I scored a window seat in a restaurant the other day, which was great until the sun shifted and sent an annoying glare through the blinds.
Wouldn’t it be handy, I thought, if this place had light-sensing SmartBlinds like I saw at Olin College recently?
SmartBlinds aren’t on the market yet, but they were among the impressive innovations by Olin students at the school’s end-of-semester exposition.
Others included model tugboats that used infrared sensors to navigate around buoys and an iPhone attachment that helps ophthalmologists perform cornea exams.
SmartBlinds started as a class project for Chu-Hao Fan and three other sophomores. They attached motors to a set of blinds to control height and tint and connected the motors to light and temperature sensors. A wireless microcontroller can be programmed to adjust the blinds according to changes in light and temperature.
“So say you want to let in light in the morning,” Fan said. “You can set the blinds to open at any pace as the sun comes up.”
The iPhone attachment for cornea exams is being used by eye doctors just months after junior Riva Kahn Hallock designed it. Hallock worked on the instrument with a Wellesley company called Eidolon Optical, which makes other tools for eye doctors.
Until now, said Eidolon’s president, Victor J. Doherty, doctors have struggled to capture images of what they see through magnifiers, sometimes holding cameras up to lenses in awkward attempts to document their exams.
He said Hallock quickly solved the problem and helped the company sell about 40 of the new devices — for $300 a pop — at the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s annual meeting in New Orleans last month. Orders have been streaming in since.
The tugboats have further to go before customers start lining up, but they could find a market as unmanned vessels gain broader acceptance. The idea is that full-size boats could serve as aquatic drones, perhaps rescuing stranded ships without putting crews at risk.
For now, models are confined to a pool. But sophomore Alex Crease has a bigger goal in mind: sailing an unmanned boat across the Atlantic Ocean within two years.
“It’s amazing how in our classes we get to develop cool projects that apply what you know and cause you to think about how it impacts the world,” he said.
It will be up and running next month, with a goal of making 10 or 12 early investments over the next 12 to 18 months, said David Chang, Where’s former vice president of product and now head of the Boston office of PayPal. The fund will make investments of $50,000 to $75,000, focusing on mobile apps, ad tech, consumer technologies, and digital media.
The fund will be operated using a new equity crowdfunding platform called Launch Angels, run by Shereen Shermak, Chang’s wife and previously cofounder of BuysideFX, a foreign-exchange trading startup.
“We’re all very passionate about early stage startups,” Chang said. “We have a little bit of liquidity — not a crazy amount — but we collectively know a lot of people in the early stage community.”
Running the fund on the new Launch Angels platform made much of the administrative complexity vanish. Among the Where veterans who will be part of the new fund, in addition to Chang: Craig Forman, Dan Gilmartin, Niall Hawkins, Doug Hurd, Arik Keller, Paul Barnhill, Jing-ta Chow, and Sarah Hodkinson.
Some other members of the local tech scene are also joining in, including Nanigans chief executive Ric Calvillo, Adam Towvim of TrustLayers, and Adam Medros and David Krauter of TripAdvisor.
General Catalyst has had a string of recent successes. It was an early investor in Kayak.com, which Priceline.com bought last year for $1.8 billion. Prior to that, two of its local portfolio companies, Brightcove Inc. and Demandware Inc., went public. More recently, it has backed such hot startups as Snapchat, which reportedly declined a buyout offer from Facebook for about $3 billion.