The Atlantic: Have you contributed to a health scam?


Ch00f and I recently had the pleasure of talking with Olga Khazan of the Atlantic on the subject of dubious crowd-funding campaigns. Her article, which specifically targets health products, is an outstanding review of the challenges we face more generally.

If you have a few minutes, I encourage you to give it a read.

One thing to rule them all?


If the “Internet of Things” is going to live up to the hype, hardware developers will need to fully embrace the metaphor and all it implies. Let’s be honest, most projects these days are a variation on a theme: take a few sensors, add a 2.4 GHz radio, think up a snappy name, and claim to be “the world’s first <really specific application>.” However, despite the underlying similarities, each has its own custom app and interface, making it impossible to design a common “browser” that allows users to navigate from device to device.

If this landscape sounds more like cable TV than the Internet, that’s because it is. Providers are competing to herd users into their particular walled-garden.

Some day, a central authority will define a common standard like what the Bluetooth SIG has done with their heart rate profile (among many other examples) and things will improve. In the meantime, hardware developers continue making grand promises that assume they succeed in the winner-take-all competition for users.

As a backer, this is a HUGE leap of faith – even if the product ships, we may receive only a shadow of its potential usefulness, like buying a media player to find out it only plays HD-DVDs. And unlike retail, crowdfunding has no refunds and no returns.

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Despite guarantee, Vybe misses ship date


Remember Vybe? The Buzz Band knock-off successor loudly promised a February 28, 2014 ship date, but has now quietly reneged. While they’ve scrubbed the guarantee from their website, it’s still documented in the Internet Archive and the creator’s letter to Ch00f.

Over 75% of crowdfunding efforts miss their deadline, and there’s still reason to believe Vybe will deliver a product eventually, so this is only notable because:

  1. They made such a big deal about shipping on time during the campaign, and
  2. They are quietly hiding their failure, hoping no one will notice.

We are curious to see what happens if enough backers start demanding their refunds.

Dream on


The allure of sleep and dreaming is undeniable, those mysterious necessities that fill a third of our lives (if we’re so lucky). Despite decades of research, there is no comprehensive theory of sleep, why we dream, or why I feel like a slug when I wake up early. It’s no wonder we find them fascinating.

Unfortunately, some unscrupulous creators have taken advantage of that fascination, raising insane amounts of money with good marketing and shoddy science while more legitimate campaigns languish. Let’s set aside the hyperbolic nonsense – no more shouting about the “power” of sleep and dreams – and investigate the science and technology behind:

  • NeuroOn – A magical device that claims to track your sleep patterns, train you to sleep less, induce lucid dreams, and wake you up gently, all while ripping off early supporters
  • Lucid Dreamer, CanLucidDream, Aurora, & DreamNet – Lucid dream inducing masks
  • Napwell – Progressive light alarm clock
  • Vigo – Track your alertness and give you a poke when you start to doze

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Skulpt Aim


You should buy a Skulpt Aim because “you can’t improve what you can’t measure.” Or so they say.

But do they measure something worth improving? They claim to record body fat percentage but cite no evidence their method is accurate (or that it even works). They claim to measure muscle quality – a metric they appear to have invented – but don’t bother to define the scale.

We’re expected to watch their parade of very fit half-naked models and take their word.

That said, while it may be snake oil, it’s not necessarily a scam. The technology behind Skulpt has been used in numerous peer-reviewed studies to assess disease-induced changes in muscle composition, including several projects by Skulpt’s co-founder Dr. Seward Rutkove, Professor of Neurology at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

So let’s play along, shall we? What exactly does Skulpt Aim measure?

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Drop Kicker Mop Up – 03 January 2014


It’s time for another installment in our occasional “Mop Up” series, a review of crowdfunding news that caught our interest. In this issue:

  • Project Aire – An overambitious smartphone
  • Magnoplug – A safer power cord
  • myLIFTER – A BLE-enabled lifting device
  • Bluetooth LED Dog Collar – You have to respect descriptive product names
  • Bringrr – A Bluetooth Low Energy location tag
  • OpenBCI – EEG for the people
  • No More Woof – Read your dog’s mind

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Coin: Update


Coin, the card of cards, is back with a couple of updates: a “tap-to-unlock” feature, and a video demonstration of their latest prototype.

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Zuli Smartplugs


Zuli Smartplug is a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) smart outlet that, like most smart outlets, sits between a standard outlet and whatever you plug into it (e.g. lamp, oven, coffee pot). This allows users to:

  • Turn devices on and off from a smartphone.
  • Monitor energy consumption.
  • Conserve energy by eliminating standby power (provided, of course, that the standby power of the device is greater than the energy needs of the smart outlet).

The market for smart outlets is getting crowded. To distinguish itself, Zuli is promising “location based automation,” which would detect when the user has left the room and turn off the lights and appliances automatically.

The feature is clever, I’ll give them that. Unfortunately, the technology they claim to use does not support the implementation they describe, so either they’re misguided or Zuli is far more complicated (and therefore difficult and expensive to design, test, and manufacture) than they claim.

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Notch: The future of smart apparel is … later


Notch is a BLE-enabled activity tracking puck with an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer. At least it was – the campaign was canceled when it managed to raise only $10k of its $100k goal after 10 days.

The creators are adamant they will relaunch in January 2014 with better technical information and marketing, and I hope they do. Unlike other activity trackers, users are expected to wear multiple Notch units in specially designed clothing, creating a sensor network with the potential to capture and reconstruct more intricate body movements.

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Nymi: Update


When we originally looked into Nymi, the wrist-worn authentication device that identifies users by their electrocardiogram (ECG), we were skeptical but open-minded. Published algorithms managed a 10% false accept rate, which, though far from perfect, might be good enough for some consumer applications. And perhaps Nymi could do even better.

Nymi promised a white paper with greater detail on their underlying technology, and I had high hopes it would put these questions to rest. Unfortunately, it didn’t.

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