Get users faster (our PennApps project)

Announcing Approach.io, a speedy way to get your first users and get valuable feedback on your startup ideas. We're excited to be partnering with several Pittsburgh Entrepreneurship groups on launch, including AlphaLab and Project Olympus.

It's still a bit rough around the edges (we've been going pretty much without sleep for the past 36 hours), so let us know if you find any bugs. Over the next few weeks, we'll be adding new features like a built-in feedback system to learn from your first users even faster!

Feel free to sign up, check it out, and add an idea of your own. And let us know what you think in the comments!

The Winter Coat that Generates Power from Cold

Winter coats are designed to retain heat and resist cold exteriors.

Thermocouples / thermopiles take a temperature gradient and convert it to usable electricity.

There's a perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: install a thermopile into a winter jacket that will keep you warm while powering your gadgets!

A winter coat could power your gadgets using the temperature gradient

There are a few things you could do with this power. Have some built in wearable electronics - perhaps add a thermometer and display to show the temperature. Or, you could store the charge in a battery that you could then use to recharge gadgets via USB (which would be great for people hiking and adventuring in cold places). Or, if your goal was to be fashionable and not practical, you could use the thermocouple power to light the jacket with LEDs or EL wire.

How do thermocouples work? Well, it's true that they convert a temperature gradient to power. Unfortunately, due to the Peltier effect, this conversion will reduce the warmth of the jacket when it gets converted into electrical energy. So, you'll need a thicker jacket than normal - but, you'll be getting power without any extra effort, so it's definitely worth it for adventurers who need power!

As it gets colder here in Pittsburgh, we're considering making one of these for ourselves. As always, we'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments!

Frost Flowers - In Your Home!

Frost flowers - they've been a curiosity of plant-lovers and scientists alike. frost flowers

Image courtesy Wikipedia

Frost flowers are floral phenomena that occur in freezing air, when the soil is not yet frozen. Under the right conditions, cold air causes expansion of the sap within plants, which causes tiny cracks to form in their stems. Water from inside the plant is then drawn into these cracks and freezes. This process continues until the frost builds up into amazing shapes!

One thing that makes frost flowers so fascinating is their fragility - they only form under very specific conditions, and a light touch causes them to crumble. They occur naturally in the wild, but are incredibly rare.

So why not make a container that can provide the right conditions for these beauties to form and that protects them from damage? We think it'd be interesting to create a clear acrylic box that cools to right around freezing, but keeps the soil warm so that frost flowers can form. And as long as they're in the box, they stay fresh and out of harm's way!

Suggestions? Comments? If you build it, we want to know!

Papercraft with LEDs

It's getting easier and easier for makers to build papercraft art - plans and layouts are strewn about the web and available for download. But what if you want to craft something more unique? Well, thanks to software like Pepakura, anyone can take a 3D model and turn it into a paper masterpiece. But what if we wanted to go further? Add lights, of course!

papercraft craft idea: lights!

Image by tektonten.blogspot.com

Adding LED lighting is a great way to enhance your creations. Papercraft cars could have working headlights, or your next awesome abstract construction could have subtle lighting effects. We're personally going to try adding some high-power LEDs to a few (nerdy) designs in order to liven up the living room a bit.

Think of any other cool additions to papercraft art? Leave us a suggestion in the comments below!

Looking for a fun weekend project? Build a rail gun!

The awesome, futuristic rail gun - why not build your own?Rail gun is an awesome, dangerous weapon - and a cool science experiment.

Using electromagnets and super capacitors, you can launch pocket change at 100's of feet per second. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, a lot actually. With that much electricity, it's easy to melt wires and catch things on fire. But building a rail gun is for the good of science, so it's worth the risk.

 

Tip: If you want to launch a penny at the speed of a bullet, you'll need 650 Amps. Make sure to get thick enough wire!

A Levitating Chandelier from a Slayer Exciter

There's a strange electronics project known as a Slayer Exciter that allows you to wirelessly power CFL light bulbs. So, we thought to ourselves, why not turn it into a wireless, levitating chandelier? Take the Slayer Exciter, which provides wireless power, and remove that last wire that has to hold the light bulb up.

Engineer's mockup of a DIY chandelier

The best part? A levitating chandelier is completely possible, with a little bit of magnetic levitation magic. There's something called a Hall Effect Sensor, which enables you to precisely levitate things with magnets. Since CFL light bulbs aren't that heavy, you could fairly easily hold them up with a few large rare earth magnets.

The end result would be somewhat similar to this video demonstration - however, it's worth noting that Slayer Exciters provide wireless AC power - if you want DC power to activate LEDs, you'll need to use magnetic induction instead. Other than that, you can achieve a similar level of awesomeness. Just picture a bunch of light bulbs floating near your ceiling - it's like something out of Harry Potter! Now that would be a DIY chandelier worth writing home about!

We're currently actively working on the first prototype of our levitating chandelier - we'll keep you posted with our progress. In the mean time, we'd love to hear what you guys would do if you had wireless, levitating light bulbs!

The MYO Armband: The Future of Input

The MYO Armband - superior to the Kinect, it is the real computer mouse replacement

Why is the MYO armband so awesome as a replacement for the computer mouse?

Most new input devices (such as the Microsoft Kinect and Leap Motion) seem to be focusing on pointing a camera at you. This method comes with a lot of problems, but the worst is that it's incredibly easy to block the camera. If you hold your arm out straight, the Kinect's camera can't see your elbow because your fist is in the way!

This problem does not exist with the MYO armband, which instead relies on reading neurological signals that are going straight to your muscles.

Perhaps the best part about this futuristic input device is that, unlike a stationary camera, you can always have it on you. With no need to set up a camera, you can use the MYO armband and gesture control anytime, anywhere.

While it's true that the MYO armband won't be able to handle multiple people from one input device (unlike the Kinect, which is endlessly proud of its ability to detect multiple people dancing at the same time), that's fine. Because when it comes down to it,  input devices are only useful if a single person can use them. Nobody complains that its impossible for two people to type on the same keyboard or point with the same computer mouse, after all.

I've played with both the Kinect and the Leap Motion, and I cannot tell you how excited I am for a new type of computer input device. I'm tired of all of the obvious flaws of computer vision gesture control. The future of computer input (and smartphone input) is here, and it's the MYO armband. Because, when it comes to replacing the computer mouse, the Kinect doesn't cut it - and neither does voice control.

The next question is: what's the future of output devices?

DIY Idea: 3D Printed Rollerblade Shoe Attachment

Recently, someone posted an instructables on how to 3D print your own pair of roller blades. But, having an entirely separate set of roller blades is rather clunky. If you have access to a 3D printer, why not take it a step further, and craft roller blades that simply clip on to your shoes? Imagine being able to pull them out of your backpack, clip them on, and rocket off!

If you try this, we'd love to hear about it!

Anti-Radiation Pants

You know how some people think that the radiation from their cell phones is bad for them? (We aren't agreeing or denying) - What they need is a pair of pants that protects them from this harmful radiation! Or, if custom pants designed around your smartphone is a bit too much to bite - just make a radiation-proof pocket liner! You could make it one-sided, so that they still get reception while protecting themselves....

Or, two sided, so that they can protect RFID security badges and passports from techno-thieves trying to read the information off them!

Perfect for the health-concerned vegan AND the security-serious businessman. What are you waiting for!