Crowdfunding Spotlight: SmartWood

Crowdfunding Spotlight: SmartWood

May 28, 2014

Everyone likes building with their hands; the tactile feeling of cutting and joining two pieces of wood is something that is an innate experience as human beings. Now instead of a nice bedside table or cutting block wouldn’t it be nice to have a fully functioning RC car that communicates with virtually any smartphone? The technology is more than out there to be able to do this, and it is something that avid hobbyists have been doing for years. The problem is that even though it may seem simple enough from the surface it is a task that pulls from a lot of disciplines, computer science, electrical and mechanical engineering, and, of course, the ability to build a car from wood.

Fortunately, for the rest of us mortals the duo of Elad an Gili have created SmartWood which is essentially like a wooden K’Nex set. Simply labeling it as that, however, is selling the project short as it is much more complex than merely snapping a few pieces together and letting it go. Experience with hardware is a requirement as there are varying levels of gluing and screwing depending on which one of three designs is assembled, and for some SmartWood could make a great father/son bonding project.


Did I forget to mention that by the end of this there is a fully functioning RC car? Yeah, that is pretty awesome. This is done by means of an Arduino which connects with the SmartWood app via Bluetooth and gives the user full control of the vehicle right from their phone. This might not be complex, or exceedingly hands-on, but the ability to have a working Arduino powered motor assembly that natively works with a smartphone opens the doors for those who are looking to create more complex bodies and take this whole concept to the next level. So if one ever becomes bored with the standard tank, dragster, and truck offerings they are more than welcome to let their creativity shine with the assurance that they will have a reliable way of locomotion.

There is still 45 days to go and SmartWood is already nearly 20% funded so it is safe to say that it is not in desperate need of funding, but the stretch goals are fairly attractive and nothing is ever fully assured. Also, the rewards start at $39 for the control unit and $59 for the tank, or crawler. These seem reasonable and the quantities are limited so be sure to get in on the action before they are all sold out.

Crowdfunding Spotlight: ALYT

Crowdfunding Spotlight: ALYT

Apr 23, 2014

Even though sometimes these things seem impractical it is good to highlight those projects that are actively pushing the envelope and creating the foundation for the future in technology. This week I believe we have just that project in ALYT; a project that could be the dominating iPod-esque frontrunner 20 years from now or a necessary unsuccessful attempt that piqued interest but left room to be improved. We’re always hoping that these projects are successful of course and ALYT is bringing some serious innovation to a burgeoning field of tech that is beginning to show signs of cash grab mimicry.

The technology is Z-Wave and it is a standard that allows appliances and security systems to interact and create the futuristic, mythical smart-home. The technology is quite impressive and seems to has the benefit to watching the missteps of previous wireless standards such as wifi and Bluetooth. There have been a lot of developers hoping to gain an early foothold on this market which has lead to a lot of helpful products that unfortunately have not been very creative. Most of these are just simple modules that work with an existing security system, and there has not been much of an effort to make a device that ties all these devices together. This is what the ALYT aims to do. The ALYT‘s goal is to be the central hub of the house; the device that manages not just the security system but the lights, thermostat, and even the shopping list from a connected refrigerator. All these plans are possible because unlike a lot of other devices the ALYT has 512 MB of RAM which allows it to smoothly run its Android software and manage all the scheduling and security measures that accompany a fully operational smart-home.


Now this is obviously a piece of technology that is still a handful of years away from breaking into the average family’s ranch, but the ALYT seems like a very solid piece of hardware with some smart software and a very impressive looking app for both Android and iOS. It goes without saying, but as with everything now this is fully compatible with most smartphones, but what is interesting is that the ALYT comes with a 3.5G cellular connection and a battery backup in case of a power outage. It’s these little things that make me think that this little device can really embed itself into the middle of this emerging field, and it is definitely worth a look at its IndieGoGo page.

KickStarter Spotlight: Vachen

KickStarter Spotlight: Vachen

May 15, 2013

One of the next big (or small) things in tech is bound to be smart watches, and all thanks can be directed toward the KickStarter darling; the Pebble ePaper Watch. With rumors of Apple and others stepping into the ring this is one product category that is bound to get serious. As is usually the case, small developers are a step ahead of their larger, corporate counterparts and a slew of smart watches are starting to appear across the internet. Pebble set the look with its big, friendly design and ePaper display and it was only a matter of time before a higher end, fashion oriented competitor emerged. Correctly assuming that the most stylish members of society would probably be repulsed by adorning their wrists with a hunk of plastic, Won Rhee of San Ramon, California has come out with the first smart watch that looks more like a Breitling than a Medical Alert bracelet.

The watch, named Vachen, breathes class in its KickStarter video, promo photos, and quality of construction materials. This is definitely a watch for that lawyer uncle that already has a tie for every occasion and a head cover for every club. But, moving past the varied, and classic visuals; when looking at the Vachen’s software it is obvious that it has borrowed heavily from Apple’s older square iPod Nano in making each icon big and leaving the screen as clutter-free as possible. The main draw here, unlike with Pebble, is that Vachen is supposed to be a watch first and foremost, albeit a watch that can change faces at a beckoning tap. This is to ensure that no matter what situation the wearer finds themselves in their watch will always look appropriate and aptly accent any outfit. Behind the watch face, however, is a plethora of pre-installed apps that display notifications from a connected phone, a stop watch and alarm, and even a compass.


Like most smart products nowadays there will be an open app store which means that the uses for the Vachen smart watch are practically limitless. It might not be in everyones budget but I have no doubt that a consumer niche does exist and they will surely be enough to make this a successful product for years to come, and it will be interesting to see if Vachen can grow their brand to rival established fashion juggernauts.

KickStarter Spotlight: Smart Bags

KickStarter Spotlight: Smart Bags

Apr 17, 2013

I can speak from personal experience, and I am sure that many of our readers can as well, but there is nothing more nerve-wracking that bringing a smartphone along in a place that can get messy. Be it out in the garden, in the shop, on the lake, or in the kitchen; smartphones take a beating and, for the most part, bounce right back up. I am not talking about falls but more spills and general debris that can accumulate on phones in dirty environments. Picture someone working on a car who has grease and oil on their hands, but still needs to answer their smartphone to answer an important call. Usually they will have to completely clean their hands or bite the bullet and dirty their screen, but now with an incredibly simple and inexpensive KickStarter project that decision will become obsolete. Smart Bags are honestly nothing more than reinforced and fully biodegradable sandwich bags which are tailored to fit around conventional smartphones. People have been doing this for a while but never has their been bags that are disposable and offer the ability to conform to specific brands.

Because the plastic is thicker and anti-static the risk of damage is incredibly minimal and any user should feel more than safe bringing their phone with them to the beach or out camping during a misty, muddy afternoon. The plastic still allows use of the phone without the threat of a scratched screen or water damage, and its thickness prevents the bunching and sticking that is common with regular sandwich bags.

Seeing as phones are getting increasingly expensive it would only make sense that people are spending money to help keep them in operational shape. These bags initially will cost around $1 for a bag that will fit a specific phone. This seems like a lot on first glance, but considering that they will not be used every day and the alternative to destroying a phone, the price seems quite reasonable. Smart Bags is a little under 20% to its goal, but with over 20 days remaining it appears likely that this great product will see store shelves. Personally, I am excited to be able to confidently take my phone canoeing with me and have full confidence that at the end of the trip it won’t need a classic rice bath.

KickStarter Spotlight: SmartWallit

KickStarter Spotlight: SmartWallit

Apr 10, 2013

I realize that I am not the only person who misplaces their wallet, but I find it hard to believe that there are people on this earth who lose theirs more consistently than I do. For years I have been casually looking into different ways to help me organize my life, and there are a few products on the market that allow the user to remotely find their missing, tagged items. Obviously, the problem here is that these products, for the most part, are separate items and are just as prone to being forgotten and misplaced as the wallet itself.

So why not put the device on the smartphone? Everyone has one and if implemented well enough it can work as a symbiotic relationship. Fortunately for all of humanity there is a project floating around on KickStarter right now that might be the world’s solution to the endless struggle to keep tabs on arguably the two most important items in the average person’s life. Called SmartWallit, this ambitious startup has developed a product that will ingeniously alert its owner if either the wallet or phone gets left behind.

SmartWallit works differently than most products of its ilk in that it will actively alert the user through vibration and beeping. Something I do at every possible opportunity is leave my phone sitting in the cupholder when I leave my car. If SmartWallit was equipped in my back pocket, the moment I get close to my front door it would start beeping and vibrating, reminding me I had left my phone behind for the third time today. For those concerned about rogue beep sessions or that having this means dealing with an acoustic barrage every time they leave the room purposely without their phone need not worry. Build into SmartWallit is a very clever way to turn it off; meerly tapping the wallet will disable SmartWallit and silence the alarm.


What is really amazing are all the other ambitious features that come included in this package. The SmartWallit is not a one trick pony as its included app contains more than just a way to find a misplaced wallet. One of the more odd, but strangely logical, addition is that of a lightweight spending tracker. See, SmartWallit obviously knows every time the wallet is opened and removed due to its accelerometer so, if enabled, it will send a small reminder to aid the user in tracking their expenditures; complete with helpful bar and pie charts. Add in the ability for SmartWallit to double as a cardholder, money clip, or addition to a keychain, and it is clear the development team really went all out in making this simple concept something that stands heads and shoulders above the competition.

KickStarter Spotlight: Prizm

KickStarter Spotlight: Prizm

Mar 20, 2013

While many of us are not privileged enough to have a smart home that operates with more autonomy than an average car, the future certainly is here as cost decreases and standardization has increased. As costs come down and a newer generation starts purchasing homes for the first time these products will see a large spike in sales, and suddenly there will be a battle for footing in this burgeoning industry. We have seen this in products like the Nest thermostat and different “smart” refrigerators which put the smart home appliance in the collective conscious of the general public. While the idea of a refrigerator or oven with Twitter capabilities is fundamentally absurd, the general idea of having a fridge that communicates with the consumer is not. Security systems have been doing this for a while now; giving their customers the ability to lock and arm their houses by means of a smartphone. I think that it is the dream of many homeowners to be able to monitor their home from anywhere on the globe. The goal is summed up in the image of an exhausted worker leaving a late shift and on the way home he turns on his lights, preheats the oven, turns up the temperature, and even starts playing a favorite album over his stereo system. Theoretically, this is all possible and incredibly desirable.

What has been missing, however, is a simple consumer electronic device or service to neatly tie this whole experience together without costing an arm and a leg. A few products have come and gone, but with the emergence of Z-Wave as a new industry standard for in-house connectivity it is much easier for a single product to be marketed to the masses. So, enter Prizm, a small triangular module and companion mobile app that allows for entire home control and automation. Frankly, this project blows me away, and I can only hope that one day my home comes standard with everything this ambitious device offers. Acting as a central hub, the Prizm receiver gives the user full control over everything that is connected to it. These include, but are not limited to, door locks, lights, thermostats, and security devices. The main brains of the operation are housed in the actual Prizm device with its attractive, and large, touchscreen, but the main console will be through smartphones and tablets. Early images of the companion app are incredibly impressive and the Windows 8 style layout really adds a touch of elegance and refinement to what could have just been another boring app.

The app looks like a joy to use, and let’s be honest, it is hard to think of anyone who would not jump at the opportunity to have Prizm installed in their home. The inherent problem is the cost of having said system installed, and that is certainly reflected in the $200,000 funding goal on Prizm’s KickStarter page. The lowest donation that will still net a Prizm device and a few goodies is $180 which is incredibly low assuming a Z-Wave system is already present. So, for anyone who has the ability to run a connected house, or those considering the possibility, I strongly recommend taking a long look at Prizm because it is the most ambitious, and exciting KickStarter projects I have seen in a while.

KickStarter Spotlight: L8 SmartLight

KickStarter Spotlight: L8 SmartLight

Jul 4, 2012

Looking through KickStarter today I saw a project that totally reaffirmed my appreciation for the creativity and originality of everything the internet and start-ups have to offer. Large companies generally target their products for one specific use and either because of a lack of or stifling of creativity these products rarely serve multiple, diverse functions. As I mentioned before with my look at the Portable Scoreboard, giving a product as many different and diverse uses is nothing but a good thing. Especially if that product is open to full user customization which is something that the corporate world treats like the Plague. Allowing internet users to come up with uses for a product is a no-brainer as it takes the creative forces of millions of people and puts them to work on this product; merely give them the tools in an attractive package and sit back.

This has reached, as far as I am concerned, its apex with L8 SmartLight, an 8×8 RGB LED grid that offers a mind boggling amount of possibilities with a bevy of internal sensors as well as an open SDK. The front face is a 8×8 grid of square lights each consisting of a large RBG LED lights as well as a very powerful super LED on the back. This allows the L8 to give off two different colors of light which makes for stunning, dynamic ambiance lighting. But that is only the tip of the iceberg, because the device is Bluetooth capable and programmable from a computer or smartphone it can do almost anything thanks to an ‘if-this-then-that’ set up. This means that the SmartLight can display Facebook notifications, text messages, phone calls, email alerts, GPS turn by turn directions and much more with its extremely portable and powerful super bright LEDs. The SmartLight also includes temperature, proximity, and luminosity sensors which means that it can double as a night light, display the temperature, and adjust to changing room conditions. Two sample situations on the project’s KickStarter page are making the ambiance lighting on a balcony or porch reflect the temperature outside, and having the L8 display current weather conditions and traffic updates as soon as it senses the user arise from bed or enter the bathroom in the morning.

The incredible amount of uses for this device are what really make it one of the best KickStarter projects I have seen. In the morning it can be used to display weather and traffic, then at work it’ll silently alert for incoming emails and back at home for incoming calls and texts, and finally later at night if company comes over for some dynamic mood lighting. The starting pledge to receive a L8 SmartLight is $69 and while it initially seemed steep; the more I thought about it the more I realized how good of a deal it was taking into account how simple this device is to program and use. I recommend immediately taking to KickStarter and making sure this project gets to market as soon as possible.

KickStarter Spotlight: Elphi

KickStarter Spotlight: Elphi

Jun 13, 2012

It is probably everyone’s dream to have that ultra-modern, connected smart-house whose lights and appliances can all be monitored remotely and automatically. Bill Gates has one, so how hard can it be, right? Well unfortunately, this dream is simply that, a dream, for the rest of us. But now, thanks to Cameron Colpitts and his ingenious KickStarter project, we all can take just one small step closer to home nirvana. The project is called Elphi and offers a simple, and hopefully, inexpensive to automate any home. Elphi is a candybar-sized device that connects to any home wifi network and, after a quick sync with a smartphone, is completely controllable from anywhere that user has internet access, be it 3G or WiFi.

Elphi’s KickStarter page presents a few very logical uses for the device and while most of them can be done by other products, none offer the flexibility of Elphi. It also can track usage of the appliance plugged into the outlet which can be useful, but more importantly, Elphi can be used to monitor elderly loved ones or latchkey children. By remotely checking usage of that outlet wherever and whenever it is easy to determine weather there is activity in the house even at work. Another function that Elphi includes is the opportunity to put home electronics on a timer, say make the lights in the bedroom come on when it’s time to wake up, or turn the coffee pot on so it is ready for breakfast. Also, because it is able to be used anywhere, turning off electronics that were mistakenly left on is as simple as opening the app.

There is an option to share access to individual outlets with friends but I have a hard time seeing how this feature will be especially useful, but the option to do so if one was so inclined is nice. There has been no word on pricing, but one is included with a donation of $69 or more so look for them to be around that price point. With 16 days to go and somewhere around $79,000 left to raise, it is up to the internet to really bring this incredibly flexible and convenient product to the masses.