Smartphone Robots, Insect-Wing Wind Power, Online Video Game Tourneys & More Notes from the UW Business Plan Competition

4/28/11Follow @xconomy

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as co-founder Alex Simpkins put it. But what makes this more than a Roomba, is the ability to customize with hardware and software.

If this robot hits the market, ZeroBrane envisions its users will be able to order additional parts, like arms and pinchers, and download the code to write their own programs for controlling the robot. That really hits on the tinkerer and “maker” trends that have been on the rise among some techies lately, as well as the traditional hobbyist crowd that has radio controlled cars, planes, and boats. “People are very curious, and they’re hungry for things they can hack, and change, and do things with,” Simpkins says.

That also makes ZeroBrane a good fit for education, Simpkins says, giving schools a fun way to teach a ton of technical skills, including physics, computer science, and math, along with general problem-solving, for relatively low cost—the target price is about $250, which still gives ZeroBrane a good profit for each unit.

The ZeroBrane team sees a much larger potential field as the technology develops, with possible commercial and military uses. This kind of cheap, powerful, customizable robotics calls to mind the kit-computer era of the ’70s—a parallel that makes the future of personal robots seem really exciting and tangible.

Probably the coolest-looking thing on display at the competition, Pterofin is a very small-scale wind energy generator based around the design of insect wings. The prototype looked like a chunk of some crazy special-effects giant dragonfly from Jurassic Park.

By changing the design so radically away from the traditional spinning-blades turbine, the Pterofin offers the ability to generate power from a small device, at much lower wind speeds. That also makes home installation cheaper, quieter, and less problematic with local regulators, says Dan Bush, the team’s vice president of operations. “If you’re a home right now and you want to go green and use wind energy, you’re looking at like $6,000,” Bush says.

The Pterofin, by contrast, is aiming for a roughly $500 price. The Pterofin starts working at wind speeds of about 3-4 mph, and could save a homeowner around $80 in annual energy costs running at … Next Page »

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