NYU ITP Pitchfest #5: Antidotes to a Technical Culture


Written by:

5th Annual NYU ITP Pitchfest 2015

Design for self assembly. Connected jewelry for brilliant moments. A replacement for wasteful packaging. Assistive Kitchen tools. Apps for enhancing relationships and serendipitous encounters. Discovery and peer review apps for emerging performing arts. It may be possible for technology innovation to more genuinely connect us to each other.

Red at NYU eLab

Each year at the NYU ITP Pitchfest, a workshop series and Pitch event to leading investors in NYC, we witness an emerging group of digital technologists and artists who explore antidotes to what technical culture has wrought. They have grown with the unintended consequences of perpetual innovation – social media sites that make us more lonely, on demand food services that rely on large volumes of packaging, wearable that distract us and vibrate but create no deeper meaning, knowledge, or connection.

The students skip over the obvious “pain points” and dive deeply into the unmet latent needs that are deeply submerged and underserved by tech quick fixes and distraction apps.

Once they emerge from their first or second year at ITP exploring the imaginative use of communications technologies, Pitchfest encourages students to think of the projects ambitiously. We ask all participants to determine their purpose – why they are driven to do this work and their personal story that motivates them to pursue their vision. We encourage a deep dive customer discovery exercise to test their assumptions and business model hypotheses, and a storytelling exercise to communicate their vision. By telling a story with a vision that is clear enough, compelling enough, and big enough, they have the chance to attract the right people and resources.

Here was this year’s lineup of ideas that need to exist in the world:

Handled! by Zoe Logan

User-informed design approaches for assistive kitchen tools

Empowering differently abled users to access the pleasure of cooking

A graduating ITP student, Zoe developed the first in a series of kitchen tools as part of her thesis project. Zoe has a history in designing, building and prototyping but was motivated to develop assistive technology objects through her experiences at the Ability Lab at NYU. The series includes a stabilizing cutting board and adaptive modular handles for enhancing existing kitchen utensils. From Zoe’s personal statement: “Assistive technology…seems like a field with enormous potential for developing objects that can be interesting and well designed while actually making an impact on a user’s experience and that is important to me.” The designs are available for download-to-3D print on Thingiverse, and Zoe intends to conduct further research before commercializing her series of products.

Learn more about Zoe’s project and view her ITP thesis.

Download Handled at Thingiverse
Download Handled at Thingiverse

Luma Legacy: Alina Balean and Karol Munoz

Smart jewelry for every brilliant moment

Alina and Karol are entrepreneurs exploring the concept of smart jewelry. Their team observed that jewelry always comes embedded with a story. When Karol traveled through Europe with her family, her mother collected charms in each city as a memento. Karol careful curated her photos and comments to a close circle of friends (often far away from Facebook, which reserved for more impersonal updates). Luma Legacy seeks to create smart jewelry that connects digital storytelling the relationships in our lives. For each charm purchased, the owner or gift giver can create a digital story, accessible in a companion app, that is unlocked at a future time, or in a future location determined by GPS. The team have graduated from ITP, and Luma is actively looking for support to launch their first piece.

Get updates about the Luma progress from their website.

Learn about Luma in an early incarnation as a necklace for Alina’s thesis project.

Foodprint: Shaun Axani

Replacing wasteful packaging with a cyclical system for the on demand food economy

Foodprint is a return to the old fashioned milk bottle. Shaun and team have identified a critical fault in the on demand food economy: the huge amount of paper, plastic, and hauling energy required to deliver food direct to the home. If you’ve ever ordered Fresh DIrect, or experimented with new services like Blue Apron, you may have noticed the boxes and plastic containers required. The team aims to make and distribute a deposit-based system of reusable eco-friendly containers, and sell directly to grocery services and restaurants to offer customers an alternative to wasteful packaging.

Shaun is entering his second year at ITP, and will be further exploring the Foodprint concept. Follow Shaun’s work on his personal website.

4 App: Yu Ji

An app for people living in metropolitan areas or who are new to a specific space to explore and start building connections in real life.

Yu Ji created 4 app to experiment in new way of interaction and connection. 4 works as an icebreaker, it helps people to smile, say hi and potentially start building connections/friendships with strangers in real life. For those that have tried other location-proximity-based social networks like Highlight that exposed too many people, too soon, 4 App explores how this interaction could better mirror actual relationship building. After downloading the app, you receive notifications when you pass by another user, but their identities are progressively revealed over time.

After three interactions when you cross each other’s paths, you’ll be given a chance to message the person in real time, and meet in real time, or forever lose the opportunity to say hello in person.

See how 4 App works in this video.

4App – 4 Connecting Strangers from Yu Ji on Vimeo.

4 App is pending iOS app store release sign up here for updates.

ReStage: Stream Gao and Elena S.

Creating a community for events within the performing arts that are underserved

Stream and Elena are dance performing arts students who seek out the sub-genres of dance and the performing arts that are not well covered by the mainstream old guard media publications of New York. They both recognize the time and complexity involved in being an active fan and supporter of certain dance companies and other performing arts. They triangulate multiple websites, ticket sales sites, and are left to leave their own reviews in awkward places like TripAdvisor and Ticketmaster. Stream and Elena envision a supportive app-based community that supports dance performance companies, and creates a place for performing arts enthusiasts to quickly uncover emerging companies, and support a more diverse ecosystem of the arts.

Follow Stream’s work as a digital performance artists on her website.

Feel.me: Oryan Inbar, Chang Liu

Emotional interpretation of your chats and messages – bring back what we’ve lost – from body language, tone of voice, to the rhythm of words.

Oryan and Change speak English as a second language, and felt they had to learn text as a third language when they moved to NY. They spend most of their time communicating to friends and family through chat and messaging apps, and seek to find a better way to express themselves and understand how their messages are received. Feel.me is an app that uses color as the background message buble to express emotions as the new text interface. Over time, you will be able to look back and graphically visualize relationships to see how the pattern and behaviors emerge.

Oryan and Chang are first year students moving into their second year, and they plan to further explore their early prototype.

Keep in touch with Oryan and Chang on their websites.

Self Assembly Architecture Toys: Alejandro Puentes

Complex concepts and systems learned through playful encounters

Alejandro grew up on Tinker Toys, then Legos, and became an architect. At ITP he became interested in design for self-assembly and systems thinking, and he developed multiple prototype design tools to understand how these systems work. See Alejandro’s mesmerizing fractals self assembling in a bowl:

Alejandro will explore creating these design building blocks for the STEM learning market, selling to parents and educators who want children to explore concepts not easily taught within existing disciplines of thought: complexity, anti fragility, systems thinking, and self-organizing systems. As Alejandro would say – the FUTURE of EVERYTHING.

Stay in touch with Alejandro’s progress on his website.

A huge thanks to our supportive investor critics this year: Adaora Udoji, Ryan Jacoby and Frank Rimalovski.

Thanks all who came to our fifth annual ITP Pitchfest, our mentors this year John Bachir and Michael Krasnodebski, and to ITP for promoting and sponsoring, our mentors John and to the NYU eLab for hosting us.