By: John Brandon
From indoor GPS for emergency workers to a human-powered tractor for the third world, the unusual products these six tech start-ups are working on could change the way we work, play and even wake up.
In the technology world, just because you have a new idea does not mean it will translate to a real company that can produce revenue. These companies have started with a germ of an idea - say, teaching you guitar or helping employees communicate about projects - and created a company that intends to grow quickly and become a major success. We tapped each one to find out how the product works and how the founders plan to keep the start-up momentum going.
Waking up in the morning does not need to a jolting experience. For couples, one alarm doesn't help - one person might need to wake up to go for a run, but it wakes up the other person. The LARK Up system, which is partly an iPhone app, docking system, and wristband, is intended for couples where one person needs to wake up earlier than the other. The wristband sends a soft pulse that wakes you up, but there is no audible chime. CEO and founder Julia Hu says she worked with a Harvard sleep expert and MIT engineers to develop the LARK Up system. "The wristband is a wearable haptic and sensor device that is built on LARK's patented Up technology,which has a dynamic vibration profile that is optimized to wake users and prevent desensitization. It wirelessly connects to a mobile phone and the user interface and controls are on the mobile phone creating a superior user experience,"she says.TerraManus
Here's a unique concept that's still in a design phase but set for production next year. TerraManus is developing a "human-powered tractor" called the TerraSaver, which is intended for third world countries where a power source is not readily available. The hand-operated tractor uses hard plastic wheels that gouge a rut in the soil to create reservoirs that help with water flow. TerraManus is currently working with several agriculture companies in the US on a field test, and has worked with the US Commerce Department and the Chinese government on financing a field test.Raw Talent Group
This guitar tutoring system works much like Guitar Hero or Rock Band in that the software, which runs on your computer, listens to your performance and compares it against an instructional video. You then get a rating based on your performance that helps you learn from mistakes. The software includes a USB-to-guitar cable and works with any guitar, comes with 15 tracks including songs by Joan Jett and The Clash, and also includes the free AmpliTube effects software for distortion and delays.Rentasmile.com
Rentasmile.com is a service for people in the unique position of needing administrative help in a job or as a small business owner, yet who can't afford (or don't want to bother with) hiring an employee. Like a virtual concierge, Rentasmile.com helps you book a meeting, reserve a lunch appointment at a restaurant, or even make a phone call to a client. The basic service costs $35 per month for 30 requests. A second-tier service, called Business Assistance, is more comprehensive: you can request that someone provide help desk support, transcribe an interview, or answer your e-mail for you. This service starts at $200 per month for 20 hours of work. The company plans to expand to the UK, Canada, and Australia in the coming months, and will release an iPhone and Android app for tracking tasks.