Kickstarter is cultivating terrific product designers… who might not know what they’re doing

Twine sensor kickstarter project

It was almost a year ago that I backed my first Kickstarter project, Twine, a “wireless square with sensors and a simple web app to set rules.” Theoretically, I could stick one on my back door and tell it to text me when my kids open the back door around 2:27 p.m.

Twine was funded with $556,541 versus its $35,000 goal.

Winter came and went, flowers bloomed everywhere, I co-wrote and published a book, and my family had a nice vacation in Hawaii. Still no sign of Twine.

Then I switched gears and backed a very low tech venture, Little Bonsai’s The Clip. It promised to be my “capable and dependable daily companion sporting a whole range of different functions.”

Think of a flat, steel bottle opener that goes on your key ring, and you get the general idea. Somehow in my excitement over crowdfunding, The Clip seemed so enticing I ordered four of them.

It turned out that the clips were too inflexible to be nearly as useful as I had hoped, but at least Little Bonsai delivered.

The Clip by Little Bonsai kickstarter project crowd fundedI also backed the decidedly low tech Unfolding Tree (as in Christmas), and it arrived in time to make the journey to Vermont.

The score so far: Low Tech 2, High Tech 0.

Next came two more sensor projects. The first was Ninja Blocks, which is “controlled with ‘if this then that’ style tasks and connects your things to the web.” It’s pretty similar to Twine, except that the sensor has a weird little stick figure on the prototype version.

Back in March they were funded with $102,935 versus a $24,000 goal. You guessed it – no sign yet of Ninja Blocks.

Finally, during the late summer I backed the big daddy of all Kickstarter sensor projects, Smart Things. Their summary reads like God’s job description, “Adding intelligence to everyday things in your world, so that your life can be more awesome.”

Smart Things attracted a whopping $1.2 million. In fairness, it’s been less than two months since they took my money, but the trend continues: no sign of the new sensors.

SmartThings sensor kickstarter crowdfunding projectDon’t get me wrong; I still love the idea of individuals backing other individuals, and of innovation moving faster outside companies than it does inside them. But the cold, hard reality of this admittedly small sample is that innovation often moves slower at Kickstarter’s tech projects than it does in the corporate world.

It’s obviously a lot easier to make a three-minute Kickstarter video about cool new sensors than it is to make cool new sensors. But that’s likely only one aspect of this problem.

With crowdfunded projects, no one vets the entrepreneurs. Since most of us only put $10 to perhaps $300 at risk, many people probably don’t take the time to check into the entrepreneurs’ backgrounds, or to investigate whether any real companies are already making what the Kickstarter project creator proposes to “invent.”

Visualight wifi light bulbFor example, Visualight, which just last week passed its $27,500 Kickstarter goal, proposes to make “an open-source Wi-Fi enabled light bulb that can visualize data as colored light.”

To my eye, this project looks awfully similar to Ambient Devices’ Energy Orb.

A few months ago I spoke to their CEO, Pritesh Gandhi, who explained that years ago this device was his firm’s first product, originally called the Ambient Orb. The company built and sold over “one million units” of devices that display what Pritesh calls glanceable data, before realizing that the best way to make money in this space was to license its technology rather than act as a manufacturer.

On the surface, Ambient Devices is years ahead of Visualight, not just in terms of actually knowing how to make glanceable data devices, but also in terms of actually running a business.

My guess is that most of the hundreds of people who backed Visualight have never heard of Ambient Devices.

I’d like to think that those of us who back Kickstarter projects are smart, forward thinking and ahead of our time. But there’s a little voice in the back of my head that worries there are too few checks and balances in this space, and that it is far too easy for entrepreneurs to overpromise and get in over their heads.

True Kickstarter fans – or entrepreneurs from any of the projects described here – please feel free to reassure me.

Bruce Kasanoff is a speaker, author and innovation strategist who tracks sensor-driven innovation at Sense of the Future. Kasanoff and co-author Michael Hinshaw teamed up to explore more of the opportunities unearthed by disruptive forces in Smart Customers, Stupid Companies.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Health & Fitness

Immune cell discovery takes us one step closer to a universal flu vaccine

A group of international researchers have made a discovery which could take us one step closer to the universal, one-shot flu vaccine that people around the world have been dreaming of.
Home Theater

Wireless headphones are finally awesome, and these are our favorites

With sleek form factors, prime audio quality, and the freedom of untethered listening, there has never been a better time to pick up a pair of wireless headphones. These are the best ones currently available.
Home Theater

The best Dolby Atmos movies for your home theater sound as good as they look

If you've got your hands on some sweet Dolby Atmos gear, the next step is to find films that take advantage of it. These are our picks in several genres for the best Dolby Atmos movies currently available on Blu-ray and streaming services.

Need a new tablet? Here are the best iPad deals for February 2019

In the wide world of tablets, Apple is still the king. If you're on team Apple and just can't live without iOS, we've curated an up-to-date list of all of the best iPad deals currently available for December 2018.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

NASA celebrates Earth’s incredible natural beauty with free photo book

NASA has published a fabulous new book featuring stunning imagery captured by its satellites over the years. A hardback version is available for $53, though it can also be downloaded to ebook readers for free, and enjoyed online.

This new all-in-one flashlight is a power bank, lighter, and screwdriver

The Pyyros modular flashlight can perform numerous field tasks, from hammering to starting fires. If you back it on Kickstarter now, you can score some savings on this innovative flashlight and multi-tool, but act fast: This early-bird…
Movies & TV

Hilarious new Kickstarter aims to fix Scorcese’s last scene in The Departed

A fan of The Departed and apparent hater of rat-as-symbolism imagery has launched a Kickstarter campaign to digitally erase the rodent from the end of Martin Scorsese’s 2006 movie.
Emerging Tech

Baristas beware, Bbox cafe uses robots to brew your morning coffee

Want your morning coffee and pastry prepared by robot? Bbox, a new coffee shop in downtown Berkeley, California, lets customers place their order by app and then uses automation to take care of the rest.
Emerging Tech

This ridiculous new flamethrower makes Elon Musk’s look like a cigarette lighter

The XL18 Flamethrower is a flame-shooting beast on steroids, capable of firing off bursts of flame more than 110 feet in length. The best part? You can order it over the internet today.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX just nailed its most challenging Falcon 9 rocket landing to date

If you've been following the SpaceX launch calendar, you know this week marks the first launch from Cape Canaveral in two months. We have the details on where you can watch the launch live.
Emerging Tech

Touchdown! Japan successfully lands its Hayabusa2 spacecraft on asteroid Ryugu

Japan's space agency has just completed the latest stage of its extraordinarily complex mission, successfully landing its Hayabusa2 spacecraft on an asteroid millions of miles from Earth.
Emerging Tech

Delivery drones: NASA to test advanced traffic control system for cities

Delivery drone services are edging closer as NASA prepares to demonstrate its advanced drone traffic management system, which it claims offers safe and effective control of autonomous aircraft in urban areas.
Emerging Tech

Kickstarter campaign aims to help make 3D-printed space habitats for Mars

Mars X-House is an ambitious project that's intended to create a prototype future Mars habitat using 3D printing. And, thanks to a new Kickstarter campaign, you can be a part of it.