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Cycloramic App's Success Proves MEMS are Attractive to Investors

In a recent episode, the Cycloramic app had the Shark Tank investors practically falling over each other trying to “win” the investment in Egos Ventures, the app’s developer.  If you’re a fan of the show (as I obviously am), you’ll know that that almost never happens. 

I first heard about Cycloramic, from--where else--a teenager.  It was at a friend’s family get-together at the holidays, and people were sitting around a table that must have been 12 feet long.  He showed how you can prop an iPhone 5 or 5S (but not the 5C, because of the contoured edge) on its end, fire up the app, and tell it to take a picture.  The app uses the phone’s ability to vibrate to rotate the phone 360 degrees, taking pictures as it goes along, and then stitching them together for one panoramic.  I was stunned by how well it worked, but thought it was mainly a cool party trick. 

A month later, the app’s Shark Tank episode airs and the app jumps to number one on the paid charts.  When the episode was filmed (June 2013), the app had ~600,000 downloads.  The app now tops more than 8 million downloads, with more occurring due to the show’s airing. 

One major con for the app is that the phone has to be balanced on a smooth, flat surface, such as a granite counter or a glass table.  This severely limits the places where this app could be used, but as the developer, Bruno Francois, mentioned, they are working to develop a base that will allow any phone to use this app.  This would presumably allow the user to operate the app in more places. 

There is at least one other app in the App Store that has the same function:  Twister, by Jadoos Inc.  Because the developer of Cycloramic has a utility patent, there may be some litigation in the future between the two companies. 

Semico Spin

There are innovations being designed into smartphones which will enhance this app.  At the recent CES 2014 both Invense and STmicroelectronics introduced gyroscopes specifically for the camera module to optimize Optical Image Stabilization (OIS).  The Cycloramic app could use the data from the sensor fusion subsystem to improve control of the vibrating motor by interacting with the inertial motion sensors – accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer.  Semico offers a full range of research on MEMS - check it out here.

The Sharks, including Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner, clearly see a lot of potential value in this app.  The ability to manipulate the phone’s vibration motor in this manner is truly innovative.  It’s possible that Apple could purchase this company and have a truly differentiating feature in its phones.