On Parent-Approved Cell Phones, Geo-Fenced Natural Wonders, and Other Weird Tech

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OWalk into any bar/coworking space/Dairy Keen in Utah and it won’t be long before one of the following topics comes up in conversation: NFTs, scorching heat, or if you know who went on a spa weekend or an ayahuasca trip. I hope you are self-aware enough to know that we create our own echo chambers – or do we? With Google Trends as our guide, let’s clear up a few things for the state of Deseret.

Despite NFT’s endless buzz, the “metaverse” is clearly the winner of the conversation. The search term has received a 1,000% increase in searches compared to an 850% increase for “NFT” at the time of this writing. Crypto is another hot topic, but think red alert instead of red letter day. Google Trends recorded a 4,750% increase in searches for “Why is crypto crashing?” and a 1,750% increase in “Why is Ethereum going down?” Youza.

Moan, you’ll fit right in with this month’s theme Two Truths and a Lie, The Utah Tech Edition: Puns. Which of the three shyly named startups is the fake one? You will find the answer at the end of this article.

  • Ontray: a market startup that sells and delivers home-cooked meals to hungry diners
  • BuzzKill: a pest control startup that humanely rids your home of honeycombs
  • Lazorback: a startup that designs a wearable equipped with a laser that gamifies the correction of bad posture

Crawling on your kids just got easier

There is a time in every parent’s life when they must allow their young to leave the nest and feed themselves. The fear is real: will they thrive or flounder? Will the bad guys come after them? Luckily, today’s marvels of technology allow children to contact their parents at the push of a button, and the phone’s GPS even pinpoints their location. But, according to MTV’s “Catfish” and the like, that same mobile device may also be an entry point for the aforementioned villains.

Enter Troomi Wireless and Gabb Wireless, two Lehi-based startups hoping to solve this problem. These companies arguably make phone ownership a joyless experience — no games, no social media, no porn (OK, fair enough) — and, with Gabb Wireless, no internet.

It’s part and parcel of a larger problem of parents micromanaging their children’s interactions. The desire to add additional spyware to children’s phones led Attorney General Sean Reyes to put Snapchat and TikTok on his hit list. Reyes recently co-signed a letter with 43 attorneys general demanding that social networks adopt parental control applications. “Parental empowerment is necessary,” he said.

Troomi’s latest update goes by the ominously named “Remote Text Monitoring”, an app they claim will protect children from bullies. The company says its text and photo cloud storage “eliminates[s] awkward phone transfers. But let’s be honest, parents: are you just giving yourself a pass to read the modern equivalent of their diary?

In the June Strange Tech column, we explore parent-approved cell phones, geo-fenced natural wonders, and bugs delivered to your doorstep.
Photo appears courtesy of Gabb Wireless

Get rid of with a monthly BugBuddies box

When I see a creepy-crawly, my first instinct is to reach for the repellent rather than admire their antennae and intricate markings. Maybe you react differently? This is what the team behind BugBuddies—Anika Nielson and Jared Christensen of Snow College — are banking on their bug-by-mail subscription box.

Once my ick factor subsided, I realized this wasn’t some dastardly spider-in-the-mail scheme, but a way to introduce elementary kids to the cycle of life insects in a non-threatening manner. Subscribers receive a monthly delivery of a moth or butterfly chrysalis which, if kept warm and dry, will blossom into a colorful, winged being. A pupa evolution!

Each package comes with an informative video that tells kids about this species. “Hawkmoth caterpillars shed their skin five times before pupating,” Nielsen explains in a video demo. “They tremble when they feel threatened.” BugBuddies, which is in the prototype stage, won the Actium Partners Bootstrap Award at the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute 2022 Utah Entrepreneur Challenge.

Subscribers won’t see the full lifecycle here, just the end result. It may be because

Aren’t caterpillar larvae as cute as butterflies, or already formed pupae easier to ship? However, this could change as the company grows. “I bred my own caterpillars,” says Nielsen. “If I enjoyed it, other people will enjoy it too.”

In the June Strange Tech column, we explore parent-approved cell phones, geo-fenced natural wonders, and bugs delivered to your doorstep.

Geofencing The Wave: An almost brilliant idea

For the past few years, people wanting to cross The Wave, those colorful, rolling sandstone rock formations along the Utah-Arizona border, have been blocked by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) permit system. Because #instagrammers.

Wannabe Wave-goers had two options: pay $9 to enter an online lottery that awards 48 passes per day (and can be entered up to four months in advance), or enter an in-person lottery for 16 slot machines at various field offices. The walk-in aspect offered hope to the unorganized but came with a side of misery. Hundreds of hopefuls would congregate in tiny waiting rooms, waiting hours for the announcement.

This process is now canceled and replaced by a geo-fenced lottery system. Optimistic hikers within a small radius of the various offices enter via mobile and receive the 7:15 p.m. results from the comfort of their Airbnbs. Winners must arrive by 8:30 a.m. sharp the following day for a mandatory briefing and to collect their permits, to be used the same day after this. The process is even longer than I would like, but I commend the BLM for trying. That’s more than I can say about other government agencies…

answer to Two Truths and a Lie, Utah Tech Edition:

Pest control startup BuzzKill is the fake one. Provo-based On the tray is the online marketplace for community cooks. Based in Saratoga Springs Lazorback was dreamed up by a Westlake High student, along with a physical therapist, as part of the High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge.

In the June Strange Tech column, we explore parent-approved cell phones, geo-fenced natural wonders, and bugs delivered to your doorstep.

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