Testing Kickstarter’s Appetite for a Digital Fork and “Positive Punishment”

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Do you find yourself wolfing down your food and paying for it later in the form of heartburn and other health problems? Do you wish you could learn to pace yourself a little better between mouthfuls?

There’s an app for that. Actually, there’s a whole utensil for that—the HAPIfork, from Hong Kong-based HAPIlabs.

The battery-powered, Bluetooth-enabled gadget gives new meaning to the term “feedback.” It measures the time between bites of food, and if you’re eating too fast, it vibrates in your mouth.

The gustatory gadget attracted gobs of media attention back in January, when the company showed off a prototype at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. But now, for the first time, the company will get a chance to measure real market demand for the device, which it’s pitching as a behavior modification aid. It’s turning to the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter in an effort to raise at least $100,000 to complete design and tooling work on the HAPIfork and move it into mass production.

HAPIlabs announced the start of its campaign this morning. If you pledge $89 through Kickstarter, you can reserve your very own HAPIfork as a reward, with delivery expected by the fourth quarter of 2013.

Andrew Carton, US president of HAPIlabs, says the Kickstarter campaign isn’t just a way to raise funds for manufacturing or pre-sell a bunch of units. He says the company also hopes to build a community of advocates who can help HAPIlabs test the devices on a large scale, and even send back data to test the startup’s hypothesis that smart utensils can help with a range of health problems.

Andrew Carton, U.S. president of HAPILabs

Andrew Carton, U.S. president of HAPILabs

I met Carton and the HAPIfork’s inventor, Jacques Lépine, at a coffeeshop in San Francisco this week to give the gadget a test drive and hear the story behind its creation. Lépine, a biomedical engineer and intellectual property consultant who lives in France, said he knew for years that he had a habit of eating too fast. He even knew that eating fast puts people at greater risk for acid reflux—i.e., heartburn—and that learning to slow down at meals can lead to weight loss, since it gives the brain more time to react to hormones that signal satiety.

But nothing he tried worked. One night about six years ago, he says, he finished his dinner in five minutes while his wife continued to eat at a more leisurely pace. She looked at him and asked, “What are you going to do now?” His answer: “Maybe I will make my fork intelligent.”

Lépine was serious enough about the idea to form a company around it—Slow Control—in 2008. But it took a while to figure out the winning combination of sensors and feedback signals to make a smart fork practical.

Lépine tried putting an accelerometer into the fork’s handle to count forkfuls, but that led to lots of false positives, since people tend to gesture with their utensils. And he tried using a beeping sound as the warning signal when the interval between forkfuls grew too short, but that proved distracting amidst dinner conversation.

In 2012 Lépine connected with Fabrice Boutain, a serial entrepreneur who had previously founded nutrition coaching sites Anxa.com and Aujourdhui.com and had recently started HAPIlabs to develop wireless devices to boost consumer health and fitness. Together with his Miami-based partner Carton, the founder of Crackberry.com and a network of other community sites for mobile-device users, Boutain agreed to … Next Page »

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One response to “Testing Kickstarter’s Appetite for a Digital Fork and “Positive Punishment””

  1. JimBerry says:

    Amazing designs and concepts too..I am just astounded by the idea of digital fork..It is favorable and seems to be working.Would like to congratulate HAPIlabs’s crew members for this intellectual tool..