Sony-Backed Mesh Sensor Kit Looks To The Crowd

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After crowdfunding a minimalist e-paper smartwatch last year, another Sony-backed ‘special project’ is currently passing a donations bowl around on Indiegogo — as the electronics giant continues to try to nurture new ideas via an internal seed acceleration program. And by allowing the employees working on these internal projects to seek external crowd-support for their ideas.

This latest Sony-backed project, Mesh, has raised almost $22,000 so far — just under half its crowdfunding target — for a DIY sensor platform designed to let people create their own connected devices by using a series of Bluetooth sensors which talk wirelessly to an iPad app where their function is configured via a drag and drop interface.

The initial hardware Mesh sensors, called Tags, will include an LED light, a motion-detecting sensor, a wireless button and a GPIO Tag for developers/advanced uses which includes digital and analog input/output to connect other sensors or actuators such as light sensors, motors etc.

There are also software Tags within the Mesh companion app that can be incorporated into the mix, to — for instance — incorporate alerts based on weather services, or plug in specific tablet hardware such as the camera, microphone or speaker to the connected project.

Mesh Tags are connected and configured via a companion iPad app with a simplified interface, aiming to make creating connected projects accessible to non-engineers. There is also a Mesh SDK so that developers can create their own software Tags to work with the Mesh hardware if they want to build more advanced custom projects.

What kind of connected projects could Mesh users create? The team offer examples such as a photo capture system that is triggered when a door is opened to snap startled selfies, or a notification sent when an particular item is picked up. Or Tags augmenting physical games with sound effects generated by movements. And so on. The idea being that Mesh Tags can be combined in multiple ways to support lots of different connected project concepts.

If they hit their funding, the team say they plan to ship Mesh kits to the U.S. and Japan, initially, in May. A basic kit starts at $105 to Indiegogo backers, or the GPIO Tag can be bought on its own for $55.

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The concept is cute enough, albeit not original — it’s treading similar ground to the likes of the SAM wireless sensor kit, or on the developer-focused side relayr’s WunderBar or the health- and fitness-focused BITalino. But what’s most interesting here is the sight of a consumer electronics giants turning to crowdfunding and startup-style interior organization to try to rekindle its creative mojo.

The team behind Mesh notes on its Indiegogo campaign page that it is “a small team of passionate engineers at Sony’s seed acceleration program”. Sony formed a new business unit focused on fast-tracking new projects that don’t fit the mould of its existing businesses last year, according to Bloomberg. This new division includes its seed acceleration program which allows existing employees with entrepreneurial ideas to pitch for venture funding from Sony. The first batch of pitches was held in June, according to the news agency.

Mesh has evidently made it through the first wave of Sony’s internal pitching process and through product prototyping to the point where the team expresses confidence in its ability to manufacture and deliver the product in the first half of this year — assuming, that is, they raise their targeted $50,000 in crowdfunds. They have 53 days left to pull in the full funds.

With the Sony brand behind them, they are obviously able to present a more reassuring pitch than the average crowdfunding campaign can, noting that: “Sony’s world leading manufacturing and quality control resources stand behind this project”, and telling supporters that: “We can assure the manufacture and delivery of MESH… Our team will use the resources of Sony to manufacture and deliver your order.”

On the flip side, you could question why a project backed by a multinational consumer electronics corporation needs to raise donations from web users, given those aforementioned sizable corporate resources. That’s really a sign of our crowd-hyped times. And a measure of Sony’s own relatively downbeat fortunes as it looks to transform its business to better compete with rivals such as Apple and Samsung.

Crowdfunding is used by startups to build community and generate marketing around a potential product idea, rather than simply just to raise capital. It’s also a great way for makers to glean free feedback — and that sort of crowdsourced product development and intel is the real goldmine for Sony here as it seeks to reset its internal product compass.

“We would love to hear any feedback from you on how to make MESH even better. We want to see what you will create!” the team adds.

So this is not about turning any single startup idea like Mesh into a gigantic business, but a gigantic business learning how to come up with lots of new, promising ideas.