships.
Focus is a headset that can improve your focus. It is a Bluetooth controlled “direct current stimulation” headset. The founder said neuroscience studies have found that directly stimulating the brain can improve its performance and cognitive function. Focus’ headset channels this science by sending a small electric current to your brain, exciting the neuro cortex to provide more focused concentration, and is like “coffee without the jitters.”