Indiegogo project CarVi puts a drive camera into older cars

A lot of the new high-end cars hitting the road come with a bevy of sensors designed to assist drivers and in some cases prevent an accident from happening. Rear and front cameras can alert you to fast-approaching obstacles. Lane sensors will gently nudge you back in between the lines when your drift. And some cars will even park themselves.

But what if you’re like me and have a dented 10-year-old Mazda Protégé? These new advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS for short, aren’t in older vehicles, and in many cases are well out of the price range of new car buyers. Well, a company named CarVi is developing a kind of poor man’s ADAS that you can mount on your windshield, giving a previously blind car sight with the help of a smartphone.

While CarVi has released early versions of its technology with automotive partners in Korea, the company now plans to target the consumer market directly by raising funds on Indiegogo. It’s aiming for $100,000, and early backers will get the CarVi module for between $250 and $300 when it ships in August.

CarVi diagram

The module mounts to the inside of your windshield below the rearview mirror, aims its camera at the road ahead and connects to your smartphone via Wi-Fi. Using computer vision techniques developed by founder Kevin Lee, CarVi analyzes the images its camera captures and compares them against data it collects from an embedded accelerometer. It can tell if you’re drifting outside of your lane, can sense brake lights ahead of you and can even gauge if a car is stopped or moving slowly on the road ahead. Then the CarVi app in your phone will issue an audio and visual warning.

Of course, CarVi isn’t hooked into your car’s computer, so it can’t react for you as some of the new ADAS systems in the market can. But it could help reduce your own reaction time, providing an extra set of eyes on the road. The concept isn’t entirely new. A few years ago I wrote about a company called iOnRoad that has its own augmented driving app.

The difference is that iOnRoad makes its road observations through the lens of your smartphone, which is mounted on the dash. By creating separate hardware, CarVi is definitely a more expensive technology, but also one that’s specifically optimized for watching the road.

Why Amazon has a big opportunity in product crowdfunding

Kickstarter has told the world it is not a store, but can a store be Kickstarter? After tries by a few startups to improve the preorder experience, the king of online retail may be stepping in to claim its crowdfunding reward.

Bluewire is a Bluetooth headset with a kitchen sink of features

Bluetooth headsets aren’t the hottest smartphone accessory, but a new Bluetooth headset on Indiegogo, called Bluewire, packs enough features that it’s worth another look even for users who don’t need hands-free calling.

Bluewire looks like a fairly standard, albeit chunky, hands-free Bluetooth headset. But it charges wirelessly thanks to Qi charging support, it uses NFC for quick pairing with a smartphone, and it’s even got an accelerometer built-in. Plus, it can record any phone call or VoIP call that passes through it on its built-in 16GB of memory.

Bluewire Bluetooth headset

The ability to record phone calls — both ends of the conversation, you and the other speaker — is the real draw here. Bluewire records calls “in hardware,” and it can even work if you’re not using the Bluetooth headset in your ear. Users can do a three-way pair and use a preferred Bluetooth speaker or headset — like your car — while still having the Bluewire record your call.

“Bluewire basically takes the Bluetooth signal, splits it for sound, then processes it and compresses it to a WAV file independent of the phone,” founder Avi Gilor said.

You access your recorded calls on a Bluewire app for Android and iOS which organizes your conversations and gives you an easy app for playback. The NFC can also be handy here — with the right phone, a simple tap can automatically send the audio file of your last recorded phone call.

Bluewire screenshot

Of course, call recording might not be legal where you live. For instance, California is a two-party consent state, so you’ll need to get permission from everyone involved in the conversation before you record them. In New York, however, any single party can record a conversation. By default, Bluewire beeps at the beginning of a conversation it records, but the noise can be turned off through the app. However, although Bluewire can record every day conversations (voice memos) that aren’t calls, its limited to five minutes at a time so it can’t be used as a persistent bug.

But although the call recording is the banner feature for the Bluewire, there are enough other functions to keep gadget enthusiasts happy. For instance, the built-in accelerometer isn’t used for step-tracking, but it can be used to find your phone. Simply shake the Bluewire and your phone will ring. It also works the other way — a button in the Bluewire app can make the Bluewire emit noise, making the Bluewire into a lost-item finder.

“The first challenge for us was how to split the data so you can talk on Bluetooth and still record on Bluewire,” Gilor said. “Then I added the dream list, the Swiss Army features, targeted towards gadgeteers in the crowd funding area.”

The accelerometer can also be used for the Bluewire’s most quixotic feature, the ability to use it as a burglar alarm — if you’re willing to hang your Bluetooth headset on your doorknob before you go to sleep.

Bluewire alarm

The Bluewire is currently on Indiegogo, but it seems like it’s already a fairly developed product, so the Indiegogo is sort of acting like a pre-order. Bluewire is expected to ship in July. Currently, early birds can grab one for $149, but Gilor says that when it eventually goes on sale in stores it will cost $270.

 

 

 

Robotics funding is off to a hot start in 2015

Robotics hardware startups have already raised more than $51.9 million in 2015 thus far, bolstered by home robotics startup Jibo’s $25.3 million Series A round Tuesday.

That’s chump change for a lot of industries, but not for robotics companies, which have traditionally seen much lower investment rates. Google X engineer Travis Deyle’s annual semi-scientific tally put venture funding for robot companies at around $341.3 million in 2014. That’s up significantly from $250.7 million in 2013.

While home robots like Jibo are playing a part in the trend, drones are also a major factor, drawing in $105 million in 2014 by Deyle’s count. They are still here in 2015; Skydio and Galileo grabbed $3 million and an undisclosed amount, respectively, in their seed rounds this month.

That $51.9 million figure also includes Rethink Robotics, which raised a $26.6 million Series D. Unlike Jibo’s home assistant bot, Rethink Robotics’ Baxter robot is best known for its work in labs and factories, where it can be quickly trained to take over repetitive tasks from humans.

The increased interest in consumer-level robots might be due in part to crowdfunding sites, where novel hardware often turns into a blockbuster campaign. Personal Robot, a home assistant much like Jibo, is in the middle of a campaign that has raised well over $100,000. And there is no question it will be another big year for crowdfunded drones.

Ind.ie scales back, focuses on Heartbeat social networking client

The pro-privacy project Ind.ie, which I covered a couple times last year, has scaled back its ambitions due to a lack of resources – despite having raised over $100,000 in a crowdfunding campaign just one month ago.

Brighton, U.K.–based Ind.ie will now focus purely on Heartbeat, the client for its nascent Indienet peer-to-peer social network. The Indie Phone is no longer on the table for now, and the same goes for the Pulse distributed file synchronization system (as a consumer product, at least) and Waystone “introducer” that I wrote about in November.

Pulse, a fork of the Syncthing engine, will continue as a internal component of Heartbeat and its current source code can be downloaded, but Ind.ie chief Aral Balkan wrote in a Monday blog post that “if you want a standalone synchronisation engine with community support, etc., please use Syncthing instead.”

“Pulse, Heartbeat, Waystone, a phone … it was important to share with you our vision just as you would share the synopsis of a book with your publisher. But, going forward, it would be confusing — especially for a consumer audience — to have all those implementation details thrown at them,” Balkan wrote, adding that plans to release Heartbeat for anything other than [company]Apple[/company] devices had also been scrapped for now. Heartbeat will come out for Mac first (a private pre-alpha will open to some on January 26), then iOS in the “intermediate-term.”

However, the problem with the “synopsis” version of events is that the original grand vision was the basis for the recent crowdfunding campaign. Not surprisingly, some donors are very annoyed.

Balkan denied carrying out a “bait and switch” and offered to refund donations to those who want their money back. To those who decried the choice of focusing on Apple’s closed platforms, he pointed out in the blog post that “unlike [company]Google[/company], [Apple’s] business model is not to spy on you.” He also noted that the Ind.ie team all use Macs.

“We’re under no illusions that Apple is in any way perfect. To start with, they’re proprietary and closed,” Balkan wrote. “But we’re being pragmatic. Apple’s platform is a good stop gap until we have our own independent one.”

The decision to focus is, in my opinion, a good one both from a resources and marketing standpoint. The original vision was grand but ill-defined and confusing. Far better to make the Heartbeat product a demonstrable reality and build from there — the outfit still wants to make a consumer device one day, which may be a phone.

However, the timing of the readjustment is not good. Ind.ie should have figured this stuff out last year before putting its hand out for donations. The decentralization movement is part of the open-source world, which largely runs on community spirit. If the Heartbeat project is to pull through, Ind.ie will need to work on regaining whatever goodwill it’s lost this week.

Jolla Tablet could get cellular connectivity as money pours in

Having hit the crowdfunding target it set for its new tablet in just two hours, the Finnish mobile upstart Jolla has, eight days later, achieved that goal three times over. With $1.3 million pledged, the campaign still has 13 days left though – so Jolla has revealed some stretch goals that its community suggested. If it hits $1.5 million, the Android-compatible Sailfish OS tablet will get MicroSDHC support, allowing it to take memory cards of up to 128GB in size. If it hits $1.75 million, it will gain the ability to view and run two apps simultaneously, split-screen-style. And if $2.5 million is pledged, it will gain 3.5G cellular connectivity. Jolla co-founder Marc Dillon said the company was “overwhelmed” by the response so far.

Why people are giving Ind.ie money to think past the web

The “Indienet”, which will apparently be best experienced on a new device called the Indie Phone, is on track to comfortably exceed its crowdfunding goals. But, beyond more private interactions, what new services will it enable?