For a while, the flashy shine of new hardware tech has been overshadowed by new software tech. In Silicon Valley especially, there’s a kind of cultural notion that software is high tech and exciting and hardware is not.
I believe that’s beginning to change as software is at a point where it can realize its biggest gains by reaching back into the physical world. For that, you need sensors, cameras, microphones, physical interfaces, etc, which all mean hardware. At least at HardwareCon, I was surrounded by HW lovers and engineers who believed the same. Not an SW snob in sight.
HardwareCon this year was not nearly as big a convention as, say, CES, but it was more focused. If you’re someone involved in the gritty side of bringing hardware startup ideas to successful realization, this is a great place to be. There were relevant talks from those experienced in HW tech as well as investors. There were also resources specific to HW startups showcased in the expo, plus examples of other hardware projects at various stages of development.
One great example of a resource geared toward HW startups was Dragon Innovation. This company was not only a main sponsor of the event, but founder Scott Miller also spoke on the “Robot Invasion” panel.
In his career, Scott worked on many robotics projects including leading development of iRobot’s Roomba in the early days. On the panel, he talked about the multitude of hiccups he experienced in bringing projects through to mass manufacturing. Now, with Dragon Innovation, he enjoys helping other hardware teams avoid those production landmines.
If you’re in a small or large company and have fears about stepping into manufacturing (and yeah, you probably should be afraid), Dragon Innovation offers several services to guide you. There’s even an “I’m Not Sure” option on their contact form if you need help just knowing what you need.
In addition to the Robot Invasion talk, moderated by Andra Keay, Managing Director of SV Robotics, there was also:
- Keynotes by Al Alcorn, Inventor of Pong, and SC Moatti, Managing Partner of Mighty Capital
- An IoT Summit
- Other panels on crafting products for marketability and making your company appealing to investors, plus a handful of smaller breakout sessions
Velox Robotics took home first prize in the pitch competition. They’re building technology that uses acceleration to get a read on how much a package weighs without bringing it to a stop on an assembly line. I learned that the currently mass-adopted method is to bring each package to a complete stop, weigh it, and then send it flying back along the assembly line. The current method seems too ridiculous to be true, but alas . . .
When I came across their booth at the expo side of HardwareCon, the physics graduate in me was, of course, stupid excited.
Steve Francis, from the board of Velox Robotics, shared this image of their Velox WaitlessTM Scale built up in SolidWorks:
It’s designed to slip into an existing conveyor belt system, with its own belt on top here, in green.
Good on you for bringing some simple, high-school level F=ma physics to such a widespread technology, Velox! They boast the ability to nearly double the speed of currently used scale technology. Hopefully, in the future, they can help keep our Amazon Prime subscription rates from rising as quickly.
Here are just a few of the neat companies that stood out to me at the expo.
Hawk Ridge Systems
This distributor of SOLIDWORKS, was there to tell me about some programs I had no idea existed. SolidWorks/Dassault Systèmes has an entrepreneurial program in which those who qualify can receive free software, training, and other resources! Matthew Houston of Hawk Ridge Systems also told me about a speaker series he’s helping bring to life for those Entrepreneur Program participants.
The first of these “SOLIDTALK” events will be held May 9th, 2018 in San Francisco and will feature a mechanical engineer and an industrial designer from the design consultancy StudioRed. You can still attend even if you’re not in the program by getting a ticket here.
This company traveled all the way from South Korea to show off their product aimed at efficiently directing masses of people in the event of a disaster. Corners‘ current product is used for when fires occur in large buildings. Sensors, illuminated arrows mounted on walls, and speakers direct people in danger through the most efficient path out of a building. Their system detects where the fires are happening and it reacts in real time when the fire changes location, continually calculating the best path out of a building.
Beyond the time saved from its AI calculations, co-founder Yoo Seung Sik explained there’s also a psychological factor at work. Simply taking the task of thinking away from panicking people saves time during an escape. It turns out thinking while freaking out is not only difficult but time-consuming! Overall, they claim Corners increases evacuation efficiency by an average of 35% based on on-site tests.
One of the most fascinating things about this company was the realization they made about the potential US market when they arrived… They’re now looking into adapting their product to detect gunshots instead of fires.
I had absolutely no choice but to talk with this company because it had pretty LEDs and I’m an optical engineer.
Bloomengine creates a self-contained growing system for a certain set of plants. It lets you grow them from a seed and provides an automatic lighting and watering system specific to the plant you choose. The LED lighting is adequate on its own to grow the plants even if in a room away from daylight. Plus, you only have to fill up the water system once a month. Sounds like, with this thing, I might manage not to kill a plant for once.
The next generation product will include a camera with connectivity to your smartphone providing a time-lapse video of the growth of your plant from seed to bloom . . . because that’s something we all need/want.
Like Corners, this company came from Korea and made an interesting market realization. Turns out the elderly don’t like this contraption one bit. Older generations like the tactile task of frequent watering and lovingly laboring over a plant. If you’re a lazy youngin’ like me, though, chances are more in favor of you finding it to be cool.
Bloomengine plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign later this spring.
When these guys were showing off their cell phone holder product, I was admittedly skeptical. There are already so many mobile phone accessories! Do we really need more? I’d seen those little ugly suction cup attachments on dozens of phones before and never desired one much. However, CEO of Bullz-I, Eric Due, quickly pointed out that their Amano product was much prettier. It also had more functionality.
They’re crowdfunding for their 2nd version of the product and were fitting HardwareCon attendee’s phones with the V1 Amano. Remembering that I’m an absolute klutz, I eventually caved and let Eric stick one on my iPhone. After using it for about a week now, and not having dropped my phone once, I gotta admit, it’s pretty sweet. I’ve also been using the kickstand functionality with such frequency that it would feel weird if I didn’t have the Amano on my phone anymore.
V2 will be sturdier and come in a wider range of anodized colors.
Best of all, if they successfully fund the V2 project, they might be able to move onto their other accessory that can mount to a bike handlebar. Many of my friends are also not only klutzes but cyclists, too! They frequently risk their lives while biking to look up directions. So, it would be nice to give them something to increase their chances of survival.
The Amano V2 Kickstarter campaign ends June 1, 2018.
HardwareCon 2019 doesn’t have exact dates scheduled yet, but you can keep watch here: