Last day of TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco, a whole section of the startup alley is dedicated to Hardware (note that there is a separate section for Virtual reality). Robots are snooping around, drones are flying above our heads: you can tell the future is happening here. Everything looks pretty cool from the outside, although it’s hard to figure out which product will actually stick, among the 5 different 3D-printers, 7 connected do-it-yourself modules sets and 12 sports wearables. So I asked the experts from the Hardware Club, Barbara Belvisi and Alexis Houssou, to name their 5 favorites.
Micro Drones 3.0 – tiny, awesome drones for everyone
When you meet Vernon Kerswell, the founder of Micro Drones, you can tell he just loves it. Who wouldn’t? He builds tiny drones that fit the palm of your hands. Unlike many drones manufacturers like Parrot, his product doesn’t focus on providing incredible image quality. Micro Drone 3.0 has 3 sensors, 1 camera (that’s like iPhone-quality) and a livestream – also working with 1-person view. You can pilot it using a handset of your phone. Kerswell wants to sell drones that are purely for entertainment and assumes regular people don’t need cinematic image quality.
Don’t be fooled by Kerswell’s boy-like look while he pilots his mini-drones: his business is quite promising. They posted their drone on Indiegogo and reached their goal of $75,000 in just 10 hours. After 1 month, they now reached almost $2,6 M in pre-orders. The Micro Drones 3.0 is also distributed in several fairs like the ComiCon of MakerFair, and will reach retail in Q1 2016. In France, you’ll be able to buy it at la FNAC and Boulanger.
Alexis’ take on it:
Would you use it? Hell yeah!
Would you invest in it? Potentially, yes
Z morph 3D – 3D printer with all-in-one toolheads
Co-founded by previous architect and designers Premzek Saworski, Z morph builds a 3D printer with 12 different toolheads to suit any kinds of printing needs. Z morph has been in production for 2 years and has sold 500 units at $1900 a piece across the world, mostly in the E.U, Asia and the Middle East.
Their 12 toolheads (which will be completed with a new one each quarter) basically let you do everything 3D: scanning, scanning, laser cutting, printing on chocolate (that one I could use!) – all in one. It makes it a practical, affordable tool for designers, architects, universities and overall, the “makers community” who calls Z morph 3D their “Swiss knife”.
Z morph also provides its own software built on top of the Voxel open-source technology (the equivalent of pixels for 3D).
Alexis’ take on it:
Would you use it? Why not
Would you invest in it? Too soon to tell
Humon – muscle tracker for athletes
In the midst of the myriads of wearables that tell you how to over-achieve your performances, Humon actually tells you where are your limits. For athletes, “hitting the wall” means hitting you lactic acid threshold (which is pretty much related to the lack of oxygen in your muscles, from what I understood), after which your muscles won’t go on.
The Humon team has built a small device that tells you when you reach this threshold, and more importantly, teaches you how to stop before. The device, strapped to the thigh, propulses lights through your skin and analyses how it goes through your body’s layers (epidermis, fat, etc). The reaction of the light going through your blood can let them know the amount of oxygen in it, and as such, your lactic acid threshold.
The current alternative, according to Alessandro, the French (!) cofounder, is to go to a lab and do a blood test, although Techcrunch reports BSXInsights is already pretty visible on the very same market.
The 5 people team- (with a shiny MIT/Harvard resume), self-funded company, is still working on algorithms and will start clinical trials in November at the Massachusetts General Hospital. They plan on selling their hardware at $300 a unit + a freemium app for coaches and athletes, and address a market of 10 million endurance athletes in the U.S before expanding further.
Alexis’ take on it:
Would you use it? I am no longer doing sports but I used to do a lot of handball when I was in college, and I would definitely have loved to use it back then.
Would you invest in it? We are meeting with them next week!
Defiderm – skin condition scanner for cosmetics
Defiderm is a Taiwan-based company developing a small skin analyzer. For now, it tracks skin humidity and moisture, and should be able to determine your level of melanin by 2016 and collagen by 2017.
I have to say, I am still not sure what tracking those last two means in terms of end use. Moisture and hydration clearly have a pure cosmetic use – you can figure out which cream is better for your skin condition – and melanin mostly has to do with skin cancer. I guess the idealist in me would rather see money invested in skin-cancer fighting, but I’m sure the cosmetic industry could use this gadget to improve their customer experience in retail stores.
Defiderm is actually working on a partnership with Sephora and focus their marketing efforts in the U.S, Japan and Brazil. Weirdly enough, they are not targeting the Korean market – and not so much the Asian one – although they are the heaviest cream-users in the world.
Alexis’ take on it:
Would you use it? Well… probably not
Would you invest in it? Again, it’s a bit too soon to tell
AVA – fertility bracelet
The Swiss-based company makes a connected bracelet helping women keep track of their menstrual cycles. Ava is currently marketing its product towards optimizing conception, yet according to Belvisi, Ava’s vision for the future is to replace the pill. This is not too far from last year’s Le Web winner, Natural Cycles, that would provide a smart thermometer and dedicated app to track fertility.
Although I personally fully understand the reluctance to opt for hormones-based contraception, especially when you’re over 25 years old, contraception based on body temperature still suffers a lot from the infamous “Ogino method”. I think it will take a lot more positive scientific studies and a bit of time before the consumer base is ready to adopt Ava for contraception. It makes much more sense for pregnancy, which can be a huge challenge for some couples – which makes me think their marketing approach is pretty smart.
Launching in February 2016, the startup has almost secured a $2.3 million round, Techcrunch reports.
Overall, there are definitely some hidden gems in this crazy booths jungle, but according to Alexis, if you’re really into hardware and want to check out really cool hardware in San Francisco, you’d be better off with the SolidCon Conf (by OReilly). Needless to say, if you’re closer to Europe, you should also attend the Connected Conf next May.