Five start-ups to watch from IFA

Look past the washing machines at IFA and you’ll find a host of tech start-ups

The big tech players are on show at IFA in Berlin this week, but they've made room for startups, research and innovative projects, too. Here's our pick of the most intriguing ideas from across Berlin's Messe.

Sensorwake

Forget waking up to a screeching beep or talk radio. Instead, one French youngster has invented an alarm clock that gently prods you awake with scents, including mint, espresso, chocolate, cut grass, and even croissants or toasts. While we'd rather wake up to such smells because someone was handing us a freshly baked pastry, Sensorwake olfactory alarm clock is a fun second.

Yes, it's a silly idea. But there's two reasons we think Sensorwake is worth watching. First, tech has long focused on visual inputs, followed by audio. While we aren't calling for a return to smell-o-vision, it's intriguing to see the other senses pulled into use.

Second, 19-year-old founder Guillaume Rolland created the olfactory alarm while still in high school, and it picked up a Google Science Fair award in 2014. Whatever he comes up with next, we'd take a sniff at.

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The Sensorwake is already available for 99 with scent cartridges that last for a month available for 5 each. And don't worry if the scent of chocolate keeps you dreaming rather than kicking you out of bed a more traditional sound alarm plays after three minutes if you don't wake up.

Niu smart button

French firm NodOn was showing off its Niu button, a programmable device for controlling any piece of tech using If This, Then That (IFTTT). The small, waterproof buttons have two years of battery life and can be programmed for a single, double and triple press, meaning each can have three uses.

The buttons can be programmed to sound an alarm on your phone, so you can find your handset if it's lost at home, or to fake a call, letting you press the button in your pocket to get out of a boring conversation. It can trigger your camera for selfies, start a smart car, or control smart home appliances without giving a smartphone to children.

Aurelien Blaise, customer experience manager, said he uses Niu to let his daughter turn on their smart television; the five-year-old taps the Niu, and the TV turns on and flips to her favourite channel, much easier than teaching a child how to navigate three remote controls.

Alongside the hundreds of existing IFTTT recipes, you can programme your own: Blaise said one user created a way to use the waterproof tool to flip to a different song while in the shower. The Niu is available now for 29.

PicoBrew

These Seattle-based beer fans offered a smart brewing kit over crowdfunding sites, but have now come out with a second product that's cheaper and easier to use. "We took the same tech and made it for people who love craft beer without the trouble," said investor George Dyke.

Rather than mix and make your own beer recipes, the new version is sort of a Keurig for craft beer. The company sells customers a Pico Pack that they drop into the machine, adding only water to make their favourite pilsner or IPA at home. Customers can buy from a range of breweries or design their own "freestyle" Pico Pack.

That aside, there's little user intervention, though the machine does let customers adjust the bitterness and ABV, so you can make a lighter beverage or crank it up, said Dyke.

The benefit, Dyke says, is you get fresh beer from a wider variety of brewers from around the world. Each batch makes five litres of beer. It takes two hours to brew but also needs to be left a week or two to ferment, so you'll have to plan ahead.

The Pico Brew is available for preorder for $799 with Pico Packs costing $30 each.\

DigitSole

Running apps can only do so much. This company instead embedded a Bluetooth chip and 3D accelerometer directly into a smart insole, making it easier to get detailed information about calories burned, steps taken, and even analyse your gait.

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The hardware weighs only 7g, so it won't affect your running style, though it will suggest improvements to your strike pattern, advise you to warm up longer, and warn you when you're becoming fatigued and it's time to stop to avoid injury.

The standard version costs 99 for a pair with a battery life of six to eight days, but there's also a heated version for walking or working in cold climates, with a battery life of six to eight hours.

Cujo

Network security is an oft ignored side of personal data protection, and the risk increases as we connect smart home devices to our home routers, as most fail to have adequate security features. Cujo aims to add an extra level of protection, stopping hackers from peeking at us via smart cameras or jumping from our connected lights to our computers.

Plug the Cujo into your router, and it will spend two days detecting your connected devices and analysing their behaviour. That behavioural model will then be used as Cujo monitors traffic, to see if anything abnormal happens at which point the device will be blocked. It also features intrusion detection, safe browsing and remote access.

Cujo only looks at IP devices, so can't see anything connected via Bluetooth or IoT protocols such as Zigbee, a protocol that lets devices talk to each other, though the latter will normally have a hub connected to the router, which Cujo will be able to monitor.

Cujo costs $99 for the hardware and the same again for an annual subscription, which keeps the software up to date against new threats. 

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