Every crisis produces its own must-have products. Today, people are scrambling for facemasks and shields. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, it was Geiger counters, as Japanese residents worried about the safety of their environments. So that year, a group called Safecast partnered with a hackerspace in Tokyo and others to develop an affordable portable radiation sensor called the bGeigie. They funded it through Kickstarter.
The coronavirus pandemic, too, has proved a rich source of inspiration for campaigns on crowdsourcing platforms. Some are small in scope, such as those developed through Kickstarter's just-launched Inside Voices, a program aimed at encouraging the creation of projects--a digital album of bedroom demos, DIY cocktail recipe videos--that can be produced with resources in the home. Many others, though, are a direct response to the crisis: Kickstarter has received around 200 Covid-19-related submissions in the past few weeks.
Some of those projects didn't work for Kickstarter because they were underdeveloped or were essentially fundraisers, says senior director of communications David Gallagher. The platform also rejected others that claimed to diagnose, treat, or prevent Covid-19. "We are not the FDA," Gallagher says. "We can't review people's product plans to make sure they are going to do what they say they are going to do."
What crowdsourcing can do, he says, is showcase artists, inventors, and other entrepreneurs who are finding creative and constructive ways to use the pandemic as an outlet for their work. Below are three new projects trying to make a difference during the crisis.
Recognizing small achievements
One exemplar of the Kickstarter ethos applied to Covid-19 is Faye Simms, a freelance illustrator and designer with a specialty in comics and video games. Simms, who lives in Exeter, England, has for years created stickers to support people with anxiety and depression. With the cancellation of trade shows and conventions she normally attends, Simms worked up sets of social distancing and self-care achievement stickers. She quickly racked up nearly 800 percent of her roughly $250 goal.
The stickers, printed on vinyl sheets in packs of two, reward achievements like "Family Dinner Over Skype," "Cleaned All High-Contact Points," and "Sang While Washing." Recently she added a hand-washing poster and a game called Store Cupboard Bingo ("Drank the Cooking Wine," "Cut the Mold Off.")
"There have been a ton of interesting studies about how gamifying simple things in everyday life can have positive impact on mental health, helping us cope with difficult circumstances," Simms says. "It's important to take a moment to figure out what we need, to do what we can do. I hope these stickers will be a visual reminder of that." She plans to make sticker sets left over after supporters' orders are fulfilled available on Etsy, with discounts for health care workers and others hurt by the pandemic.
Enforcing social distancing
Inventor Blair Wyatt's Social Distancing Badge is like a pandemic-themed version of those signs that display the speed of approaching cars. The badge, pinned to clothing or worn on a lanyard, employs a sensor that bounces light off an object to determine how far it is from the wearer. Its display--roughly 2.5 inches by 1.5 inches--gives a digital readout of distance, so someone coming toward you knows the second they've breached the six-foot barrier. Wyatt, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, based it on another product he created called MappyDot, which helps prevent collisions by drones and robots.
The idea for the Social Distancing Badge "started as a bit of a joke" during a Skype hangout a few weeks ago, Wyatt says. His friends were complaining about grocery shopping while other customers breathed down their necks at the checkout or scooted close to count the rolls of toilet paper in their carts. The main challenge was making the device light enough to distribute worldwide and manage concerns over shipping batteries. The solution: Use a small button cell battery and a high-contrast, low-power LCD screen to minimize the need for charging.
Wyatt plans to produce the badges at his company, SensorDots, which makes tiny sensors and also does contract electronics work. He is looking to raise $4,300 and at the time of this article's publication was more than halfway there.
Last month, Brig Ricks was sitting in the office of his not-yet-locked-down startup, Burly, a Traverse City, Michigan, company that lets construction professionals rent equipment from other construction professionals. "I was trying to be extra conscious about not touching my face, but I realized I was scratching my nose," Ricks says. "And I said, 'Man, I wish I had something that would remind me not to do that.'"
Ricks began sketching plans for a bracelet embedded with sensors and activated by a transmitter in a small pin. Clip the pin to your lapel; when your hand wanders toward your face, the pin detects that motion and sends an electrical signal to the bracelet, which starts to vibrate. Ricks has no engineering background, but he had spent time in Croatia while working as a corporate lawyer and knew an engineer there with expertise integrating hardware and software. He contracted with the engineer to create a prototype and incorporated the new business, calling it Good Vibes.
But Ricks learned that not everyone with a Covid-19-themed idea is welcomed by Kickstarter. He had hoped to raise $65,000 with a preorder price of $25. But the platform turned him down, characterizing Good Vibes as a product claiming to help prevent the spread of the disease. "We're claiming to help break the face-touching habit," Ricks says. "A benefit of not touching your face, as all experts agree, is reduced transmissions of Covid-19, as well as other pathogens."
Ricks says the rejection was "a little morale deflating and frustrating," but he quickly found another home for Good Vibes--on Indiegogo. The campaign goes live on April 27.