Hardware is becoming a big deal, and now it’s easier than ever to start building your hardware startup, thanks to the proliferation of crowdfunding and easier access to materials. One particular startup incubator, called Haxlr8r, is looking to accelerate that trend, with a program that embeds startups right in the thick of China’s booming electronic and manufacturing industry.
Today in San Francisco, Haxlr8r had its second demo day, introducing 10 new hardware-based startups which just spent the last two-and-a-half months building hardware in Shenzhen, China. Part of the appeal of HAXLR8R is that startups looking to build something new can move from idea stage to rapid prototyping thanks to the program’s proximity to all the electronics and factories that are necessary to build the hardware products they want to create.
“As a maker, and as someone who likes building things, it is the best place in the word to build products,” Haxlr8r program director Zach Smith said. Unlike software, where you can build and prototype in the same day, hardware makers need a way to iterate more quickly. “In Shenzhen you have access to high-end prototyping tools.”
Today’s demo day had a diverse group of companies, with everything from WiFi-connected lights to air robots to brain-scanning headbands to, um, mobile phone-controlled sex toys. But these are the three startups were our favorites:
Spark is designing the WiFi brain which will power the next generation of connected products. It’s created the Spark Core, a small electronic circuit that can be embedded directly into hardware devices, to cost-effectively integrate wireless connectivity into them. In addition to selling its own components, for big OEMs, Spark will enable them to integrate Spark’s design into the core of their own circuit boards.
Along with the Spark Core, the company is launching a cloud platform with an API to enable OEMs to connect their products to services and apps online. Unlike some platforms, which operate a platform as a service, Spark Core is pitched as a “platform as a component.” Instead of paying monthly for a service for a product that OEMs only sell once, the Spark Cloud has a one-time fee associated with each product that connects.
Spark has raised a seed round, and gotten about $250,000 through a campaign on Kickstarter for hobbyists who want to try out its Core and embed it into their own products. That said, it’s raising a Series A round of funding to extend its functionality to more devices.
How can you not love the idea of a sex toy that is controlled by your mobile phone? Vibease has not only built a $99, waterproof vibrator, but it’s added built-in Bluetooth connectivity. That allows users to hook up with an app that has a whole bunch of “fantasies” — that is, audio-erotic scenarios that can be listened to and are designed to match the movements and intensity of the device itself.
“Sex is part of our human basic needs, and the reason we love sex so much is because of orgasms,” said founder Dema Tio. “The problem is that not everyone can have an orgasm. Half of all women don’t have orgasms during sex.” Vibease, he believes, gives women the best orgasm experience ever.
The idea is not just to have a vibrator, but also to provide a marketplace for fantasies which sell for $0.99 each. The U.S. sex toy industry is a $15 billion business, and the erotic novel market is a $1.5 billion business. Vibease straddles both of those markets. It sees the fantasy market also as a way to sell more vibrators.
While Vibease is coming to market with its own vibrators at first, the company hopes to open up to other manufacturers by letting them add connectivity with its chip. By licensing their technology to others, it could add the same functionality to other sex toys in the future.
I’m a sucker for bike startups, especially those who make my ride more safe. As someone who bikes everywhere everyday, I have a bit of a bias on this point, but Helios has built something awesome: The startup has created handlebars that have integrated lights, bluetooth, and GPS connectivity to fundamentally change the way you get around.
Helios handlebars are available in bullhorn or drop bars, with a 500 lumen front light, as well as side lights that have a range of functionality. With Bluetooth built in, the handlebars connect to your mobile phone and provide a number of things you can do with them. For instance, you can set the lights to act as turn signals, or as a visual speedometer so that you know how fast or slow you’re moving, or as ambient lighting that you can set with your phone.
The handlebars also work to deter theft by acting as a tracking device. With GPS built in and a 15-day backup battery, they can enable you to track your bike if it’s been stolen and fure out where it is. For those of us who are paranoid about having our bikes stolen, the setup provides a little piece of mind.
Honorable mention goes out Hex Air Robots, which is creating not only an awesome little drone, but also a cool brain and mobile app to easily control it.