U.S. Markets open in 1 hr 27 mins

Power From the Air and Robot Bartenders: Cool Tech From TechCrunch Disrupt

Rafe Needleman
Editorial Director, Yahoo Tech
Yahoo Tech

If you know Silicon Valley (the place), then you know that Silicon Valley (the TV show) is, amazingly, an accurate representation of life in startup land. Nerdy companies like the fictional Pied Piper do present at startup conferences like TechCrunch Disrupt. And TechCrunch Disrupt itself is very real.

At the Disrupt conference in New York this week, dozens of companies pitched to the attendees — funders, press, and potential partners. There was a company that could 3D-print noses out of cartilage, not plastic. There were bitcoin companies. And there were these five cool companies I saw when walking around the show’s demo floor:

Nikola Labs has technology that can extract electrical energy from radio waves. (After all, radio signals start with electricity, right?) Not much energy, but the company says it’s enough that in its prototype iPhone case, it can extend the battery life of a phone significantly, by grabbing energy the phone is sending out that’s otherwise wasted.

The demo of the raw technology (a naked energy-harvesting antenna connected to a volt meter, near a Wi-Fi router) showed electricity generated only when the router’s antenna was practically touching the Nikola receiver. We’re going to have to wait to see if this tech can work over real-world distances.

Quip is a subscription service for dental care. You buy the company’s electric toothbrush holder (for $25 or $40, in plastic or metal), and then every three months the company sends you a new toothbrush head ($5) and, optionally (another $5), a tube of toothpaste.

I’m a big fan of the Dollar Shave Club model for predictably recurring consumables like this. And who remembers to replace their toothbrush when they should?

Nexpaq makes a very cool modular smartphone case (iPhone 6 or some Galaxy models) that can accept six slide-in modules at a time that do cool things: There’s a multicolor LED, a laser pointer, a temperature sensor, extended battery packs, and more.

I’m not sure we really need this type of gizmo, but it is supercool. If you think your smartphone doesn’t already do enough, get Nexpaq.

Visual Vertigo has software that lets you create 3D stereograms from your iPhone’s single camera. If you want to make your own ViewMaster slides, this is the software for you.

Finally, there’s Somabar. It’s an automatic bartender for the home. A $429 appliance, it will mix drinks from any of the six liquids you put in its special bottles. It’s smartphone-controlled, of course, and based on my demo, I can confirm it makes a tasty drink.

The Somabar is smaller and much cheaper than the Monsieur, another robo-barkeep I saw at a previous TechCrunch show. That one’s industrial-grade, designed for the kind of bar where you pay for your drinks. The Somabar is made for the home. It could be my next favorite home appliance.