Over 500 techies braved the Arctic chill last night to attend the New York Tech Meet-up last night, at NYU’s Skirball Center. Either the weather or the first demo solidified the theme for this article, which is technology start-ups that bridge the physical and virtual worlds. Perhaps I’m just rebelling against the Snapchats and Instagrams of the world. We spend so much of time in our virtual cocoons that it’s nice to see bright techies improve (and disrupt) things in the real world.
The first demo was by MakeSpace, which promises that you’ll never visit a storage space again. This sounds like a great idea to me. CrunchBase describes MakeSpace as a “next generation storage service company.” They offer a service that is ideally suited for New York City and other urban centers. In a nutshell, MakeSpaces drop off storage bins at your apartment, and you pack them and inventory what’s in them. MakeSpace then picks them up and stores them in a secure warehouse for a flat monthly fee. Voila! Technology comes into play through online scheduling, and your ability to manage your stuff online.
Key.me allows you to take pictures of your keys (front and back) and upload them to the cloud. Then, when you’ve locked yourself out, you call Key.me and they will either airlift a key to you, or send codes to a local locksmith who can cut a key for you. Key.me’s secret sauce is computer vision software that translates the digital image to data that can be used to cut a physical key. Pretty cool stuff. It turns out that there are lots of high security keys that can’t (yet) be copied by their algorithms. But 3D printers and more sophisticated algorithms will expand Key.me’s capabilities over time. In the meantime, they can grow their business and keep countless New Yorkers from sleeping in the hall.
The potentially most disruptive demo was by Oscar. Oscar is “a new kind of health insurance company that is using technology to make insurance simple, intuitive and human.” Oscar offers insurance through New York State’s health insurance exchange, and is the first health insurance company to be chartered in the state in over 15 years. Oscar’s web site says that they have over 40,000 providers in the Greater New York area already. Oscar is pushing the envelope on some radical ideas, like transparent pricing – both for their insurance and for health care services (that’s pretty radical) and free phone consultations by a doctor when you don’t really need to make a trip to the doctor. The Oscar team also demonstrated an intuitive natural language interface to guide customers to the health care specialist that can help them best. Oscar isn’t going to fix health care in America single on their own, but it’s nice to see someone do something exciting in the stodgy old business of insurance.
There were a bunch of demos that live mostly in the virtual world. Passomatic allows you to “change passwords in less time than it takes to say ‘woohoo’.” Koding is delivering “the coding environment for the future”, and has some nifty features aimed at distributed teams of developers. Docurated has created a content search/discovery tool that allows users to forget about drives, folders, and clouds – it searches all of your repositories, presents all of the relevant content in a stack ranked order based on relevance, and allows you to manipulate your content at the page or object level. PhotoFeed creates a unified photofeed across all your photo sources. Blogcast, the Hack of the Month, is a widget that allows readers to talk to their favorite blogger (available on GitHub). LiveCube provide an audience engagement tool for events, powered by game mechanics. The demos concluded with OneToday from Google. It’s a mobile app that facilitates community based giving, every day.
So we come full circle: back to the boring old real world, where an intuitive mobile app makes it easier for each of us to make a difference. Tech is not just about friend requests or funding rounds or the battle for the home screen. It’s also about using technology in creative ways to make a difference in people’s lives. Which, by and large, are lived in the physical world.