Author's Archive

214 Technologies Is Crowdfunding A Smart Doorbell Called Chui

chui "What the heck is a smart doorbell?" That's what my friends asked me any time I mentioned that I'd be meeting with Nezare Chafni and Shaun Moore, co-founders of 214 Technologies. They've developed a product called Chui, which they describe as "the world's most intelligent doorbell." Read More
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Anthony Ha

April 18th

Gadgets

Google Prepares To Launch Android TV (Report)

Google has plans for another smart TV product, according to a report in The Verge. Apparently this set top box will be less ambitious and easier to use than one of the company's previous initiatives, Google TV. In the words of Google documents that The Verge said it has obtained, "Android TV is an entertainment interface, not a computing platform." Read More

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Anthony Ha

April 5th

Gadgets

The Eye Tribe Says It’s Shipping Its First $99 Eye-Tracking Units, Raises Another $1M

the eye tribe

The Eye Tribe, which took the stage today at TechCrunch’s CES Hardware Battlefield, is developing hardware that allows users to control technology with the motion of their eyes.

In fact, co-founder and CEO Sune Alstrop Johansen told me that the company has started shipping its first units and software development kits (they’re available for $99), and that the initial users should be receiving them now.

Johansen said The Eye Tribe has also raised another $1 million in seed funding, bringing its total seed/angel funding to $1.8 million. (It  also received a $1.3 million grant from the Danish government.) The money comes from “primarily existing investors, board members and key individuals from the US,” he said — new backers include former semiconductor executive Richard Sanquini.

CES marks the first time that the finished product, not just a prototype, has been demonstrated publicly, he added. And although the initial version was built for Windows, he said the company is unveiling a Mac version too. As for the iOS and Android versions that the company has mentioned in the past, Johansen said they’re still on the product roadmap but declined to get specific.

I didn’t get a chance to try the product out for myself, but if you’ve ever wanted to see someone play Fruit Ninja with their eyes, well, watch this video.

As you can probably guess from the fact that an SDK is included, the company is currently focused on recruiting the developers that it hopes will actually build applications that take advantage of these capabilities. In fact, when a prototype of The Eye Tribe Tracker was demonstrated in our Hardware Alley at last fall’s Disrupt Europe conference, the company said it was also going to provide free trackers to developers with the best ideas.

Those ideas also help answer the question, “Why the heck would I want to control software with my eyes?” — they give a sense of what people could potentially do with the technology. The winners include an idea for a device combining eye tracking and EEG technology to help those with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) communicate, as well as ideas for driver assist applications, breast cancer detection, drone control, and improved reading on tablets.

Last fall, a company representative told us that users don’t have to train themselves to act differently. Instead, they claimed that after the initial calibration, users could just let their eyes interact normally with applications and the software should respond accordingly.

The company has also said the eventual goal is to partner with hardware makers who want to integrate these capabilities — so in the future, you could get a tablet with eye-tracking capabilities built in, rather than having to buy a separate to device. In fact, Johansen told me this week that the company is setting up an office in Palo Alto “as we believe this will be the best place for us to engage” with the manufacturers.

You can see the specs of The Eye Tribe Tracker here.


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Anthony Ha

January 8th

Gadgets

Livemap Demonstrates A Motorcycle Helmet Concept With Built-In Navigation

livemap02

Livemap, a Russian startup on-stage today at our CES Hardware Battlefield, aims to make GPS navigation more accessible to motorcyclists in the form of a new kind of helmet.

After all, CEO Andrew Artischev noted that if you’re riding a motorcycle, interacting with a GPS touchscreen interface isn’t exactly safe or convenient, and even looking at it means taking your eyes off the road. Livemap’s Motohelmet, on the other hand, is inspired by fighter pilots, who have “heads up” displays showing them important information directly in their helmets.

Similarly, Livemap plans to build motorcycle helmets that display navigation information directly in your field of view. The helmets will use an Android operating system with Nuance-based voice control and NAVTEQ mapping data. As for the display itself, Artishchev said it employs “a beaming scheme.”

“That means it doesn’t contain a display that could hurt the user’s eye or make obstacles for his view,” he said. “The image is beamed on the clear visor, is not visible from outside, is transparent, [and] all elements of the beaming system are hidden inside the helmet in a safe way.”

The Livemap team argues that there are no direct competitors — in other words, no other companies building this technology into the helmet itself. What GPS companies like Garmin and TomTom are doing to address this market is building navigation devices that can be mounted on motorbikes, can be shock-resistant and waterproof, and can be connected to headsets via Bluetooth.

But those features don’t fundamentally address the issues mentioned above, because you may still have to physically interact with the navigation device, and it might not be directly in your field of view.

Livemap’s approach has also been compared to Google Glass, and Artishchev discussed Glass as a potential competitor, saying his company will offer better image quality and won’t force users to look at “the upper right corner of the human field of view.”

The team previously demonstrated a full-face helmet using this technology, but now they say they’ve found a way to build the technology into a modular helmet that’s smaller and more convenient. (It also has the benefit of allowing Livemap to go into production with existing helmet shells, which is more affordable.)

Instead of spending the money to build a full new prototype, Livemap has come to CES with some of the key components of the technology. They showed me the actual display that motorcyclists would see while riding, and it was transparent as they claimed — so I could imagine seeing the directions without having my view obscured. They also showed me the voice-controlled navigation application running on an Android phone, and it was able to give me accurate directions around San Francisco.

Part of the Livemap team comes from Sukhoi, a Russian company that has been developing heads-up displays and optical systems for military helmets over the past 50 years. Through a combination of grants, debt, and Artishchev’s own money, Livemap has raised $1 million in funding, and it’s looking to raise another $10 million now. He said it’s been a challenge to get money from Russian venture capitalists who are more interested in backing hardware than software, particularly clones of services that have been successful elsewhere.

“If we speak about my motivation, I want solve to real problems, not invented ones, not social networks for dogs or cats,” he said. Ultimately, Artishchev argued that this could “save the lives of motorcyclists on the road.”

The company has already made deals with the key manufacturing partners, he added, and it plans to start selling the helmet in the US and Canada in the last three months of 2014 for $2,000. The Motohelmet is available for pre-order now at a $500 discount, and you can also get updates by following the company on Facebook and Twitter.


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Anthony Ha

January 7th

Gadgets

Fandango Will Offer Embedded Trailers And Ticketing On Samsung Smart TVs

fandango

Fandango is announcing the first partnership that will see its movie ticketing capabilities embedded on Internet-connected TVs.

Mark Young, the vice president of mobile strategy and business development at NBCUniversal (which owns Fandango), said that the service has been available on smart TVs before this, but consumers had to actually download it. Thanks to a deal with Samsung, Fandango will now be directly integrated into the Samsung Smart Hub.

Essentially, Fandango will be powering the Trailers section of the Hub’s Movies & TV section. That’s not exactly what I would have expected, since Fandango is best-known as a ticketing service — sure, it will offer ticketing capabilities as well, but that’s not what it’s leading with. Young described it as the “branded storefront for all movie trailers,” comparing the approach to music video site Vevo.

Although the announcement, which is being made at the Consumer Electronics Show, is the first of its kind for Fandango, Young said the team has been looking beyond ticketing for some time, for example with the launch of original video series FrontRunners and Weekend Ticket.

“We believe Fandnago as the movie discovery brand has an opportunity to work with not just consumer electronics manufacturers but also other types of over-the-top delivery services,” he said, later adding, “It’s a definite strategy for us to be more forward-leaning in video as content discovery.”

The embedded capabilities are supposed to launch in the first quarter of 2014.

A few weeks ago, Fandango also announced that 2013 was the best year in its decade-plus history in terms of total ticket sales, visitor traffic, and mobile app downloads.


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Anthony Ha

January 7th

Gadgets

Worried About Acne? mySkin Launches ScanZ Device And App To Monitor The Health Of Your Skin

scanz

ScanZ, a product unveiled today at Disrupt Europe, combines a new, smartphone-connected device with a quantified self-style app to help teens battle acne.

The product comes from a company called mySkin, which plans to launch a $150,000 Indiegogo campaign this week to fund the launch (I will update this post once the campaign is live). (Update: The campaign is live.) Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Sava Marinkovich told me that the initial version of ScanZ will be able to answer two questions about a zit - when it's going away, and what you can do to make it go away more quickly. And it can answer a more general question - whether or not you're about to break out.

Over the weekend, the mySkin team demonstrated a ScanZ prototype for me. One of them scanned one of his zits (the team seems to have an unusual attitude toward acne - they almost cheer when they find a zit, because it gives them something to test) and the app then asked some basic questions about things like diet and cleaning products used. Then it provided an estimate of when the zit would go away, along with a list of recommended actions. As users commit to following more of the app's recommendations, the estimated time until the zit's disappearance goes down, say from four days to three.

Marinkovich repeated the demo on-stage at Disrupt, as you can see in the photo below.

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He said that when users are scanning their skin, ScanZ is illuminating them with different wavelengths of light, and it's using different image processing techniques to analyze what it finds, including below the skin: “We've developed most of this in-house, based on dermoscopy and spectroscopy.”

Apparently ScanZ also learns about your habits and your skin, bringing it all together in a personal “beauty map”, so its recommendations and predications are supposed to get smarter over time

I'm guessing there are a number of apps and products with dubious efficacy in this field - in fact, the Federal Trade Commission has gone after apps for falsely claiming that they eradicate acne. One way to alleviate any skepticism you might have is to consider the mySkin team, which includes Chief Science Officer Djuro Kuroga, a professor who leads the nanotechnology biomedical engineering group at the University of Belgrade, and Chief Medical Officer Jadran Bandic, who is the head of ORS Hospital in Serbia. And mySkin's advisors include Loretta Cirado, who's director of cosmetic dermatology at the University of Miami.

Plus, marketing manager Irina Simin argued that ScanZ users aren't just being asked to blindly follow a set of directions. Instead, they'll get actual data about things like scarring risk and sebum levels, so they understand what's happening and how their actions will affect their skin: “This basically tells you what is going on and you can make your own decision.”

mySkin expects to deliver its first ScanZ devices in May of next year, with a retail price of $249 (there will also be discounts for preorders). That might seem a bit steep for the teenaged audience that Marinkovich said he's aiming for. He told me he's actually expecting parents to do a lot of the buying, and he noted that SkinZ may appeal to other age groups too. (As a 30-year-old, even though I don't think that my acne is as bad as it used to be, I still worry about break outs before I go on-camera or on-stage at Disrupt.)

And this is just the first step in the company's vision. The plan is to use the technology for other skin health products, and to turn it into a platform that will allow other applications and services to access ScanZ data - Marinkovich said interested developers should reach out now.

“It's the first open imaging platform that is device-based and that people can use,” Marinkovich said. “What the Raspberry Pi is for Arduino, it's kind of like that for skin in general.”

Q & A With Judges

Q: You've raised $8 million in funding?
A: Yep, in two rounds.

Q: What's the price?
A: It will cost $249 but there's a discount of $169 for TechCrunch readers who order soon.

Q: I like the fact that everybody goes through this. Is there any other applciation of this technology?
A: Definitely. We're starting in acne which is “the highest pain point” and “an emotional issue”. Once the platform rolls out, users can download different apps that use the same device, and those apps could cover things like hair, aging, anti-aging, and hyper-pigmentation.

Q: Other brands have had success with celebrity promotions. How are you approaching that?
A: In this area, “innovation until now has been primarily a marketing innovation.” mySkin is the first with technology innovation: “The market's already primed.”

Q: How long does it take to scan? The on-stage scan took a “not insignificant” amount of time, and that was one pimple.
A: It's going to get much faster, “a second or two max.”


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Anthony Ha

October 28th

Gadgets

Mobile

CrunchWeek: Twitter’s S-1, The Silk Road Shutdown, And The Rumored Amazon Phone

crunchweek

So this is what CrunchWeek is like without adult supervision.

Leena Rao and Colleen Taylor, the show’s two regular hosts, were both out of town this week, but there was still plenty of news for TechCrunch writers — specifically Greg Kumparak, Alex Wilhelm, and me — to talk about. We weighed in on the anticipation around Twitter’s IPO filing (and what was revealed in its S-1 filing), the shutdown of anonymous Bitcoin marketplace Silk Road, and reports that Amazon is developing its own smartphones (one of them with a whopping four cameras).

By the way, apologies for the occasional bursts of random background noise. I blame the gremlins hiding in the TCTV studio.

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Anthony Ha

October 5th

Gadgets

Mobile

Filing Says Sleep- And Health-Tracking Startup Lark Is Raising Another $3.6M

lark-new-product

Lark, which launched a wearable silent alarm on-stage at TechCrunch’s Disrupt conference back in 2010, has raised $3.1 million of an intended $3.6 million round of funding, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

I’ve emailed the company and its CEO Julia Hu for confirmation, and I’ll update this post if I hear back. The filing doesn’t specify the investors in the new round, but intriguingly, it does identify Weili Dai, president and co-founder of Marvell, as as member of its board of directors.

Although Lark started out with a silent alarm, it expanded its product lineup to include a sleep coach product called Lark Pro and a more general device and app called Larklife. The company announced Larklife in October of 2012, and Hu described it to me as a way for folks who aren’t as serious about fitness or weight loss to track and get actionable recommendations about their diet, exercise, sleep, and more. Like Lark’s other devices, Larklife was sold in Apple’s retail stores (and elsewhere).

I actually tried the service out for a few months late last year and early this year. During that time, everyone kept asking me about the blue wristband (the look definitely wasn’t as subtle as, say the Nike+ Fuel Band). I thought it had potential, but eventually I decided that it wasn’t providing enough value to justify the (minor) inconvenience — and, perhaps more damningly, the ridicule that it prompted from my roommate. In the months since, while I’ve seen an increasing number of people around San Francisco wearing some sort of fitness device, it usually isn’t the Larklife wristband.

Lark previously raised $1 million in funding from Lightspeed Venture Partners, CrunchFund (which, like TechCrunch, was founded by Michael Arrington), and others.

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Anthony Ha

October 5th

Gadgets

Mobile

Crowdfunding Reaches Its Terrible, Glorious Climax With ‘Smart Vibrator’ Vibease

hermione way

The startup behind a “wearable smart vibrator” called Vibease has taken to Indiegogo with hopes of raising at least $30,000 from fans.

That sentence kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? I mean, I could probably insert some suggestive wording from the campaign description (“People often forget that the brain is the biggest sex organ.”), mention some of the high-end rewards (100 vibrators!), embed the campaign video (which is sometimes hilarious, sometimes awkward, and often both), and call it a day.

But here’s the thing: I’m genuinely not sure whether or not this is a terrible idea. I mean, if I say “smart vibrator” (or, even worse, “Internet of Things-connected vibrator”, which is the shorthand we were using around the office) it’s easy to laugh and roll your eyes.

At the same time, I wonder if that comes from a combination of suppressed Puritanism and immaturity. If we genuinely think that everything in our lives is becoming increasingly smartphone-controlled and Internet-connected, why would we exclude sex? (Co-founder Hermione Way has argued that the Valley sometimes forces entrepreneurs to make a false choice between seriousness and sexiness.) Sure, the idea of a remote-controlled vibrator as a tool for long-distance relationships seems awkward, but is phone sex any better? Is this the future we’ve all been secretly hoping for?

For what it’s worth, Vibease has validation from other tech industry organizations, having been incubated by the Founder Institute and the Haxlr8r accelerator for hardware startups. It also received an at least semi-positive response from investors when Way made her pitch in a segment on Bravo’s “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley” TV show (it’s okay if you missed it, so did everyone else) and from the judges (including my boss Alexia Tsotsis) at the Dublin Web Submit.

So hey, maybe there’s a real business here. Or maybe I and everyone else in the Valley have become so numb to crazy startup ideas that this seems almost normal. Almost.

Update 1: I failed to mention that although the company is only now crowdfunding the vibrator itself, it actually launched its Android app last fall.

Update 2: Just to be clear, I don’t think vibrators are inherently funny. I do think a “wearable smart vibrator” marketed with repeated references to Fifty Shades of Grey is inherently funny (which, again, doesn’t make it a terrible idea, maybe). You may adjust your estimations of my maturity accordingly.


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Anthony Ha

July 30th

Gadgets

Crowdfunding Reaches Its Terrible, Glorious Climax With ‘Smart Vibrator’ Vibease

hermione way

The startup behind a “wearable smart vibrator” called Vibease has taken to Indiegogo with hopes of raising at least $30,000 from fans.

That sentence kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? I mean, I could probably insert some suggestive wording from the campaign description (“People often forget that the brain is the biggest sex organ.”), mention some of the high-end rewards (100 vibrators!), embed the campaign video (which is sometimes hilarious, sometimes awkward, and often both), and call it a day.

But here’s the thing: I’m genuinely not sure whether or not this is a terrible idea. I mean, if I say “smart vibrator” (or, even worse, “Internet of Things-connected vibrator”, which is the shorthand we were using around the office) it’s easy to laugh and roll your eyes.

At the same time, I wonder if that comes from a combination of suppressed Puritanism and immaturity. If we genuinely think that everything in our lives is becoming increasingly smartphone-controlled and Internet-connected, why would we exclude sex? (Co-founder Hermione Way has argued that the Valley sometimes forces entrepreneurs to make a false choice between seriousness and sexiness.) Sure, the idea of a remote-controlled vibrator as a tool for long-distance relationships seems awkward, but is phone sex any better? Is this the future we’ve all been secretly hoping for?

For what it’s worth, Vibease has validation from other tech industry organizations, having been incubated by the Founder Institute and the Haxlr8r accelerator for hardware startups. It also received an at least semi-positive response from investors when Way made her pitch in a segment on Bravo’s “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley” TV show (it’s okay if you missed it, so did everyone else) and from the judges (including my boss Alexia Tsotsis) at the Dublin Web Submit.

So hey, maybe there’s a real business here. Or maybe I and everyone else in the Valley have become so numb to crazy startup ideas that this seems almost normal. Almost.

Update 1: I failed to mention that although the company is only now crowdfunding the vibrator itself, it actually launched its Android app last fall.

Update 2: Just to be clear, I don’t think vibrators are inherently funny. I do think a “wearable smart vibrator” marketed with repeated references to Fifty Shades of Grey is inherently funny (which, again, doesn’t make it a terrible idea, maybe). You may adjust your estimations of my maturity accordingly.


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Anthony Ha

July 30th

Gadgets
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