Backerjack Podcast #14: Breathing Sensors, Social Servers, and Heat-Seeking Bedroom Bots

In Episode 14 of the Backerjack Podcast, Steve and Ross check out some of the latest products seeking funds and preorders:

  • Neobase, a home server that lets you create your own private Facebook for sharing with your (small) circle of friends. Now all your base are belong to you!
  • Wakē, a focused light and speaker combo that mounts over your bed to wake you gently without disturbing those sharing the budoir
  • Prana, a wearable sensor that scores your breathing and posture and lets you practice via a video game

Many thanks to SnapPower for sponsoring this episode! Please support its campaign.

Download  the episode or listen below, subscribe via iTunes or RSS, and follow Backerjack on Twitter and Facebook. Also check out Steve’s great work on Apple World Today!

Connected Objects Technology Wearables

Multifunction dog tag boosts luck of finding lost pooch

Dog owners dread the idea of losing their pooch. So, the idea of a smart, wearable device is a no-brainer for many pet owners.

The new Lucky Tag, developed by Los Angeles-based Beaconpliance, is a dog wearable device that combines three main features into one. The on-collar tag can be used as a tracking device to find a missing dog, but also offers location-based service social functionality among nearby dog owners, along with pet healthcare functions. The tag uses beacon technology to help users find their dogs. Each device has a unique ID configured for each dog and constantly sends out a Bluetooth signal as far as 250 feet for Android and iOS smartphones nearby to detect and locate the ID.

The “Find My Dog’ feature helps users locate their missing pooches with the collaborative efforts of Lucky Tag devices nearby. Lucky Tag owners can also exchange contact info with each other, enhancing the device’s social functionality. The device, meanwhile, tracks and logs each dog’s activity level and ambient temperature, and syncs the data with the user’s smartphone. Early bird backers can get a Lucky Tag by pledging as little as $29 and are expected to get the device in February. Beaconpliance is looking to raise $40,000.

Lucky Tag supposedly consumes less power than similar devices like Pawda and Tagg that use GPS technology. But GPS devices cover a much larger area. As Beaconpliance concedes on its Kickstarter campaign, the biggest challenge with beacon technology is that it relies on the collaborative support and power of a mass community. That means unless many consumers buy the device for their dogs, a key part of its functionality will not work well. That is a major downside of the device. But the relatively low pricing may be enough of an incentive for some consumers to buy one.

Connected Objects

Amiloom is a digital token to build a circle of friends’ friends

It’s true, we tend to focus more on screens than face-to-face interactions. Amiloom is a product that tries to get people to meet using a small round device that connects to an accompanying app. The idea is to create a group and each member must pass around the Amiloom while inviting new people into the group. In this way, friends can meet friends and maybe future wives, like the creator did. In the video, he speaks in rhymes and talks about how Amiloom could help you meet your future spouse too. Bit of a stretch maybe. While the idea behind this product is noble, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that it connects to your phone. Yes, everyone uses phones so it’s a good way to reach people, but it’s also encouraging more phone use at the same time. It’s also unclear what the actual puck-like object that’s passed around is for. Still, if backers would like to build their social network face-to-face, they can pick up one for $29 for estimated delivery in May 2015. Amiloom hopes to meet a random $108,127 goal on Kickstarter.


Detecting rain without the cloud, BloomSky reports backyard weather

The Premise. Once upon a time, people relied on local news reports or weather sections of newspapers. Now, every smartphone is well equipped to give local weather and temperature data, but so often it tends to be incorrect or inaccurate due to weather monitoring stations that are several miles away.

The Product. BloomSky is a weather sensor that can be installed outdoors using a spike and can be augmented with a solar panel for continuous charge. Its design is more than just for looks, as it provides accurate detection of temperature, precipitation, humidity, and more while protecting the internals from sunlight, dust, and water. BloomSky also comes with a wide-lens HD camera that takes pictures of the sky and sends them straight to smartphones for a real look at the conditions outside. These pictures can then be combined to create time-lapse movies of the day’s weather.

The Pitch. BloomSky’s pitch is pretty straightforward: those looking for accurate weather conditions and want to contribute to a larger network that provides that data to others will want a BloomSky as soon as possible. The flexibility of the device to come with solar options as well as an indoor sensor also make it a great way to replace a home’s thermometers with something more modern. BloomSky is looking to raise $75,000 to finish development of the app and handle tooling and production of the device itself.

The Perks. A BloomSky outdoor sensor with ground stake is available for $99 and will ship out in December. The indoor/outdoor kit can be had for $129, while the outdoor model with solar-powered charger base is $139 and won’t be out until March 2015. One of everything runs for $199, and developers can get in on the beta for $1,299 starting in August.

The Potential. Like so many other products that opt for a crowdsourced approach, BloomSky’s greatest strength could also be its greatest weakness. The idea behind a completely local weather network that people individually add to in order to complete a picture is a fantastic idea that is solely dependent upon there being enough local users in order to flesh out. Thankfully, BloomSky works well enough as a sort of at-home workaround for the inaccuracies of distant weather stations, so the individual can still have some valuable use out of this product even if none of their neighbors purchase it. Aesthetically pleasing and fully functional, those who never step outside without checking the forecast will appreciate the pinpoint accuracy that BloomSky provides.


Groove learns your habits, keeps you motivated to workout

The Premise. The tech market has spoken, and people want devices that track their physical activity to motivate their workouts. Mobile devices work best when they do more than one thing, however, and so one company is rolling out wearable tech that does more than count burnt calories.

The Product. Groove is a hybrid smartwatch and fitness tracker. The device is worn just like a regular smartwatch, but also can schedule, track, and report workout data both personally and among fitness buddies. With the ActivLite band, notifications can pop up through an attractive light-up band so that owners don’t have to keep checking their watch as if impatiently waiting for something to happen. The Groove can monitor heart rate, observe sleep cycles, is waterproof, features voice commands, and is compatible with both iOS and Android devices.

The Pitch. The image of the Groove is what you would expect from wearable fitness – clean, young, active, and lively. The video does a good job of showing off the different things the device is capable of, and the campaign’s pictures flesh those ideas out by comparing the Groove to seven other popular smart watches and fitness trackers. The team behind Groove want to raise $200,000 to complete the companion app, get Bluetooth certified, and handle the production and distribution of their product beyond the initial crowdfunding step.

The Perks. The Groove Watch is available with app and charger for $179. In addition to the basic black and white colors, an Indiegogo-exclusive gold variant is available for $249. Both rewards will ship in January 2015. For those who want to start meeting goals earlier, a beta version will be out in October for those that pledge $1,499. Those that want to custom the colors and finish of their watch can design their own for $2,499.

The Potential. By integrating smartwatch features, an attractive design, and social tracking and goal-oriented aspects like the Samsung Gear Fit, the Groove lets other people offer something to strive for when outside motivation is needed, and a reason not to take off the device when it feels like a lazy day. While it may not be the most unique in terms of design or style, it bridges two products that are beginning to heat up into one concise, effective package.


PIE band aims to take a slice of the smart wristwear market

The Premise. Everyone’s had a moment where they meet someone new and everyone pulls their phones out and circles up to swap information and add a new contact or two. It’s more convenient than it used to be, but interrupts socializing for much longer than a simple pass of the business card used to do.

The Product. Looking to bring back that elegance and seamless networking is PIE (Personal Interactive Experience), a smart band that users wear on their wrist to interact with the world around them. PIE can take advantage of its proprietary protocol called FLEX to interact with other PIE devices. However,, for the foreseeable future, it will have to interact with other products using NFC and Bluetooth 4.0. PIE can be used to make purchases at any contactless terminal, trade information with other PIE users, and download any data from NFC hotspots. With a simple shake of the hand, potential employers can get a copy of a resume, or simply swap contact information.

The Pitch. In the extremely clever campaign video, we see a bearded PIE user go through his day, mostly through his eyes and perspective. While out and about, he does what people do: networks, enjoys company, meets new people, and engages in business, but does so with the assistance of the slim band on his wrist. Because the video is largely artistic in its narrative, the rest of the campaign goes over exactly what PIE does and how. PIE needs to raise $150,000 for pretty much the entire process, from materials and design to packaging and shipping.

The Perks. A PIE unit with all features, diary app, and charging base can be had by the end of this year for $110, plus $20 outside of Europe for shipping. A limited Indiegogo version is available for $165, a 2-pack for $200, and for those that can’t wait, a developer tier is available for $345 that will ship in August.

The Potential. The PIE is kind of a neat idea that’s just a little too late. Because it operates entirely on NFC and Bluetooth, there’s no reason that this kind of functionality can’t be employed on a smartphone or other smartwatch or band, either by hardware or by app. It doesn’t do enough to supplant any form of human interaction, and potentially could only be brought to its full potential by other PIE users, meaning early adopters will have a hard time getting the most out of the device, let alone explaining to a store clerk that they can just tap their wrist on a POS terminal to make a purchase. There’s more here in theory than there seems to be in practice, making the hopes of this product rather “PIE in the sky.”

Connected Objects

MEG lets your iPad monitor a miniature greenhouse

The Premise. For all that humanity has learned about growing and harvesting plants, botany still tends to be something of an inexact science for the average person. Instead of attributing a plant’s success to whether or not one has a green thumb, one company wants to offer a more precise method of understanding plants.

The Product. The Micro Experimental Growing system, or MEG for short, is an indoor greenhouse that looks like a tricked-out gaming PC, but is really a connected, totally customizable platform for growing almost any plants. Connecting to tablets and mobile devices, this Arduino-based device can control temperature, humidity, ventilation, light intensity and cycles, and even soil pH levels. The device will be completely open-source and only requires about as much power as a modern television. Additionally, it includes a social platform allowing users to share their data when they understand the right settings to make a plant flourish.

The Pitch. Italian developer Yradia is excited to geek out about MEG in its video and it’s easy to see why. In addition to looking sleek and very modern, MEG looks simple to use once it’s running. The campaign photos explain the different components of MEG, how the social aspect will work, and covers the daunting, customizable reward tiers. Yradia wants to raise £98,000 to develop the online aspects and get started with manufacturing. It has also set up a stretch goal at £350,000 to begin a beta testing program, having users grow three plants under a variety of conditions to compare results.

The Perks. Though the individual pieces and peripherals are available at lower tiers for those who already have a botanical setup, a complete MEG kit isn’t available until the £2,800 tier, at which point the device arrives disassembled. For those who are better working with plants than they are technology, a fully assembled unit is available for £3500. The components will ship in September, the pre-assembled units follow in October, and the DIY kit after that in November.

The Potential. There is a ton of potential here for home growers, botany enthusiasts, and especially for scientists. By being able to perfectly control and replicate the variables involved in growing a plant, laboratories on different continents can contribute to the same experiment. It is likely more involved than the average hobbyist will want to take part in, but anybody who wants to grow the best plants will need a MEG, or something like it, before long.