Hardware Startup news 09/03/15

This are the stories that stood out for us in the past week week in the world of hardware startups.


Vivek Wadhwa, Voice for Women in Silicon Valley, Is Foiled by His Tone

Vivek Wadhwa is an entrepreneur-turned-academic who is a co-author, with Farai Chideya, of the book “Innovating Women.” Mr. Wadhwa, 57, holds affiliations with Stanford, Duke and a Silicon Valley-based think tank called Singularity University. He is also a fixture on the lecture circuit and in the media, where he has frequently called on technology companies to address gender diversity

“I’ve done what I needed to do,” Mr. Wadhwa said in an interview. “I’m not needed anymore, and I know it.”

Men who would like to become allies in the fight for women’s equality in tech will find in this story a lesson on how to conduct themselves: Look at the way Mr. Wadhwa behaved when faced with criticism from female technologists. Then do the opposite.

Women in tech criticized Mr. Wadhwa for clumsily articulating their cause. They said he was prone to outrageous gaffes, including once referring to women at tech companies as “token floozies,” a phrase Mr. Wadhwa later blamed on his poor English.


Qualcomm and Intel to Introduce New Biometric Security Technology


Our long password nightmare may be coming to an end.

On Monday in Europe, two major semiconductor companies are expected to announce products that use biometric data for security. In one case, readings from the human body provide automatic access to stored passwords. In the other, the biometric reading is likely to become the password itself.

Qualcomm, one of the two chip makers, is expected to say it has developed a kind of sonar-based way to read fingerprints through glass, plastic, and some metal. That is a dramatic improvement over most popular fingerprint authentication methods. The sensor can be placed on either side of a mobile phone, and by reading deep into the skin, noting the difference between the peak and trough of a fingerprint, should be harder to defeat.

“You can’t use glue to make a spoof fingerprint,” said Tim McDonough, vice president for product marketing at Qualcomm. “You’ll eventually see it in watches, cars, gaming devices, set top boxes,” along with certain types of laptops and tablets.

The Qualcomm chips aren’t likely to be inside even smartphones until the end of the year.

Intel, the other manufacturer, is expected to announce the first customer deployments of its True Key technology, which was announced earlier this year. True Key uses a device’s camera to examine a customer’s “facial math,” such as the distance between the eyes and nose, as well as voice and fingerprints, to allow access to devices. It can then permit access to stored passwords.

Both announcements are expected to be made at the World Mobile Congress, a technology industry event in Barcelona, Spain.


PCH International Buys Design Portal Fab In Stock And Cash Fire Sale

PCH International, the custom design and manufacturing business, has made one more step into the world of direct-to-market sales. It has closed its acquisition of Fab — the e-commerce design portal that rose to dizzying heights of hype before crashing down to reality.

Fab had become something of a poster child for the boom and bust of e-commerce startup life. Starting out as a dating and community site for gay men, in 2011, it pivoted and grew into a popular retail platform for funky home goods, pulling together products like jewellery and tote bags through to kitchenware and home decorations from a number of smaller suppliers.

For PCH, the deal makes a lot of sense. The manufacturing company already works with companies to produce hardware and other physical objects, so a service like Fab will now give it a way of channelling them directly into the market, building out PCH’s vertical integration

“The association with design was important one for us,” Casey said. “We see an opportunity to reinvigorate the Fab audience… And because Fab has a flexible and dynamic technology platform, we have a good foundation to test new selling modes that will excite customers.”

Pebble Reveals Pebble Time Steel And A Smartstrap System Open To Hardware Developers

Pebble announced Pebble Time last week, the next-generation version of its Pebble smartwatch, and today it’s revealing another new product: Pebble Time Steel. This is the stainless steel version of the Pebble Time, boasting the same interface and software, but in a machined metal case that comes in silver, gold and black finishes, and that also manages to add three days to maximum battery life, bringing Pebble Time Steel’s total potential duration to ten days on a single charge, which beats the rest of the smartwatch pack by a considerable margin.

And while the new design doesn’t offer any additional sensors on top of the original, Pebble is also announcing a unique modular hardware accessory system for both Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel called ‘Smartstraps,’ which allows third-party developers to build smart add-ons to both watches in the form of watchband-based enhancements.

Pebble’s Smartband system, and how far it actually extends the features and functionality of the Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel, will depend on how avidly it’s picked up by third-parties, since Pebble appears to be leaning heavily on the community to make it happen. The smartwatch maker says that it already has partners on board, and that the first shipments of smartstraps will kick off later this year, so probably a while after the Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel begin shipping.

The Pebble Time Steel will retail for $299 (still staying just shy of that $349 starting price for Apple Watch, you’ll notice) and will be available to early Kickstarter backers for $249. Existing backers can choose to upgrade to the Pebble Time Steel without losing their spot in the queue, but they’ll have to wait a bit longer for their reward – Pebble Time Steel starts shipping in July, instead of May for the first crop of standard Pebble Time devices, and June for the current backer group.