The Dreamlight Zen uses lights and music to help wearers relax

Every time I’m back in Asia, it seems like I’m meeting with another sleep mask company. And every time, I wonder aloud about how the technology might ease the soul grinding 16 hour flight home. Last year, Brinc-backed Silentmode lent me a unit for the long flight along with a final night in Hong Kong’s notorious Chung King Mansions hostel (long, unfortunate Booking.com story on that one). I liked the idea, but ultimately found he product cumbersome — a particularly egregious issue for some who already finds its impossible to sleep on planes for longer than a 20 minute stretch.

Straightaway, it’s clear that Dreamlight has a leg up on Silentmode as far as design is concerned. It’s thinner, more streamlined and, for those concerned about such things, just better looking. Though I’m not sure how much that last bit matters to most as you’re doing your damnedest to get comfortable on a long international flight.

Ultimately, what’s more interesting to me is the direction the company’s going in here. Silentmode is very explicitly not designed for meditation. There’s certainly something to be said for focus on doing one thing (sleep) well, but meditation really seems like a no brainer for these sorts of products. Its founder also mentioned to me that the company didn’t include lights in the device, because who needs to stare at another screen. Again, fair enough, I suppose, but if done well, light therapy is a pretty compelling addition.

All of those things are baked into Dreamlight’s latest product, the Zen, which, as its name implies, is really focused on the meditation crowd. Here the system pulses orange light along with synchronized audio through the embedded headphones. The startup’s got a handful of first party content preloaded on the device, or your can connect it to your smartphone to use Calm or Headspace.

Unlike Silentmode, which is looking to content subscriptions to help monetize, Dreamlight’s all about the hardware at the moment. The company does appear eager to team with a third party meditation app to help provide content in the future, but for now, you can just bring your own via bluetooth.

The design’s really the thing here. The company’s done a fine job creating a comfortable wearable. I can only speak to wearing in a well light conference room during the day, but it seems like it would be easy enough to fall asleep with the thing on. The eye region in particular is well designed, doing a fine job eliminating light leakage without applying any pressure to the eyes.

The Pro version runs ~$300. The new Zen is roughly half that. The company also created a sleep mask only version, which strips it of its electronics. That runs $29, a small price to pay for a less miserable marathon flight.

Sutro’s smart pool monitoring device arrives next month

Sutro’s device has changed a lot since the company appeared as a contestant in our Hardware Battlefield way back in 2015. But who hasn’t, really? The startup happened to be in town as TechCrunch paid a visit to SSV’s Shenzhen headquarters. Turns out it’s a good place to be six weeks ahead of your product’s commercial launch. There are always plenty of kinks to be ironed out ahead of product, after all.

The heart of the product is the same, of course: a floating connected device that can continually measure the chlorine, pH and other levels of a pool’s content. The final version of the device, however, is cylindrical, with, thankfully, fewer wires hanging out than the previous version. Honestly, it looks a bit like a floating travel mug.

With a new production partner announced way back at CES in January, the company says it’s now six weeks away from shipping the product for those who purchase it directly through the startup’s site. Some point soon, it will also make the device available through pool stores and other online channels. For now, however, it’s direct purchase only.

At $699, the device isn’t cheap. Though the Bay Area-based startup believes that the nuisance of regularly monitoring pools will be enough to convince those with deep pockets to take the plunge, sop to speak. And the company’s already seen a fair amount of interest from potential customers since it started talking up the product nearly half a decade back.

A planned second version of the device will make things even more convenient, with plans to add a system for releasing chemicals into the water in order to automatically regulate the water’s make up. That bit certainly sounds appealing if a ways off.

Hardware is just the first step for the company, though. Sutro believes that with enough devices out in the real world, it can create useful datasets for water quality. While plenty of monitoring systems exist for reservoirs and aqueducts, a lot can happen on the way to the hose or faucet. Flint is, sadly, a recent example of this, as river water corroded aging pipes, causing lead to enter the water supply.

The company plans to use data from this and future products to build what it deems a “water genome,” offering rich information on water quality across the world.

Kibus is like a Keurig for your pet

In a pitch during a recent meeting at Brinc’s Hong Kong headquarters, the Barcelona-based team behind Kibus Petcare was quick to point out that most millennials consider pets “a member of the family.” That sort of statement manifests itself in various ways, of course, but for many, that means preparing home cooked meals for their dogs and cats.

As a rabbit owner myself, that fortunately mostly just means rinsing off some arugula in the sink once a day. For those other pet owners, however, the prospect is a fair bit more complex, putting the same or even more work into prepping meals for their furry companions.

The pitch behind Kibus is an attempt to split the difference. The company’s appliance is designed to offer something like a home cooked meal for a dog or cat with a fraction of the required effort. The system accepts plastic cartons filled with freeze dried pet food. Pour in some water and the system will heat it up, cooking the foodstuffs in the process.

The company is going to be launching a Kickstarter campaign to sell the product, which is currently in prototype form. At launch, it will run around €199. That initial version will include user refillable pods, but in the future, they company plans to limit these to the pre-made variety, clearly going after a kind of ink cartridge approach to monetizing the system.

The pods will work out to around €1 a day, with the machine rationing out food to pets one to five times a day. Each should last about a week for an average pet, or somewhere in the neighborhood of three days for the largest dog. To start, the company is offering up five different food options (two for cats, three for dogs), with more coming down the road.

Users can monitor the system remotely and program in the sound of their own voice to call the pet over when it’s feeding time. The second version of the device will also include a camera for monitoring pets from afar.

Phuture Foods is creating a plant-based pork substitute for the Asian market

We met with a handful of Brinc’s top startups earlier this week, during a visit to the accelerator’s Hong Kong headquarters. The lion’s share of the demos involved hardware products, which has long been the organization’s core offering. Increasingly, however, food focused startups like Phuture Foods have become an important focus.

Whereas stateside companies like Beyond and Impossible largely work to approximate beef, the Malaysian startup has been pioneering on a plant-based pork substitute. The meat is in particularly high demand in the Asian market, where it’s targeting initial sales, beginning with Hong Kong in the next few months and then branching out into Singapore shortly after.

The foodstuff is designed to mimic the taste and texture of pork, using a variety of plants, including wheat, shiitake mushrooms and mung beans. The company has received support from Hong Kong-based angel investors, beginning with online sales, before rolling out to area super markets roughly five months from now.

Phuture’s primary value play is sustainability, and increasing important issue, particularly under the strain of population growth in areas like China. Price wise, it hopes to hit a target of at or lower than that of actual pork products, which could certainly add appeal among consumers for whom ethical and environmental concerns aren’t at top of mind.

The foodstuff is Halal, a key feature for markets like Malaysia and Singapore. The company is also exploring kosher certification, along with chicken and lamb substitutes.

Valkyrie Industries is building a haptic VR suit for industrial training

Valkyrie Industries off-handedly refers to the current iteration of its VR suit as “Iron Man v. 1.” It’s a fitting reference. There’s a very “first half of the superhero film” vibe to the prototype. There are exposed wires everywhere and large, clunky 3D printed pieces that clip onto various body parts. In a more finalized version, it will probably look like something more akin to a wetsuit. For now, however, the wearable haptic product looks like a bit of steampunk cosplay.

We met with the London-based team at the Brinc accelerator in Hong Kong. I admit to being a bit wary at first mention of a haptic body suit for VR. We’ve seen a number of wearables throughout the years designed specifically to offer a more immersive gaming experience. Among the key places Valkyrie sets itself apart, however, is target market.

Rather than targeting the fairly limited world of VR gaming, however, the startup has its eyes on professional applications. This technology will almost certainly be cost prohibitive for the foreseeable future, making it something of a nonstarter for a majority of home users (the bill of materials for the current version is somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5k). Big companies, on the other hand, would like be far more willing to invest in a technology that could simplify and streamline the training process, particularly for dangerous and otherwise complex positions.

The system utilizes electrical impulses to stimulate muscles, approximating resistance and touch. With the product still very much in the early stages (the three-person company is currently seed funded), we were unable to actually try out the product.

But Valkyrie has already demoed the product for a number of high profile companies and government industries, who are interested in the product for both training purposes and potential teleoperation, giving wearers the ability to control and manipulate objects at a safe distance.

Valkyrie Industries is building a haptic VR suit for industrial training

Valkyrie Industries off-handedly refers to the current iteration of its VR suit as “Iron Man v. 1.” It’s a fitting reference. There’s a very “first half of the superhero film” vibe to the prototype. There are exposed wires everywhere and large, clunky 3D printed pieces that clip onto various body parts. In a more finalized version, it will probably look like something more akin to a wetsuit. For now, however, the wearable haptic product looks like a bit of steampunk cosplay.

We met with the London-based team at the Brinc accelerator in Hong Kong. I admit to being a bit wary at first mention of a haptic body suit for VR. We’ve seen a number of wearables throughout the years designed specifically to offer a more immersive gaming experience. Among the key places Valkyrie sets itself apart, however, is target market.

Rather than targeting the fairly limited world of VR gaming, however, the startup has its eyes on professional applications. This technology will almost certainly be cost prohibitive for the foreseeable future, making it something of a nonstarter for a majority of home users (the bill of materials for the current version is somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5k). Big companies, on the other hand, would like be far more willing to invest in a technology that could simplify and streamline the training process, particularly for dangerous and otherwise complex positions.

The system utilizes electrical impulses to stimulate muscles, approximating resistance and touch. With the product still very much in the early stages (the three-person company is currently seed funded), we were unable to actually try out the product.

But Valkyrie has already demoed the product for a number of high profile companies and government industries, who are interested in the product for both training purposes and potential teleoperation, giving wearers the ability to control and manipulate objects at a safe distance.

Presso is piloting dry cleaning vending machines at midwestern hotels

Hotel dry-cleaning is the absolute worst. Seriously. Have you ever attempted to get clothes cleaned on the road? You’ll routinely end up paying $10-15 per shirt. As someone who travels a lot for business, I’ve found myself seeking out local 24 hour cleaners to cut out the middle men.

But Presso, one of a number of startups who took to the stage at the Rise conference in Hong Kong this week, has developed a novel way to put dry cleaning in the hands of hotel guests. The Indiana-based startup is the brainchild Purdue graduates, Nishant Jain and Thibault Corens. The pair have developed a sort of dry cleaning vending machine designed to live in hotel hallways.

Guests looking for a quicker, cheaper clean swipe a card and manually enter the specifics of the garment they need cleaned (future updates will use a combination of AI and computer vision to identify clothes, but for now that’s left up to the user). From there, the system takes overarm cleaning and pressing clothes in around five minutes, using steam and cleaning fluids.

The system is also able to clean clothes with considerably less water and electricity than traditional washing. Though Jain notes that stains are still a blind spot for the system. Presso isn’t designed to remove those — instead, it’s set up for a quick clean and press, ahead of a business meeting.

The kiosk is currently being piloted in 16 Holiday Inns in the midwest. Jain tells TechCrunch that the locations are already looking to move fully to Presso systems for the sake of added convenience — and to cut out the time and difficulty of working with outside dry cleaners to deal with guest laundry.

So far the startup has raised $261,000, primarily from HAX. Its founders will be seeking additional fundraising later this year.

‘Robot umpires’ make independent league baseball debut

Four months after being announced, so-called “robotic umpires” have made their debut in baseball’s Atlantic League. The addition is one of several tweaks currently being piloted in the independent league in an attempt to update some fundamentals of America’s pastime.

The system utilizes TrackMan radar to determine whether a pitch is a ball or strike, a Doppler-based system that’s already in use at 30 Major League Baseball Stadiums and many more minor league parks. Information from the system is relayed to a human umpire via an iPhone and earpiece.

The system isn’t replacing home plate umpires entirely, and for now the human ump is required to monitor pitches as a kind of fail-safe. They can also ultimately override TrackMan’s calls. Among other things, the system isn’t set up to detect checked swings — when the batter stops a swing midway to let the ball pass.

“Until we can trust this system 100 percent,” the game’s umpire Brian deBrauwere told ESPN, “I still have to go back there with the intention of getting a pitch correct because if the system fails, it doesn’t pick a pitch up, or if it registers a pitch that’s a foot-and-a-half off the plate as a strike, I have to be prepared to correct that.”

Robo umps are one of a number of features currently being tested in the Atlantic League, with the intention of potentially bringing them to the majors, should things go well. Other changes include adjusting the mound’s distance from home plate and a three-batter minimum for pitchers.

MLB Ballpark app adds Apple Business Chat-powered concierge experience for All-Star game

Just in time for tonight’s Home Run Derby, Major League Baseball is rolling out a new feature on its Ballpark app that utilizes Apple’s Business Chat feature for a customized in-person experience. MLB says it’s the first league to roll out out the feature, letting users ask location specific questions. Though Apple Business Chat has been used for things like drink orders in the past.

Clicking into the Indians section will bring you Progressive Field, the center of this week’s festivities, where you can access the new All-Star Concierge feature. Developed alongside New York-based AI startup Satisfi Labs, the feature is designed to answer simple questions.

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From there, it will either answer straight away or open the appropriate app, like Maps and Calendar. In the case of this week’s events, that could mean something as simple as the start time for the derby or something more specific like where to pick up a shuttle to a specific hotel.

The feature is being rolled out to start with tonight’s Home Run Derby and tomorrow’s All-Star game, but it should start arriving in more parks after the All-Star break as different stadiums begin to implement it. MLB has been experimenting with a number of different features to enhance the ballpark experience via smartphone, including, notably, the addition of an AR stat feature.

Google’s Pixel 4 renders surface and all anyone can do is stare at that top bezel

This time last month, Google took the surprise (and anticlimactic) move of tweeting out images of the Pixel 4 well ahead of its October launch. Of course, that glimpse just focused on the rear of the device. Not only was the company looking to nip leaks in the bud, they were almost certainly attempting to show off their camera array before Apple got the jump on them.

New 3D renders from OnLeaks may reveal why Google wasn’t in a rush to show off the front of the phone. The 6.25-inch phone appears to maintain the company’s staunch indifference to the war of notch attrition, forgoing the hole-punch camera from what appears to be a sizable top bezel (forehead).

Perhaps there’s something to be said for the company sitting this out while the competition battles things out with all sorts of solutions, from pop-up cameras to jamming them into displays. Besides, the Pixel XL got dinged for its giant notch, so you’re damned if you do, etc.

As always, take these early renders with a grain of salt, but the source has a pretty good track record with this stuff.

Questionable aesthetics aside, the latest batch of rumors do reveal a fair number of features coming to the phone three or so months out. The handset appears to ditch the rear fingerprint sensor, leading to speculation that the tech has been ditched for face unlock or Google is doing fingerprint readings through the screen, perhaps using Qualcomm tech.

The device its said to sport two selfie cameras and perhaps some matter of gesture detection up top (that last bit seems to be largely speculation), which could account for that additional bezel real estate. On the back is a triple camera array, maintaining the company’s standard camera innovations.