Bitponics Offers A Cloud-Managed Hydroponic Grow Op Anyone Can Operate


Kickstarter-funded Bitponics was showing off its finished product at TechCrunch Disrupt NY’s Hardware Alley today in New York, which is shipping out to backers in the next few weeks according to company cofounder Michael Zick Doherty. The Bitponics system is a cloud-based hydroponic garden manager, complete with a web-based dashboard that’s accessible anywhere and can control every aspect crucial to the process, like the pH of the soil, temperature, light and moisture level.

The Kickstarter project from the Brooklyn-based company managed to pass its $ 20,000 goal back in June of last year, as people seemed drawn to the idea of a platform that takes a lot of the guesswork out of setting up and managing a hydroponic garden. It’s designed to be dead-simple, with guides for how much sun, water and nutrition your plants need. It collects data via sensors that plug into a base, which connects to your local Wi-Fi network, and then logs data in a dashboard and can send you notices when things aren’t going exactly as they should. The base has two power outlets built in which feature timers that allow you to set schedules for components like lights and pumps.

“I was working for a company called Windows Farms doing the hydroponic systems, who do the growing and the plumbing and all those aspects of it,” Doherty said of how Bitponics came up with the idea. “My issue with hydroponics is that there are a lot of things that you have to know well to be able to grow well, and there’s a lot of time put into monitoring the conditions of the plans.”

As a hardware and software platform startup, I asked what the biggest challenges Bitponics has faced in terms of actually delivering a product. Doherty said that there were challenges with manufacturing and getting that right, but that the biggest challenge was making sure the entire process was engineered correctly in terms of user experience, so that literally anyone could pick it up and use it, and grow things well.

“Probably the biggest challenge was figuring out a user flow that was something that anyone could do,” he said. “Building something that someone who had never tried hydroponics, or someone who had never touched a computer would be able to just follow these instructions and get running in a reasonable amount of time, that was a huge challenge.”

Bitponics is going to start shipping to the general public once it gets all of its backer systems out to Kickstarter supporters, when it’ll be available for $ 499 for the base station, with service available on a recurring subscription basis. If you’re looking for a way to manage your in-home herb or cannabis farm even when you’re away on business, this could be one to check out.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

Snapzoom Gives You A Smartphone Camera Mount That Turns Binoculars Into A Super Zoom Lens


A lot of people don’t carry cameras anymore, now that they have smartphones. But that means that you could miss opportunities to capture great moments, especially when you’re missing out on the great optical zoom available on some more expensive or specialized dedicated camera devices. That’s what Snapzoom hopes to fix with its binocular mount for smartphone cameras, and the best part is that it’s completely universal, meaning it fits a wide variety of both phones and binoculars.

The project got started when Hawaii-based co-founders Daniel Fujikake and Mac Nguyen started using their own smartphones to film their surf escapades via a completely DIY, garage-made mounting device that they hacked together. They saw the utility, and other surfers asked them about it every time they went out, so they partnered up with a professional designer to form HI Resolution Enterprises and build a proper prototype using 3D-printed materials.

The duo took to Kickstarter to fund a production run for Snapzoom, and has already blown past its $ 55,000 goal in just over a week. The funding will help the two turn the 3D printed prototype into a glass-filled nylon injection molded retail product, which the company hopes to manufacture both in the U.S. and overseas.

“It’s going to be extremely tough, since it’s something that’s meant to be used outdoors,” Fujikake told me. “You can put it in your bag, you don’t have to worry about babying it, you can get it wet, you can drop it, it’s very very tough.”

Already, before even closing its Kickstarter funding, Snapzoom has had a lot of interest from well-placed retail partners, including U.S. camera equipment and accessory retailer B&H Photo. Based on funding interest and prospective retail partner enthusiasm, the team seems to have tapped a strong, unaddressed consumer desire, even if it is a bit niche. And it’s not just voyeurs who are interested; this is great for nature photography and action sports, too.

Snapzoom is looking to ship in September, and retail price for the mount is expected to be around $ 79.99, but currently pre-order backers on Kickstarter can get one for just $ 70. The team is working on stretch goals now, since it has already earned almost $ 10,000 more than its original goal.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

The FitBark Pet Activity Monitor Is A Reasonable Device For Pet Owners


I don’t want to awaken the ire of any committed pet owners — because I think you can do whatever you want with your pets (and your money) — but I would be lying if I said I didn’t cringe a little bit when I hear about extreme pet products and services like doggie treadmills, pet psychiatrists or pet fitness centers and the like.

In a quick conversation behind the stage at TechCrunch Disrupt, an unofficial, unscientific, non-statistically sound poll indicated that “if you don’t have time to walk your dog and need to outsource that to a health club…maybe you just shouldn’t have a dog.”

I concur with those results.

Still, I came across FitBark on the floor of the Hardware Alley at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2013 and while it could, at first, seem “extreme” I found that after talking to these guys and hearing their explanation, their little device actually seems pretty reasonable.

What is the FitBark? From a technological standpoint, it is a wearable accelerometer that you put on your dog’s collar to monitor their activity. In most ways the product is very similar to products like the Nike Fuel + Band or the FitBit, however the strategy behind it — and this is the reasonable part — is quite different.

FitBark is not designed to be a performance indicator or weight loss utility or competitive device for animals. Instead, it’s just an activity monitor so loving pet owners can make sure their dogs are getting enough activity.

How it works is that, as the dog moves about, their activity is captured and stored on the device (up to three weeks of data can be stored).

Whenever the FitBark comes into the proximity of the owners iPhone’s or optional homebase unit — via Bluetooth 4 or Wi-Fi — the data is transferred off of the FitBark, passed through the FitBark app on the iPhone and transferred up to the cloud where that data is stored.

The historical data can then be visualized on any of the iOS devices that are allowed to view the data. In this way, dog owners can have real-time info about the pet’s activity.

Another hint that the FitBark is reasonable is their one-time pricing model. There are no ongoing monthly service fees or memberships required. You buy the hardware device upfront ($ 99 from their Kickstarter page), and you get the data it produces for free. I”’m guessing they have worked their data hosting costs into the hardware price.

In this way, it really seems like a tool for care and not a stingy racket for recurring fees.

I’m not sure this is a product I myself would ever use, as I tend to think dogs are evolutionarily equipped to survive living in what James Brown would call “a man’s world.” However I can see how loving, caring and yes, reasonable pet owners might like to see this data about their dogs. Because of that, the FitBark seems like a useful piece of hardware.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

A Walk Through Hardware Alley At TC Disrupt

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Dogs, drones, and digital controllers, oh my! This year’s Disrupt conference in New York was full of amazing webs services and software, but Hardware Alley brought out the best in hardware startups and showed the world that hardware is finally serious business.

Darrell Etherington and I wandered the halls of Hardware Alley today to meet some amazing companies. We met with Fitbark, a way to see how happy your dog is and Thermovape, a way to smoke without taking in harmful carcinogens. We saw Extreme Flyers zip and zoom around the room with their brand new mini drone and Social Bicycles with their new system for bike sharing.

We’ll call out individual hardware alley companies over the next few days but until then enjoy this quick look at the coolness that is Disrupt.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

AT&T And LG Make The U.S. Optimus G Pro Official, Coming May 10 For $199.99


LG’s Optimus G successor, the G Pro, is coming to AT&T on May 10 with pre-orders beginning May 3, the companies revealed in a press release today. LG’s Optimus G Pro offers a 1.7GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, a 5.5-inch 1920×1080 display with a pixel density of 400ppi, and a 13 megapixel rear-facing camera. The G Pro will be available on a two-year agreement for $ 199.99, and packs AT&T 4G LTE cellular connectivity.

Chris checked out the G Pro back in February at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and came away with a decidedly positive overall impression. The phone’s high points seem to be its camera and light and slim design, as well as a built-in IR blaster that means it can operate as a universal remote for you TV and other home electronics.

The phone’s arrival was hardly a surprise, having been leaked earlier by Android Central, which pegged the exact date. Then LG announced an event for today, May 1, and went on to confirm that this would indeed be about the Optimus G Pro late in April.

For LG, it’s a phone that follows the Optimus G, a flagship device that has done fairly well so far, hitting the 1 million sales mark back in January of this year, after a release in September 2012. The G also provided the basic groundwork for Google’s Nexus 4 Android reference device, which reached 1 million in handset sales in February, according to an estimate based on serial numbers calculated by Nexus 4 owners.

The G Pro will be going up against the extremely well-reviewed HTC One, and the Android juggernaut, Samsung’s Galaxy S4, so it’s got a lot to compete with. But for fans of the last two major LG-made devices, this looks to be decently attractive upgrade.

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