Smart Home

Webee seeks to boss around home controls

The Premise. Technology is meant to seamlessly intertwine with our lives to make every day living more efficient and productive. But with so many devices, it can be hard to keep track and manage every single one. So imagine if you could control every appliance in your house, from a simple app on your phone.

The Product.  Not to be confused with the identically named children’s educational computing system that mounted an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign in 2012, the Webee is a smart home system that connects and controls your devices though an app on your phone. While there are other such systems on the market, the Webee claims that it is unique in that it learns from your patterns and makes suggestions based on your style of living. (However, the Kickstarter-hosted Ninja Sphere  makes a similar promise.)

Webee promises to upgrade your lifestyle and save a ton of money by reducing your energy bill. Simply plug in the small “Boss” box and install the app to start controlling your smart appliances vs. modules known as Bees, and turn your regular appliances into smart appliances with a smart Plug that automatically pairs with the Webee.

The Pitch. In seeking  $50,000, Webee’s campaign page why people would want a smart home. The video shows just how easy it can be to manage all of your appliances to maximize their efficiency. The system’s designers show how the user interface can make suggestions based on your patterns in order to save money and live in a smarter universe.

The Perks. For $299, one can claim the Early Webee Lifestyle package to get started on your Smart home. That package includes a smart hub (Boss),and a host of  things to control (Bees) including a smart plug, a smart lamp holder, a door closing/opening sensor, a Smart Station, and a Smart Host. If you want to test out the system to see if a smart home is for you, you can get a smart hub and smart plug for only $129.

The Potential. There are other smart home devices on the market such as the Revolv. All promise to reduce the cost and complexity of automation dramatically, but it’s really anyone’s race right now until the use case is better proven out.

Sensors/IoT Sleep

Aurora headband offers the sleep experience of your lucid dreams

The Premise: There’s been a lot of interest in lucid dreaming for many years, and technology has made it more approachable. The ability to control one’s dreams is certainly enticing, especially for those who are looking to learn more about themselves.

The Product. Aurora is just the latest in a string of devices meant specifically to make lucid dreaming easier and more accessible. The way in which the Aurora works is quite simple, really. As one begins to go into REM sleep, eye movements change rapidly. The device (a high-tech eye mask) is able to pick up on this, after which it emits customizable lights and sounds. In theory, once you experience this “reminder” that you are actually dreaming, you’ll be able to train yourself to control the results of the dream. The USB-rechargeable Aurora can communicate with your smartphone and can also time your wakeup so that you feel more relaxed, a premise of the Lark device that launched on Kickstarter last year.

The Pitch. The pitch video makes a very good case for what the product is capable of. A nice production value, a great explanation of what Aurora does and plenty of attractive imagery makes the product look quite enticing. Developer iWinks describes how the companion app maps a typical sleep cycle and introduces a stretch goal of $300,000 at which point Aurora’s algorithms will be baked into the mask itself, making the smartphone optional.

The Perks. The Aurora is due to appear with a pretty quick turnaround, scheduled for March 2014. At $175, it is quite a pricey device, although you can certainly find pricier alternatives. Most of the reward tiers from there include incentives for developer access.

The Potential. Given the low maintenance associated with the device, its perfect for those who ascribe to the “set it and forget it” ideals that come along with so many of today’s products,  That said, it’s difficult to avoid comparing the device to 2012’s Remee, another Kickstarter-funded sleep mask meant to help make lucid dreaming easier, and LUCI. Since the Remee is only $80, shelling out the extra $100 or so may be difficult for some folks, if not unnecessary.


Bergaffe tube system proposes a one-stop slope shop

The Premise. For many, the multi-function nature of the smartphone has provided one tool that can achieve the functionality of a GPS device, a camera, a camcorder, a digital music player and much more. Perhaps there’s a similar opportunity to create another kind of do-it-all product for tasks in the physical world beyond the Swiss Army Knife or Leatherman multitool.

The Product. The Bergaffe is, by the Austrian designers’ own description, a “simple tube” that is threaded that it can be connected to a variety of different ends to create tools used for what seems to be primarily winter sports. When broken down, the tube itself is nothing more than a small threaded cylinder designed to create “a series of tubes” as the Internet was once famously described. Bergaffe plans to create multiple connections to increase the functionality of the tool.

The Pitch. The short campaign video walks us through some of the Befgaffe’s bag of tricks, showing its use as a shovel, a rake, a tripod and, perhaps most impressively, a bench. The last trick, though, requires use of a snowboard.

The Perks. The Bergaffe is due to hit slopes in March. Backers can offer £120 for the full basic package. At that price, it certainly won’t compete well with many of the products such as a shovel and tripod that it can replace.

The Potential. One can see the use for some of Bergaffe’s current applications, but  the company hasn’t really offered a tantalizing view of what lies beyond and how someone could create it in the field cost-effectively. Beyond a select group of skiers and snowboarders, this probably won’t help much, and it certainly won’t be worth the price of entry the way pricing is currently set.

Connected Objects Pets

Bluetooth-connected app control brings color to the collar

The Premise. Nighttime can be rough for dog owners — especially owners of skittish dogs. If a dog runs away under the veil of night, how are you supposed to bring it back to safety?

The Product. A team in Boulder, CO has created a Bluetooth LED dog collar to hopefully make these situations less stressful. While still early in its development and may be useful for those who own multiple dogs, it seems a bit trivial in the grand scheme of things. Upon first glance, the generically named collar looks like any other dog collar save for the LED studs. Once activated via the smartphone app that it talks to, however, the collar quickly illuminates, becoming something out of a science fiction movie. You can create custom profiles for each dog, ensuring that you know who is where if you’re dealing with multiple animals at once. The collar is waterproof and runs off of standard AA batteries. The custom profiles feature is perhaps the most valuable part of the offering. It allows you to create a digital dog tag, and you can share your profiles with others via the Web.

The Pitch. The very basic video — music, poor lighting and artifact-filled audio — sets up the idea that the project owners view the dog collar as something of a frivolous stepping stone before moving on to bigger and better things. The campaign page goes on to show closeups of the product and accompanying Android app; there’s no iPhone support for now.

The Perks. Because the collar uses Bluetooth, it’s perfect for those who use smartphones on a daily basis.  Due to ship in March 2014, the collar will ship to backers for #30.

The Potential. For fawning owners of finicky dogs, this could be a fun product that might end up getting a lot of use. Turn your dog’s collar green for Christmas and orange on Halloween, or  your favorite team’s color on game day. For a connected product, it’s pretty inexpensive and one could easily see it or something like it showing up on the shelves of Petco.


Thermoelectric heater offers convection to wind in your direction

The Premise. The concept of the perfect space heater is something that people have been looking to capitalize upon for years. The problem is particularly challenging outdoors where one might be far away from an outlet.

The Product. According to designer Omid Moallemi, the pyramid-like thermoelectric heater was developed to make “al fresco” living in cold weather climates like England a bit more hospitable. The concept is simple. It takes in cold air, the unit heats the air by convection and thus pushes out hot air. It bills itself as being self-powered, which certainly sets it apart from many other heaters on the market.

The Pitch. While the campaign page contains a brief explanation as to why it was invented and how it works, there’s no video to show anything in action (presumably because a working prototype doesn’t truly exist as of yet). The two included photos are mockups, and they do little to make sense of the unit. This is a campaign that is very light on information, which doesn’t help particularly considering that its value (heat production) is something that can’t be conveyed by simply looking at it.

The Perks. It’s a little unclear what a pledge of £500 gets you. The reward tier promises customization of a unit, but the delivery of a “free” unit doesn’t begin until the £1,000 reward tier. You’ll have to wait awhile in any case as delivery isn’t estimated until December 2014.

The Potential. As a concept, there’s a lot to be said for this if it works as described, that is. Since the heater is self-powered, it requires no charging, doesn’t utilize solar panels and is completely self-contained. However, it probably does require at least a decent breeze to do its thing. Unfortunately, there’s really no way to know what kind of heat the product puts out. It may be cold logic, but it’s probably best to wait this one out and see if it actually makes it to market.


ModRoomz offers a cubist approach to modular shelving

The Premise. The “build it yourself” stacker modification concept has been around for quite a while, and it’s certainly no stranger to the crowdfunding landscape. Still, products like these absolutely serve a purpose, especially for those who have  little space to work with in their homes.

The Product. ModRoomz basically works on the same principles as Legos and the pieces don’t look too dissimilar from the classic toy either. The difference here, however, is that these building blocks can be used to create practically any type of modular furniture, ranging from coffee tables to bunk beds. The cubes can be modified to create extra storage, allowing you to build drawers and cubbies to store away for your belongings, and the company offers add-ons such as shelves, drawers and cover doors. Curiously, the exact dimensions of the ModCubes is nowhere to be found.

The Pitch. Judging by the campaign video for its “magic in a cube,” ModRoomz appears to be exceptionally easy to use. Moving the cubes around and create your own custom type of furniture looks fun, and the narration-free video itself has a nice production value to it. ModRoomz doesn’t seem to be too concerned about not meeting its lofty $200,000 funding goal as the company already has a fairly complete Web site of its own to market its system.

The Perks. One challenge that the campaign may face is its rewards pricing. Early bird pricing packages offer five or 1o cubes at $50 per piece. After that, you’re in for a $2,500 configuration that takes the form of a crib or bed ModRoomz entrepreneurs Brad and Dani will hand-assemble the furniture, but you must live within 100 miles of their Boston location.

The Potential. Those who lack space and like the idea of adding their own touch to the furniture in their homes will likely enjoy this product. There are similar systems on the market such as the shelving systems from Foremost, Way Basics and The Living Cube; some of these offer more choices in the sizes of their components. Still, the snap-on construction and quality materials stand to be a differentiator and the price will surely drop once production ramps up.

Tech Accessories

EkZee targets the USB drive-by with malware removal

The Premise. Security risks are omnipresent in today’s world, and they’re only becoming more and more real as the years go on. Since so many of us use the Internet to handle our banking and put countless amounts of sensitive information on our computers, it’s never been more important to think about ways in which to maximize security.

The Product. EkZee may just be the solution to those who fear their USB drives may contain viruses. With a hobbyist enclosure and the footprint of a smartphone, it’s also extremely easy to use. Simply plug a USB drive into EkZee, hit the button and the rest takes care of itself. The device will scan your drive for any malicious software that may have somehow made its way onto it and get rid of it for you. According to the developer, simple antivirus software is often not enough to clean USB drives — this is where EkZee steps in.

The Pitch. There’s no slick marketing pitch for the EkZee. The video features low-fi audio and awkward cuts. However, it communicates the product’s value on a campaign page that goes into more technical detail about how the product works, why it’s effective, and what the oh-so-sexy printed circuit board looks like. The developers set out some aspirations for EkZee with their stretch goals beyond the £51,000 they seek. At £75,000, they’ll consider adding an LCD and more selective file deletion support and at £100,000 support for more file systems such as NTFS used by Windows.

The Perks. EkZee is expected to ship in July 2014 to backers. The base reward tier is £40 although a £31 early bird offer is available.

The Potential. The simplicity of using EkZee combined with the relatively low price makes this a product that could potentially have a big splash in the IT community. It’s not strictly for business use, however, and would be a wise purchase for many nontechnical users who need to screen a wide range of unknown USB drives.

Kids/Babies Luggage and Bags Organization

Bigo Bag Five goes big, packs in diverse uses

The Premise. Have you ever wanted a bag that also doubled as a rain coat or a picnic blanket? Chances are the answer is no. Ah, but what if the name of this multifunctional container sounded like the name of a bag pipe quintet? Chances are the answer would still be no.

The Product. Hailing from Budapest, the Bigo Bag Five is basically a sheet of water-resistant material that can be molded in a variety of different ways and comes in an array of colors. It can become a backpack, a poncho, a baby sling and a picnic blanket. As a fifth feature, the bag is said to be “expandable,” although this doesn’t exactly serve as its own specific function. So, perhaps it should be the Bigo Bag Four. On the other hand, it is plenty Big-o with a capacity of 50 liters. Furthermore, any number of Bigo bags can be combined for your impromptu tarp needs.

The Pitch. You can tell that Todd (the star of the campaign video) is passionate about the Bigo Bag Five, although the pitch trails off soon after it starts. The rest of the campaign shows off the bag in tons of scenarios — Bigo cradling adorable baby, Bigo fishing on the high seas, Bigo laid out in a field of green protecting a reader’s jeans, and Bigo mated with another of its species. There’s also a contrast with the smaller capacity model designed for women (in pink, of course) as well as the smaller and single-function small (25 liter) bag accessory that comes with every Bigo Bag.

The Perks. The basic edition starts at a pledge of $117 – quite a bit more than most people are willing to pay for what is basically nothing more than a bag that can be unzipped and laid out flat. The project owners seem to recognize a bit of the price/value gap by throwing in an extra strap for added stability as well as offering a lower pledge tier for the mini bag (which is probably the same thing as the accessory bag).

The Potential.Everyone likes versatility, but this bag’s has its limits. What do you do with its contents or that adorable baby if you want to convert to a poncho? The Bigo Bag fits nicely between an average backpack and a laundry sack or camping pack, but there are countless high-quality backpacks on the market, many of which come along with more features and are less expensive.

Cell Phone Accessories Connected Objects Imaging

MaxStone wirelessly triggers virtually any DSLR from your camera

editors-choiceThe Premise. Photographers often have to choose between the simplicity and accessibility of an iPhone or the quality of a DSLR camera. It can take a myriad of cords, set up procedures, and a small army to remotely control the camera shutter of a DSLR, and the state of high quality photography and video would be much higher with a simplified solution to this problem.

The Product. The MaxStone is not a film noir detective but rather a beautiful combination of intuitive technology and minimalist design. Compatible with virtually any DSLR camera, the MaxStone turns the iPhone into a remote control for the camera shutter. Simply attach the dongle to the camera shutter, turn the camera to IR mode, open the app, and you’re ready for action.

The Pitch. The video does a tremendous job of emphasizing and highlighting the simplicity of the Maxstone. They also took the opportunity to show that the MaxStone can help to avoid disaster by reminding you if you stray too far from your camera, and also that the MaxStone can control your iPhone camera as well. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the video was that the MaxStone was used to record the entire pitch.

The Perks. Project backers quickly claimed three pledge categories that would have landed you a MaxStone for under $30. However, for $35, you can claim their Kickstarter special and receive a vivid green MaxStone, or for $39 you can choose between ore black or indian red. For a cool sum of $3999, you can visit MaxStone’s home city of Beijing, China (round-trip ticket and 7-day stay in a five-star hotel included).

The Potential. The MaxStone has come along way since its inception, and it still has room to grow in areas such as energy consumption and range. Depending on how often it’s used, the battery can last anywhere from six to 12 months, and it only works reliably within a 100-foot range. It’s truly a tool that aims to improve photo taking efficiency, and it even offers in-app explanations and advice for learning photographers. Therefore, it’s a must have for anybody with a DSLR and an iPhone.


The MatrixSphere provides your own movable mancave

The Premise. Sometimes, we just want to get away from it all. Sometimes, we want to go far away, to experience distant lands, to perhaps make a spiritual journey as well as a physical one. And sometimes, argues Ryan Rammage of Aurora, CO, we would be content to sit in a circular, modern-day arcade cabinet in the middle of another room.

The Product. A little room-within-a-room, the audaciously named and potentially underlit MatrixSphere is its own self-contained space for reflection, work, gaming and whatever else you might want to do seated in your own private, stationery vessel. The size of an average round dining room table propped up on its side, it resembles a spaceship, or perhaps a time machine that can be decked out to while away the hours with your favorite game console, PC or language lab video.

The Pitch, The one-angle campaign shows a great deal of photos of the planning and design process, but offers little in terms of ideas about what it might be like to actually spend time inside of it; interior shots are relegated to photos around the campaign page that include many details of the MatrixSphere’s construction.

The Perks. If there’s one thing that makes the MatrixSphere more of a novelty item, though, it’s the price. Starting at $5,000 for a single unit, due to be delivered in March 2014. That price includes the privilege of seeing the personal fortress of solitude created although travel is on your own dime.

The Potential. For those who are looking for ways in which to take their home office to an entirely new level, the MatrixSphere might serve as a good purchase. But at its insanely high price, one could probably hire a carpenter to create something similar and more customized.