Early Adopter: Smartphone Not Enough Like HAL? Satarii Wants to Give It an All-Seeing-Eye

Today, the mark of smartphone obsession is bringing one everywhere with you–to dinner, to bed, to funerals, to the altar at your weddings.

If fledgling accessory maker Satarii has its way, the bar on obsession may be raised to having your phone follow you, even when you aren’t holding on to it.

Defining what Satarii is releasing exactly is tricky, as the product only half exists.

Satarii was the brainchild of Vladimir Tetelbaum and Brian Lamb, both of whom were product designers at D2M, a Mountain View, Calif-based product design firm.

Its first product, the Satarii Star, will cradle your Apple iPhone or small, Flip-style video camera and pivot to continually face whomever or whatever is wearing the included tracking fob.

The whole device, or at least the “looks-like” prototype, resembles a large black bar of soap out of which unfolds the phone cradle. Battery powered, it swivels horizontally to keep the smartphone’s camera aligned with the user.

The desired result is that one might have an intimate Facetime chat or record a video while walking around the kitchen making dinner, or across a stage giving a presentation, or around the yard playing with the kids.

I say “desired,” because Satarii is going a route that has grown popular with small hardware makers, by launching a crowd-sourced funding campaign before a single, integrated unit has been built.

Lamb said that their reason for seeking crowd-funding, in this case with IndieGoGo, a clone of the more famous Kickstarter service, had partly to do with good design practices and partly to do with the rarities of starting a hardware company in Silicon Valley.

“We wanted to open it up to crowd sourcing, so we could get really great feedback from the early users, and see how they were using it,” Lamb said.

Satarii’s fundraising goal is only $20,000 (they’ve made nearly $17,000 of that with almost a month left in the funding drive), which seemed like an amount that one might get from an angel investor as well.

So why not the easier route?

“It’s not as easy to get venture money for a hardware company as for a software company,” said Tetelbau. “I mean, what is the profit margin on a virtual tractor…100 percent. There’s no way a piece of hardware can compete with that ever.”

That reality does raise questions about the climate for product innovation and entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley, at least outside of existing major product producers like Griffin.

Lamb added,” “If you look at most successful small product companies, they have either an independently wealthy founder, or a wealthy relation as an early backer.”

He gave the example of the RED Camera Company, which was founded by Oakley Sunglasses founder Jim Jannard.

The sticking point doesn’t seem to be the $20,000, which Satarii will use to create a few hand-built units for the early backers.

The problem is that scaling production to thousands of units requires paying up-front costs for making manufacturing dies and custom fabricated parts, and finding a Chinese factory to do the assembly.

Those costs, just to reach a scale to be possibly profitable on a single product, can easily reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And none of those expenses guarantee distribution or sales.

Thus, there is a long road ahead for Satarii, and just about any company looking to make something new.

For Satarii and the Satarii Star, the next step will be to build the first units to satisfy the initial crowd of funders.

Lamb said he expects that order to take about six months to fill, and that the unit they deliver should look almost exactly like their prettier prototype.

Or so Satarii hopes.

A recent post on WakeMate, the sleep-tracking device out of Y Combinator, highlighted over a year of delays on a device with venture backing and no moving parts.

Whether Satarii is going to manufacture dozens of precise little devices or mainly produce delay notices remains to be seen, but Tetelbaum and Lamb did drop by recently and let us play with both prototypes which worked sufficiently well to creep us out a little.

Enjoy the video:

(Early Adopter is a new column on early-stage start-ups and ideas that will be written weekly by Drake Martinet.)

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