Technology for the Real World Emerging in NYC Among Digital Startups

3/28/13Follow @jpruth

Plenty of software-fueled ideas are developed in New York, from big data mining to mobile apps, but part of the innovation community is also building physical technology. Tuesday night a small gathering of startups demoed their prototypes and ideas, for use in the real world, at an event hosted by NYC Tech Connect, which is backed by the Partnership Fund for New York City.

The demoing startups included AdhereTech, a 2012 graduate of Blueprint Health’s summer accelerator program. AdhereTech developed a pill bottle that alerts people via messages sent to their smartphones if they miss taking their next dosages.

That was one of the more developed innovations on display at the “Technology You Can Touch” event held at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

Todd Hudson, a partner with Tactile Navigation Tools, told me a bit about his team’s efforts to develop a new version of the traditional white cane used by visually-impaired individuals.

The CumbaCane from Tactile will feature a retractable, umbrella-like attachment with sailcloth webbing that extends downward to increase the area of detection. The additional arms would reduce the need for the user to sweep the cane back and forth to navigate his or her surroundings. “You’re not going to miss curbs or the subway platform,” Hudson says.

Tactile is also working on a wearable means of detecting the environment based on electroactive polymers in the cloth. “If you run a current through it, you get various effects depending on how you make it,” Hudson says. That can include making the polymers vibrate in a t-shirt in response to the surroundings. “You get range information from sensors embedded in the cane or your clothing, and you can create an image with vibrations on the front of the shirt,” he says.

(The movie “Batman Begins” features a highly fictionalized representation of electroactive polymers, called memory cloth in the script, that make the titular hero’s cape rigid when charged with electricity, allowing Batman to glide on the wind.)

Several other demoing startups talked up health-themed ideas, but the team from Force Field Labs is developing a device called Canary for monitoring homes. Canary combines smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, heat sensors, and video into one product that also sends alert messages to smartphones. The team believes the messaging system, which notifies the user and others they include in the loop, will differentiate their device from traditional alarm systems. “Anyone you designate can be part of your security system,” says team member Don Aviv.

If the resident is away from home and Canary detects smoke, for example, a nearby neighbor alerted by the system could call the fire department. The messages sent by Canary can be in text form as well as video to show what is happening. The system will also let users play back video to review what happened at the time of an emergency.

Aviv says Force Field Labs is refining Canary while in talks with manufacturers and is looking for strategic partners to help, when the time is right, scale up production.

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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