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Stanford's 'Cool Products' Expo

PALO ALTO, Calif. – It may not be as slick as DEMO, CES and other tech shows, but Wednesday's event here at Stanford University featured a cross-section of neat gadgets and services that ranged from games you control by thought to a startup with a device that lets you track and control your energy use via mobile devices like the iPhone.

Cool Product Expo 2009 featured a mix of established commercial vendors (Yahoo, Logitech, etc.) and the work of Stanford students hoping to take school projects to the next level.

"It's really about sharing what's new and helping some of these students figure out what they need to do to bring a product to market or possibly license what they've created," said Mark Brinkerhoff, who heads a product development company called FusionDesign, and participates in a mentoring program at Stanford.

Students Eyal Ophir and David Carrick showed off Toonable, a kind of action figure-meets-the-Web toy. The prototype figure is a like a doll or action figure connected to a PC. You manipulate the figure any way you want to and the actions are played back on the PC as if you just directed an action scene.

The software also interpolates movement so, for example, you don't have to detail every step in a run from point A to point B. "This could be a SpongeBob figure with all the ocean backgrounds on the PC so the kid can create his own cartoon," Ophir told InternetNews.com.

The prototype had a wired connection, though Ophir figures that could easily be made wireless.

Some of the products are decidedly low-tech, if not useful, like Patricia McHale's Cyclute, a bicycle seat protector. The Cyclute clamps to the back of the bike seat and can be folded over to keep the seat dry on rainy days when it's parked outside. It also serves as a kind of splash guard if your back wheel doesn't have a fender.

Her inspiration? "I was always forgetting to bring a cover for my bike seat and showing up to a class wet," recalls McHale, who developed Cyclute as part of her mechanical engineering studies. She says she has a patent pending on the design.

Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO), showed off Search Pad, an extension to its search service currently in private beta testing. Search Pad acts as kind of court reporter, collecting information on the sites you visit as you search and saving it to a document you can view later. You need to be logged in with a Yahoo ID to save the information in your personal account.

Cool Product Expo
Click on the graphic for a larger view.

Source: David Needle

The idea is to save time on complex searches so you don't have to go through the same steps every time, explained Ashley Hall, one of Search Pad's designers. "It's built into our core search function, so as you search it collects that info into a nicely formatted document," Hall told InternetNews.com. "If you're doing something like buying a car, planning a vacation or researching a medical condition, Search Pad makes it easier to pick up where you left off."

Hall said a public release is not too far off, likely "months away."

Another established company NeuroSky had one of the biggest displays for its Mindset Brain Computer Interface headset. Neurosky sells its technology primarily through other vendors like toymaker Mattel and medical device companies. But it previewed the Mindset headset it plans to sell directly to consumers in June.

The Mindset translates brainwaves into digital signals that an application like a computer game can read. In a demo, the company showed a game using a standard mouse and keyboard interface to move around a virtual environment. You select different objects to utilize the brain/computer interface. For example, select a magnet icon and focus on pulling an object to you, or a fire icon to burn it up. Another icon requires a meditative state to make an object float.

The company is also working with car companies on devices that would help detect the alertness of drivers and medical device companies on ways to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), said Jim Sullivan, vice president of worldwide sales at Neurosky. "It's like a form of biofeedback focused on your brain activity," said Sullivan.

Cool Product Expo
Click on the graphic for a larger view.

Source: David Needle

Will a thousand flowers bloom?

Whether any of the startups blossom into big-time products is an open question. But one at least one of the "cool" products is specifically geared for growth.

The EasyBloom Plant Sensor may well be the first Web-based gardening tool. Plant the $59.95 EasyBloom in the ground for a few hours, pull it apart to expose a USB connector and connect that to your PC. The EasyBloom then connects to a Web site which provides you with analysis of your soil, specifically what plants can grow there and what you need more of (e.g. water, sunlight, etc.) to help the plants already there grow better.

How big is the potential market? "We spend about $60 billion a year in the U.S. on plants," said Jeanne Lyons, vice president of business development at PlantSense, which sells the device. "The EasyBloom is designed to help the casual to the reluctant gardener as well as professionals."