Recap: Technology That Makes Your Life Better: Pebble Watch

Pebble

Tech in Motion: Silicon Valley was so excited to be able to hold our event with Pebble at the beautiful SP2 Bar and Restaurant in San Pedro Square, San Jose. SP2 recently opened and has been a great hit in the Silicon Valley, offering quality food and drink.

Pebble is a customization smart watch that puts critical apps and notifications on your wrist, giving you immediate access to what’s most important. You are able to see who is calling, and you can get the most important emails and texts without ever having to pull out your phone. Pebble had the most successful crowd sourcing start through Kickstarter, gaining $10,266,844 with 68,928 backers.

We started off our night with Omar Younis, Pebble’s Lead Designer, who has been designing user experiences for over a decade. Omar taught himself web design at the age of 14 and was introduced to designing UI for phones while working at Sprint in Kansas City. From the core UI of ancient smartphones, to the Nook Color eReader from B&N, Omar has designed for a wide-range of mobile platforms and devices – most recently helping to define the next wave of mobile computing at Pebble.

Omar’s Presentation focused on what’s important. He described it as “The Urgent” vs. “The Noise”. The Noise, he explained, are all of the notifications our phone produces, such as unimportant text messages, gaming updates, and other random pings that halted your day. The Urgent were those important text messages and important emails. These are the notifications you want to receive.

Thomas Sarlandie grew up in France with a passion for computers and the Internet. In Europe, Thomas co-founded and was CTO of Backelite, a French leading mobile development agency. Thomas moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2012 and a few months later joined Pebble as Developer Evangelist to define the future of wearable computing!

Thomas’s presentation included the specs of the Pebble Smartwatch. He explained what makes the watch tick. Thomas stressed the importance of battery life, designable apps through SDK, and why the Pebble’s watch face isn’t in color.

Our final presenter for the night, Myriam Joire was born wearing combat boots and holding a keyboard, and moments later she picked up a soldering iron. She’s been stomping, typing and hacking ever since. After spending years being a code-monkey in the video game industry, she joined Engadget as Senior Mobile Editor. She recently joined Pebble as the Product Evangelist.

Myriam took us through the history and future of wearable devices, showing the first mobile phone, the first wrist watch, and what is to come with flexible screens and batteries. Myriam explained Pebble’s place within this line up and how they are working to improve Pebble in the future.

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It was wonderful to be able to hear from such an interesting an innovative company! If you would like to find out information about our future events, please join us here

 

Recap: Tech in Motion DC’s Demos and Drinks

On Tuesday, November 5th, Tech in Motion DC held a Demos and Drinks on the second floor of Dirty Martini in the lively Dupont neighborhood of Washington, DC. The event featured five local startups and brought together both developers and non-developers from all over the DC metro area. The event kicked off at 6:00pm and was instantly a packed house! Tech in Motion provided the first 100 attendees with a complimentary drink.

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While the primary focus of the night was on networking and demos, a friendly competition also took place. The attendee who mentioned #TechinMotion or @Tech_in_Motion the most via Twitter and Facebook was given a prize at the end of the night. The Tech in Motion Team was able to track these mentions with the help of Zoomph and their real time social influencer updates.

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The five participating companies were Audax Health, Homesnap, Dasdak, Social Tables, and Eyebloc. Each company’s demo was well received by attendees.

Audax Health, with it’s underlying mission of fostering healthy lifestyle choices through the power of social networking, created Zensey to allow users to track their health initiative progress and lower overall health costs.

Homesnap is an online application that acts as a virtual real estate broker by providing listing information on any house that users snap a picture of.

Dasdak, is an application that provides users with the ability to order food or drink and have it delivered to where they are sitting in a venue. It is gaining traction in a variety of venues such as DC night clubs and The Washington Nationals’ stadium.

Social Tables developed software that assists in the event planning process and removes a lot of the typically accompanying stress.

After recognizing a pattern of webcam hacking stories in the recent media, EyeBloc created a product that prevents hackers from successfully spying on tech users by covering webcams present on laptops and tablets.

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The format for Tech in Motion’s Demos and Drinks event differed from the typical presentation-style often perpetuated in other tech meetups. Each startup had its own table, allowing the demos to run simultaneously throughout the evening. This provided attendees with the chance to network with each other and interact with the demos and companies one-on-one.

Thank you to everyone who attended and to our sponsors, Workbridge Associates and Jobspring Partners!

Recap: A Second Edition of From Startup to Success

During a time when so many new businesses fail, Tech in Motion: Philadelphia members had the privilege of hearing the secrets of those who did not on Tuesday, October 22th. A crowd of techies gathered at a co-working space, Benjamin’s Desk, for drinks, networking and the second edition of “From Startup to Success”, a series highlighting local tech companies’ rise to triumph.

Networking!

As usual, the night kicked off with an hour of mixing and mingling with CTOs, founders and other technology enthusiasts.  Guests arrived to a full spread of food and libations, with beer supplied by Shawnee Craft Brewing. The amazing smorgasbord of sandwiches from local restaurant, Jake’s Sandwich Board, was a hit with the guests, though the soft Philly pretzels disappeared just as quickly.

Food & Drink Provided

Audience waits eagerly

Once the attendees had a chance to meet and chat with the speakers, the educational portion of the evening began. The presenters of the evening were quite a successful lineup:

Ted Mann of Snip Snap kicked it off with the story of how real life circumstances inspired him to build his coupon aggregating mobile app. He urged everyone to “download it so guys like me don’t get benched on the couch.”

Ted Mann, CEO and Founder of Snip Snap

Ross Shanken and Manny Wald presented for LeadiD, giving the audience both the story behind the company and the technology that makes it tick. For Ross, the startup fantasy was a reality; however it wasn’t immediate – it took eleven months to get their first client. “You can change the world,” he said, “but it’s a lot of hard work.”

Manny followed the inspirational tale with a breakdown of the coding that LeadiD uses to run. He touched on the challenges of building scalable, highly-available systems for real-time transactions. The techies in the audience were on the edge of their seats as Manny broke down the technical difficulty of being blind to the context in which his code is executed, when authoring third-party JavaScript.

LeadiD speaks to a packed house

Ryan Findley focused on telling the audience about the beginnings of his IT company, while encouraging entrepreneurs of any skill level to “just go for it”. Tim Raybould of TicketLeap also recounted the story of his business, from the perspective of someone who took over a startup after it had reached success. Tim talked tech and his guiding principles for Ticketleap: “Be likable, be innovative, hustle!”

Panel-style Q & A wraps up the night

The night wrapped up with a Q & A session directed at the speakers. Secrets were shared and private details were unveiled. (Who was TicketLeap’s first employee after the founder? His mom.) To become a part of this interactive evening next month, please visit Tech in Motion Philadelphia to join for free.

A big thank you to our speakers for their participation, and to our sponsors for the night: Shawnee Craft Brewing, Benjamin’s Desk, Jobspring Partners and Workbridge Associates.

Recap: LA Eco-Tech Talk

Tech in Motion Los Angeles hosted EV Connect, an electric vehicle charging Platform Company, at Working Village co-working space for their October tech event. The evening kicked off with a delicious spread of appetizers & seasonal beverages. Mixing, mingling & networking among the guests continued until the feature presentation by Marty Griffin and Gavin Minami (software engineers at EV Connect) began.

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The two developers gave a detailed and organized PowerPoint presentation about the latest technology the company uses in developing their electric vehicle charging stations, also known as “Smart” charging stations. That includes communications hardware for use with software applications.  Marty & Gavin covered the basic tech lingo and dove deeper into specifics regarding eco-technology. Their main points regarded interfacing with OCPP (Open Charge Point Protocol), their network also provides many useful features including station access control, charge session pricing, station reservation. They summed their talk up with the direction of electric vehicle technology and where it is headed for the future. They concluded that the future of Electric Vehicle charging may be free-standing or mounted to a wall or ceiling in workplace environments.

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The evening closed with a Q & A session from the audience, with very enthusiastic members asking relevant and thoughtful questions. Once more, there was an abundance of socializing & networking amongst the group, where new friendships and business relationships were created.

The eco-technology theme was a hit for the local LA green scene and alike!

How To Prototype Your App With People (Using Mechanical Turk)

Ted Mann SSWhen my iOS app SnipSnap was accepted to DreamIt Ventures two years ago, it was little more than a screencast and a high-fidelity prototype built on Keynote templates. Vaporwear. We were planning to build a fairly sophisticated OCR app for coupons and had zero technology. But we learned you can overpromise like this with early features–if you know your way around Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service.

M-turk, as it’s known for short, allows you to outsource small jobs to real people. You can route tasks there via their API, allowing your app to deliver work to remote workers and then take back the results. Without all those outsource workers, we never would have been able to get SnipSnap working at the scale needed to prove out the capital investment in writing OCR software.

Step 1. Proving Out The Concept

The goal of our iOS app was to parse out all coupon details and then return back a digital version ready to redeem in-store. We thought of it as DIY mobile couponing. I knew the concept would work in stores, as I’d spent the prior six months photographing coupons–Babies “R” Us, Macy’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target–and then successfully redeeming them off my phone’s camera roll. It just worked. I knew how much more valuable this experience would be in app form, with all the structured coupon data enabling features like expiration-date alerts and location-based reminders and scannable barcodes.

Having seen the effectiveness of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) at powering a class of business-card scanning apps, like WordCard Mobile and CardSnap, I figured we could take that same approach and apply it to coupons. Thus was born my spiffy prototype and lofty promises to the DreamIt selection committee. After quitting my nice stable job at Gannett, and reassuring my pregnant wife all the while, I ventured off to West Philadelphia to build this seemingly simple utility in three months or less. It took less than one week to realize how horribly misguided I’d been.

Sh*t, ORC Software Is Hard

OCR on coupons was, quite simply, a bad idea. We tested every option–from the free, open-source Tesseract OCR library, to Abbyy’s crazy expensive in-app SDK and various other server-side OCR products. The app could extract some text, but not nearly enough.

The problem: Coupon layout is sloppy, irregular, and unstructured. Perhaps most problematic, even when we did extract text, we had to formulate countless natural-language patterns to be able to parse the text into the appropriate fields, like the expiration date. Our mentor put it bluntly: Our approach was DOA.

Around the same time, I heard about another business card scanning app, one that had been acquired by LinkedIn. When I first used CardMunch I was disappointed; it didn’t give you a result instantly. But then, after a few minutes, the details of the card were identified perfectly. How’d they do that with just a semi-blurry photo? I puzzled over this for weeks until a much smarter entrepreneur friend gave me a clue: “Dude, they’re just Turking ’em.”

All The Cool Startups Are M-Turkin’ It

Crowdsourced labor is perfect for fulfilling simple, routine tasks that can’t be otherwise automated. Got a business card that needs parsing? You can M-turk it. Photos on your social network that need to be screened for pornographic images? M-turk to the rescue. Audio that needs transcribing? Yup, works for that too.

The more I talked with other entrepreneurs, the more I realized that this approach was not only viable, but advisable. M-turk essentially allows a startup like SnipSnap to brute-force a problem that there isn’t an easy technological solution for (yet). In reading Lean Startup, this is more or less how Aardvark (acquired by Google) built their ask/answer MVP. The DreamIt folks informed me that Adaptly, a star from a former DreamIt class, also brute-forced their product at the outset.

I’d like to say that after we had this aha moment, and hooked our jumper cables up to the Amazon service, it all clicked. Alas, M-turk integration proved to be daunting. We were also building our native iOS app and backend at the same time. Come Demo Day, we were not fully M-turk ready. We did have a viable prototype, which demo’d nicely for investors. But even then, it was powered by three friends logging into a crude admin UI and manually parsing the coupons off-site. Some call this the “Wizard of Oz” approach. And it worked beautifully up to about 10 users. Of course, there was no way it would scale when we actually hit the app store.

The Key To Leveraging M-Turk At Scale

Running out of time and frustrated by the M-turk architecture, we looked for an even easier way to plug in. Enter Houdini–a dead-simple API for creating M-turk tasks, or HITS. SnipSnap would send a coupon image, Houdini would generate the HIT, and it would then post back all the coupon details in a exactly the format we needed. Within just one week, we were rocking and rolling. Almost 100% accurate!
Then, about 2 weeks after launching, came the Apple feature in the New and Noteworthy section. Our servers held up, but all of a sudden we had an M-turk backlog. And with 100,000 new users and twice that many coupons submitted in a week, things piled up quickly. But there was a simple solution: Raise the price of our HITS. At launch, we were paying $0.05 per coupon parsed. The minute we bumped it up to $0.12, the laws of supply and demand kicked in, and we watched the horrendously long backlog evaporate in about a day. Incidentally, $0.02 of that went to Amazon, a small percentage to Houdini, and the rest to the worker, or Turker (Houdini has since changed their pricing model). Houdini even afforded us a dead-simple way to send a task to multiple Turkers, compare the results, and throw out any outlier data–consensus workflow automation, or, in layman’s terms, quality control.

Over the course of the last year, SnipSnap has become the fastest growing coupon app. We have grown close to 1 million users and over 16 million coupons snipped, and began working with several of the largest national retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond and Aeropostale and Sears. All the while, M-turk continued to power at least part of our system. As we reached scale, we found that we needed to graduate from Houdini’s solution, which, while simple to set up, didn’t afford us the ability to create custom functionality (like, say, having the Turker rotate and crop a coupon image before parsing it). So we built our own form and buckled down to do the full M-turk integration.

Specifically, we found that for our type of HIT, a form that placed the fields beside the coupon image, with certain text auto-completing, made the task infinitely easier (and hence faster). That, we learned, is critical for M-turk: No matter what form you build, put yourself in the shoes of the worker, and complete a couple hundred tasks. If your HIT is boring or annoying (or worse: time-consuming), chances are they’ll see it that way too, and be that much more disinclined to complete them. Our form got a lot better and, some Turkers said it was actually kind of fun.

Eventually we developed methods for image recognition and barcode scanning and, yes, even OCR. We continue to work with researchers on approaches to correcting perspective in angled images and text, and have patented some of the tech we’ve built. And yet, Mechanical Turk continues to be the ultimate fall-back whenever all those automated measures have a low degree of confidence. Even as we’ve reached the level of 200,000 coupons snipped a day, it has proven to be incredibly scalable and cost-effective.

HOW TO GET STARTED WITH MECHANICAL TURK

  1. Check out the simplified services that sit atop M-Turk, and simplify integration, like CrowdFlower, Houdini, and ScalableWorkforce. Many others listed here: http://www.quora.com/What-are-some-crowdsourcing-services-similar-to-Amazon-Mechanical-Turk
  2. Consider using a consensus workflow to maintain quality, but also know the trade-offs: time and money. These tasks will always take longer to return a result, as you need multiple Turkers to complete. And if you have 3 workers reviewing each task you’ll pay 3x as much.
  3. Creating Gold tasks is a good way to evaluate worker quality. These tasks have preassigned answers and workers are judged by how closely their responses match. A great way for weeding out the sub-par workers and spammers.
  4. Be careful about modifying your HIT prices. Once workers become accustomed to your tasks, a change in pricing (especially downward) could cause you to instantly lose a chunk of your worker pool.
  5. Streamline your task. Add auto-completes to fields, make sure tabbing around the form is simple, consider that many Turkers are on small screens. The simpler and speedier your task is to complete the better.
  6. Spend an hour doing your tasks. Sum up how many you completed, and multiply this by your HIT price. This is the hourly wage you’re paying your M-Turk employees, and don’t you forget it.

 

This article originally appeared in Fast Company

Recap: Vubiq’s NHL GoalCam Demo and Tech Talk

Tech in Motion: Orange County recently hosted Vubiq for a great night of demos, networking, and a tech talk. The event was held at The California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, also known as Calit2, which is home to innovative and educational programs for students and entrepreneurs, so it was a great place to have a tech talk! The featured company, Vubiq, is a leader in the millimeter wave industry and their wireless applications are on the forefront of new technology.

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The night started out with a networking hour that was coupled with Vubiq showcasing their live 60 GHz video feed from one of their NHL regulation GoalCams. Attendees were able to see how accurate these cameras are and how they fit the specifications that the NHL required. Vubiq also brought along their signature HaulPass SC™ and microSC™ mechanical mockups for Tech in Motion members to view. All of Vubiq’s engineers were there to answer any and all questions on how each piece of equipment worked.

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The event continued into an auditorium to hear Vubiq CEO, Mike Pettus, give a tech talk on Vubiq’s wireless applications, how they got into the unlicensed 60 GHz spectrum, and why there is a need for it.

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Mike informed the group that having over 7 GHz of globally unlicensed spectrum has too many advantages to be ignored and that utilizing all those gigahertz has allowed Vubiq to create innovative millimeter wave technology for over 10 years now.

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Tech in Motion: Orange County would like to thank Vubiq, UCI Extension, Jobspring Partners and Workbridge Associates for all their help in putting on such an informative event.

Stay tuned for our next Orange County event by joining the group!

Recap: How Divvy and CDOT are Changing Transportation in Chicago

Recently, Tech in Motion: Chicago featured presenters Elliot Greenberger, the Deputy General Manager with Alta Bicycle Share (the operator of the Divvy bike share system) and Scott Kubly, Managing Deputy at the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT). Together they discussed how government and private companies/startups can work together to help better our communities.

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If you live in Chicago, there’s no way you could’ve missed the blue bicycles riding around town, and many of you probably live near a docking station where the bikes are parked. Fun fact: the docking stations are solar powered!

The presentations kicked off with Elliot talking about Alta Bicycle Share and his role in the project. He was the Marketing Director for the launch of Divvy, and currently serves as Deputy General Manager overseeing marketing and operations. Divvy boasts 4,000 bikes and 400 stations across the city and is intended to provide Chicagoans with an additional transportation option for getting around the city.

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A bike sharing system consists of a fleet of specially designed, heavy-duty, very durable bikes that are locked into a network of docking stations located throughout a city. Divvy bikes can be rented from and returned to any station in the system, creating an efficient network with many possible combinations of start and end points.

Then Scott went on to talk about his role in this. He’s the Managing Deputy Commissioner at CDOT. His focus while at CDOT has been implementing Divvy and installing 100 miles of protected bike lanes, making roads safer through installing speed cameras in Children’s Safety Zones, Bus Rapid Transit, and activating our public space. Prior to joining CDOT, Scott served as Associate Director of the District of Columbia Department of Transportation, managing their transit services, bike sharing and streetcar program.

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We then opened up for a Q&A. One of our favorite questions asked was where they saw themselves in 3-5 years, to which Scott and Elliot answered, “Well, to the best of my knowledge, Chicago will still be around.” Another great question was about Divvy’s plans for the bikes during winter. They are maintaining service, just with fewer bikes. They did confirm that an API is in their future, there just hasn’t been enough time to launch it yet. So get those 3rd party apps ready, it’s coming!

After the rousing Q&A, the group stuck around for networking and a quick demo by Lisa Abdilova from Microsoft, our sponsor for the event. She did and awesome job and surprised everyone with free teeshirts!

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Overall, it was a great event and we appreciate everyone who came out for it and helped make it awesome! And don’t forget to RSVP for Chicago’s next event about