Hex3 founder Jon Atherton didn’t have any hardware hacking experience when he launched Kickstarter campaigns for the company’s debut products, the AppTag Laser Blaster and the JaJa Pressure Sensitive Stylus for the iPad. But now, just a few months after raising over $100,000 between the two campaigns, both are real and available for hacking at the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon. “I’ve had the assistance of some very good industrial designers,” he says.
AppTag is a Laser Tag-style gun that mounts iPhone or Android devices to enable augmented reality gaming. Hex3 has developed a few games for it, including a shooting gallery for single players and a multiplayer first person shooter, but Hex3 partner Jeff Wilcox says their intention is to create a platform for game developers to build upon. The blaster can be played both indoors and outdoors, and can actually be mounted on Nerf guns or even real guns. In fact, Atherton says the Australian military is considering using it for simulation training. It retails for $59.99 and will be available in five or six weeks.
The JaJa stylus may seem less exciting than augmented reality gaming, but it’s probably going to be more useful. For example, Atherton says someone at the Hackathon is working on a system that will enable doctors to use the stylus to sign documents. “Digital handwriting works much better with pressure sensitivity,” he say. Meanwhile, it’s already supported by apps like Sketchbook Pro on the iPad. It retails for $89.99 and will ship in about two weeks. An Android version is also in the works.
Both devices rely on ultra high frequency sound, Wilcox explains. The stylus emits sound from its speakers at varying frequency depending on the amount of pressure being applied. It also has buttons that emit particular frequencies. Apps listen for the frequencies via the iPad’s built-in microphone. The gun simply emits different frequencies depending on which button is pressed and the phones listen for those frequencies. This approach makes for a pretty simple SDK for developers, Wilcox says, and also provides a security advantage over Bluetooth or WiFi devices. That may give the JaJa an edge in health care applications.
The products will both be available at retailers such as Best Buy and Target. Wilcox used to work at Belkin and had some contacts at large retailers, but Atherton says he’s also been getting calls from big retail chains that saw the products on Kickstarter.
It’s been a been a quick rise, but Atherton has his regrets. “If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t start by developing two products at the same time,” he says.