HAXLR8R Demo Day 2014: Robotics and ‘Niche’ Products

In the mere two years since Sean O’Sullivan and Cyril Ebersweiler founded the Shenzhen, China-based HAXLR8R hardware accelerator, a lot has changed. Technology prices continue to fall, more and more entrepreneurs are willing to jump into hardware, and instead of streamlining to a single connected device, it seems as though consumers are willing to tote around almost anything that will count their steps or map their runs. In essence, the hardware revolution has taken hold. “One big thing this year versus last year, Google hadn’t bought Nest for $3.2 billion,” O’Sullivan says. “Apple hadn’t bought Beats [by Dre] for $3.2 billion. Facebook hadn’t bought Oculus for $2 billion.”

With this round’s class, the accelerator’s fourth, the startups are increasingly focusing on lifestyle products made for a specific set of users—like tennis players, skateboarders, and smokers. “The problems we are targeting are becoming more specific as costs are becoming increasingly smaller,” O’Sullivan says. “You could call them niche products, but when the niche is in the tens of millions, it’s a big niche.”

Going forward, he expects to see more and more of the accelerator’s startups bringing offline experiences—like playing tennis—online, with
smaller companies collecting our data in the same way that Google and Facebook have been for years. And the two robotics companies on the list below are just the beginning. “Coming up you’ll see a lot more work in robotics since the technology is becoming much more accessible,” he says.

HAXLR8R is already looking for startups to join class number five, but in the meantime, here are the ten companies that made it through the 111-day accelerator to demo day at Autodesk in San Francisco.

1. Avidbots—The Canadian startup says it has created the Roomba of commercial cleaning to replace costly janitorial services. Avidbots’ machines use laser mapping to get a sense of the room before they start cleaning, then use path planning to find the most efficient route. The company plans to start beta trials in the fall with its two new partners, Cymar Cleaning and Image One Facility Solutions. The company’s team includes Ken Anderson, formerly of Willow Garage.

2. Darma—We sit too much, and we sit poorly. Darma wants to change that with its “Smart cushion” and accompanying iPhone app that collects and analyzes data about heart rate, respiration levels, and stress levels. Customize your health reminders, and it can ping you to stretch, meditate or take a break. “Sitting is becoming the smoking of our generation,” CEO Junhao Hu says. Joan Vernikos, former director of life sciences at NASA, is an advisor.

3. Hoard—The share economy has a common problem: handing off keys to cars and apartments can be a pain. Germany-based Hoard aims to change that, with pick up and drop off points in stores that are open late, like coffee shops and convenience stores.  Car and apartment sharers can use their smart phones to pick a location, request a code, deposit their keys, and authorize a pick-up. The app sends a code to the person coming to grab them. Simple.

4. Kast—Current 3D printers are either super expensive, or slow and low-quality. Kast aimes to change that with its new machine targeted to small businesses. The company claims its patent-pending “retina casting” technology allows the machine to print 12 times faster than existing SLA desktop machines. Early birds can order one for $1790, but MSRP will be somewhere around $3,000.

5. Niwa—This hydroponic growing system and app claims to make it easy to grow fruits and vegetables (and medicinal products, as they strongly hinted) from almost anywhere. Put the plant in the tiny greenhouse, tell that app what it is, and await feeding and watering instructions. With 39 days left on the clock, the company has raised more than $25,000 towards its $100,000 Kickstarter goal.

6. Rational Robotics—When car parts need to be repainted, the job has to be done by a real human, leading to high labor costs. Rational Robots intends to change all that with an enclosed machine that can contain fumes and paint parts without human help. Place a part inside the machine, and it will produce a 3D scan, optimize the tool path using custom algorithms, then paint it. The machines will cost between $20,000 and $60,000, plus a monthly usage fee for auto body shops.

7. Shot Stats—Challenger is a small piece of hardware that fits on tennis rackets like a dampener and measures player performance through metrics like racket head speed, ball spin, stroke count, and ball impact. An accompanying app maps out progress, and users can combine their stats with videos of themselves playing. The company also wants to use the app to connect the 110 million tennis players in the world through photos and video. With 45 days left in its Kickstarter campaign, Shot Stats Challenger has raised more than $21,000 of its $75,000 goal.

8. Syrmo—A motion tracker designed to sit between the deck and truck of your skateboard, Syrmo tracks and rates tricks, recording max height and air time, and creates a 3D representation of each move. It also allows users to record and share video, so they can add to the millions of skater videos already on YouTube. The Argentina-based company is taking preorders and has launched a Kickstarter campaign.

9. Quitbit—This smart lighter and app combo aims to help the world’s one billion smokers kick the habit. The device lights cigarettes with a heat coil, and keeps track of each one. The app lets users create a plan to ration out cigarettes—they can even limit the number of cigarettes the device will light in a given day, assuming, of course, that they don’t just borrow someone else’s Zippo—and connects smokers for additional support. With a month left, Quitbit has raised more than $11,000 of its $50,000 Kickstarter goal.

10. Otto—This Raspberry Pi-powered camera makes it easy to create animated gifs and Magik Eye photos, but it’s also designed to be completely hackable. Next Thing, the company behind the camera, wants users to mess with both the hardware and the software, creating new modes or capabilities, like their company-created high-five camera that snaps an image just as two hands connect.

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