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TECHNOLOGY

Need a Startup Idea? 6 Gadgets to Invent Now

Inc. tech reviewer John Brandon sees the good, the bad, and the ugly gadgets of the world. But here are six things he'd really like to see.

As a product reviewer and contributing editor at Inc. Magazine, I see hundreds of gadgets a year. Some of them are useful, others seem like they were invented by a preschooler. Yet every time FedEx or UPS pulls up to deliver a package, I’m still excited to see what might be inside—it’s what has kept me interested in gadgets and technology for the last 10 years.

Since I test so many gadgets, I also tend to think about new business ideas. Unfortunately, I can’t drop everything and start a company in my spare time. So, readers, I pass on to you six ideas for potential new products:

1. Text-to-spoken-word device
I want someone to make a device that bridges the gap between geeks and non-geeks. While smartphone apps and the Siri service built into the Apple 4S are helpful, your phone is not always available or sitting in an open room. A small device that sits on the counter would be more useful. The idea is simple: When I receive a text, this gadget—about the size of a small clock radio—would read it aloud. The device would have no buttons except an on/off switch. You plug it in, set it on the counter, and it would work. You could configure it remotely, and it would attach to any open wireless network automatically. The voice-reading text messages would not sound robotic. And, of course, those sending text messages would know to avoid proper names and unusual words, since speech recognition technology is not quite as advanced as it should be. The device would achieve the simple goal of communicating a text aloud to your family or co-workers, say, when you are running late, or stuck on the side of the road.

2. Tornado alarms
Here’s another gadget that would not have any complex settings or buttons. Someone may have already invented this, but not quite with the same features. If you live in the country like I do, you know that it’s next to impossible to hear one centralized tornado warning bell when you live miles from town. So the idea would be to develop an alert for the home that works exactly like a smoke alarm: You snap in the batteries, then use an included mounting bracket for the install. When there’s a tornado or some other major weather-related warning, the alarm would sound. The device would be for mass deployment so there would not be any configuration involved—weather information could be transmitted by SMS or on a 3G network, similar to how the Amazon Kindle lets you download books.

3. Frisbee disc with a GPS sensor
Computer experts have talked for years about the “Internet of Things”—referring to a vast network of sensors for everything in the world. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet, and that has not helped my disc golf game. So I’d like someone to invent a disc with an embedded GPS sensor (or something like the wireless network in a BIKN or ANT sensor). The sensor would not inhibit the disc in terms of flight distance or accuracy. The sensor would connect over a handheld GPS or your smartphone, showing up on a map with a high degree of accuracy.

4. Software to measure online viewership
This idea has some major hurdles to overcome. One of them is Nielsen, the company famous for Nielsen Ratings, which already has technology to measure online television viewing. Of course, Nielsen’s main focus is traditional television, so an enterprising company could invent a small piece of code that anyone could insert into a video stream. That’s a lot to ask, sure, but then again no one ever thought Napster would catch on or that YouTube would be so popular. There’s also a precedence for a small piece of code gaining traction with major companies—such as the OAuth code used to authenticate logins between websites. The code would feed into a website, one that is probably modeled after Wikipedia, where it would be easy to see the top-viewed show on the Net.

5. App to track everywhere I have ever been
Another idea that keeps coming up, especially on business trips, is a way to track everywhere I have been in the world. This would be slightly different from Google Latitude or even Foursquare because the idea is not to share my location with the world, or let everyone know I have visited the same hotel a dozen times. Instead, I’m thinking of a tracker that works more like the FitBit in that anyone can wear it or run an app on their smartphone. The device would not just track a workout or where I went on a run that morning, but would track my every movement—all day, every day. At any time, I could pull up a website that shows when I visited Los Angeles or drove on the Autobahn. Years from now, I could look back and remember all the places I have visited. Eventually, a tracker like this could be linked to photos, videos, and other experiences.

6. Simple way to combine Internet connections
For years, I’ve wondered why there isn’t a simple way to combine multiple broadband connections into one fast network. Say you have a DSL line and a Mi-Fi device in the office, both running at 2Mbps. I’d like a software program that combines both feeds into one for a 4Mbps connection. I know Mushroom Networks and Cisco already make hardware appliances that do this. What I’d like is an app for Windows or Mac that does it on the fly.

If you “borrow” any of these ideas, drop me a line—I’d be interested to know how these gadgets turn out in real life.

 

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Last updated: Nov 28, 2011

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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