Light Phone’s founders discuss life beyond the smartphone – gpgmail


For a seemingly tough pitch, Light has had little trouble getting noticed. The company has run two successful crowdfunding campaigns for a pair of minimalist phones designed to augment or replace the smartphone. Today the startup announced that it will be shipping the second version of the handset, which introduces a handful of features back into the product, like texting.

Ahead of the launch, we spoke to Light’s founders, Kaiwei Tang and Joe Hollier, about funding, feature glut and the future of the handset.

How it all began

Brian Heater: The project essentially started as an in-house at Google, is that correct?

Kaiwei Tang: We met in 2014 in Google’s incubator called 30 Weeks. That’s where we met and started talking about Light Phone eventually.

Joe Hollier: 30 Weeks program was an experiment that came out of the Google creative lab, and their hypothesis was that if given the right resources, guidance, designers might be able to create new creative startups, and that designers should be on the founding table of companies.

So their hypothesis was that we as designers would be able to imagine a new going to startup in the software application space, and then through designing the end product, which is how the Google creative lab works, we’d be able to inspire the engineers and make the funding investors that we would need to make the product a reality.

Brian: What did you see in the market that wasn’t being fulfilled by countless different smartphone companies?

Joe: People were feeling overwhelmed by their smartphone and craving some escape, and we didn’t really see an escape.


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Loog launches a trio of new educational guitars – gpgmail


Educational guitar maker Loog returned to Kickstarter this week, some eight years after it first hitting the crowdfunding site. This fourth campaign from the company features a trio of instruments aimed at helping accelerating the learning process.

There are three models, each aimed at a different age group: the Loog Mini (ages 3+), Loog Pro (ages 8+) and Loog Pro VI (ages 12+). The latter of which is the company’s first guitar to sport the standard six strings (versus the three it usually offers).

All have a built-n speaker and amp, reducing the need for additional accessories for a kid’s first instrument. They’re also designed to work with the company’s app, which now utilizes augmented reality (guitAR, if you will), to overlay instructions when using the front facing camera on a mobile device. The are flash cards (for chords), videos and games on-board, as well.

The app also has a song book, featuring a wide variety of popular artists, ranging from The Beatles to Taylor Swift. Kids can slow down and mute tracks to play along karaoke-style, while recording themselves in the process.

Kickstarter prices start at $99 for the Mini, versus $150 at retail. The company keeps going back to the crowdfunding well, but the model has worked pretty well so far. Loog’s started to gain some traction in the music education world and, as evidence by its Kickstarter video, landed in the hands of a couple of actual rockstars in the process.


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This charming little camera prints instantly to receipt paper – gpgmail


I’m a big instant camera fan, but the film is expensive and the digital printers just aren’t very good. So I was delighted to see this alternative seeking funds on Kickstarter: the Alulu camera, which prints photos in black and white on receipt paper. Why did no one do this before?

The idea is so simple that you’ve already gotten it — no explanation necessary, but since explaining things is my job I am going to do so anyway.

The Alulu is an idea incubated by three friends as they left college, each heading their separate directions but looking to take a shot at making this cool gadget a reality before doing so. Right now it only exists in prototype form (they only thought it up in May), but it works more or less as intended, and it’s as silly and fun as I wanted it to be; I got to test one out, as it happened that one of the team members happened to live in my neighborhood.

The camera is a little box about the size of a fat point-and-shoot, with charming little dials on the top to select exposure mode or a 10-second timer if you want it, and a shutter button that’s hard to miss. On the side is the charge port and a button to advance the paper. And the back has a little frame that flips out and helps you set up your shot — very loosely, I hardly need add.

Inside the 3D-printed, acrylic-plated exterior, the guts of the camera are simple. An off-the-shelf camera stack that does all the hard work of actually taking a picture — but don’t worry about the megapixels, because they don’t matter here. The camera sends its signal to a custom board that prepares and optimizes the image for black-and-white printing.

To be clear, we’re talking black and white, not shades of grey. The printer inside the camera is a standard receipt printer, which uses heat-activated ink that’s either transparent or black and nothing in between. You feed paper in via a little chamber on the bottom.

alulu

Thankfully creating the appearance of shading in 1-bit imagery is old hat for computer graphics, and an algorithm dithers and tweaks the picture so that more or fewer dots in various patterns create the illusion of a wider palette.

The results are… well, photos printed on receipt paper. Let’s keep our expectations in line. But they’re instantly printed (with a little stutter like a dot matrix printer) and charming little artifacts indeed. You can even use receipts you’re given at stores or restaurants, if they fit, and you can always fold it over a bit if it’s too large.

receiptrow4receiptrow2

(By the way, if you’re worried about being poisoned by receipt paper, don’t be. The stuff with high BPA content was generally phased out a while back, and you can order non-poisonous rolls of paper easily and cheaply.)

I think this thing is great, though I’m afraid that the projected $99 retail price might be too high for what amounts to a novelty. The idea, I was told, was to drive the price down with mass manufacturing, but until they do so they want to be honest about the cost of the parts (the printer itself is the most expensive piece, but like everything else the price goes down when you order a thousand or more).

Whether it makes it to the factory or not, I think the Alulu is a great idea. We need more weird, one-off devices in this world of ours where every function seems to devolve to the smartphone — and I’m tired of my phone! Plus, it can’t print on receipt paper.

The Alulu is currently looking for backers on Kickstarter. Go give it a pledge.


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Sony Crowdfunds Pocket Air Conditioner for Our Modern Climate Hellscape


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Four years ago, Sony launched its own crowdfunding platform to fund Sony-specific projects. First Flight was intended to help the company achieve profitability while still allowing it to explore business ideas and concepts outside its normal development cycles. The company recently launched a new project for a personal air conditioner, dubbed the Reon Pocket, and while the launch is currently Japan-only, the little device has already met its crowdfunding target of 66 million yen (approximately $606,000 USD).

If you walked outside during the Great US Heat Wave of July 20-21, or in Europe last week, you’re probably newly acquainted with the joys of heat indexes well above 100 degrees. I, for example, was unaware that breathing outside in these conditions feels not unlike inhaling soup. One reason for the Reon Pocket’s sudden flux of popularity may be that Sony launched the campaign when outside temperatures have literally been unsurvivably hot without additional cooling across a significant chunk of the world.

The video above shows how the device is meant to be worn. It slaps on the back of the neck and can reportedly reduce personal temperature by 13 degrees Celsius or increase it by ~8C. The device uses the Peltier effect to perform this task. The Peltier effect, also known as the thermoelectric effect, is the use of electricity to create a temperature differential across two sides of a device, raising the temperature on one side and lowering it on the other.

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From the First Flight crowdfunding page

The Reon Pocket requires a mobile app to control the temperature at the moment, and the 24-hour battery life being advertised isn’t entirely accurate, according to Engadget. That time refers to the device’s expected time on standby in total, not the amount of time it can actually cool you. Cooling performance is reportedly less than two hours. That’s definitely enough time to spend some time outside, but we suspect it falls short of what people might want.

It isn’t clear if Sony will bring the Reon Pocket to the US or other western countries yet. The hardware is clearly designed to be worn under a T-shirt or suit coat and some of the available funding levels include shirts with a built-in pocket for the hardware. The Reon Pocket Light works only in basic mode and starts at $117, while the Reon Pocket standard includes “Auto” mode, “Air volume control,” and a customizable “My mode.”

Will projects like this catch on? That’s fundamentally unclear, but it wouldn’t be surprising if they do. Tour de France riders competing last week were wearing ice vests on their torsos to keep cool while working out. Japan has relatively high levels of air conditioning installation, but many nations, including a number of European countries, do not. Personal cooling products like this could be a means of staying comfortable in hotter weather. Importantly, they would help cool people without increasing CO2 emissions as much as adopting central AC. Whether personal cooling products can ever provide enough support is, of course, an open question — but the world is going to need high-efficiency cooling that works at every scale, from personal to communal, if we want to weather summer weather in the future.

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