Hi, Kickstarter! Zabosu’s developed an incredible, almost magical, service that lets one person actually take control of another person, anywhere in the world there’s a 4G cellular signal. It’s not quite as crazy as it sounds. The person being controlled, who we call a “zuk,” starts our app and sticks their phone in a pocket, with the camera facing out, to stream live audio and video of their surroundings.
The person controlling them, who we call a “zab,” connects to the stream with a web browser to see and hear everything going on around the zuk, from the zuk’s point of view. The zab also speaks to the zuk using the computer’s microphone and the zuk’s earpiece. Because the zab’s paying the zuk, the zuk does what the zab tells them to do. The intention, in most applications, is to make the zuk a human extension, or projection, of the zab into whatever environment the zuk happens to be in.
Some of the things we imagine Zabosu being used for are sightseeing, gaming, remote tradeshow attendance, and technical assistance. There are also situations where you might want to control multiple zuks simultaneously. Let’s say you’re looking for a new office and there are four candidate spaces. You could hire four zuks and send one to each space, even at the same time, to evaluate all the candidates in less time than it would take you to visit even one. Maybe you’re not looking for an office, though. Maybe it’s a wedding venue. Or a resort for the holidays. You could even assemble an army of zuks and make a bid for world domination.
These are just our ideas, though, and one of the reasons we're using Kickstarter is to find out how others might use Zabosu. In the survey that goes out at the end of the campaign, we’ll be asking you what your plans are for it.
The Zabosu web site will let zuks (who are independent contractors and not employed by Zabosu) create pages for themselves describing where they’re based, what they’re willing to do as a zuk, what they’ve specifically done for zabs, and so on.
It’ll also let zabs find and schedule zuks based on relevant characteristics like location, availability, and skills. The site also archives the videos, so zabs, zuks, and others can watch them later.
The app used by the zuk (only Android 4.1 “Jelly Bean” and later at launch) shows them where they are, where they’re supposed to be, what they’re supposed to be doing, and other handy stuff.
So, what does this have to do with Kickstarter? Well, we’re really excited about enabling fun, valuable, and unprecedented human interactions, but, just because we think this stuff’s cool, doesn't mean enough other people will to make it a viable business. That’s where you come in. If we hit our funding goal, we’ll know we’re onto something and keep working at it. The hardest and riskiest parts are already done. What’s left is all stuff the team has done many times before, so we think we’ll be able to launch by September; just to be safe, though, we’re going to give ourselves until the end of the year.
But there’s a twist to this campaign that you don’t often see on Kickstarter: refunds. You see, we won’t be using $25-and-up pledges for development. That money’s just going to sit in the bank as credits for backers to use with the service. That way, if we’ve misjudged the balance of the project, and we’re not able to launch by the end of the year, we’ll be able to refund most of your money, because we won’t have spent it.
Everything that Kickstarter and Amazon haven’t taken in fees (approximately 9% of what backers contribute), will be returned to the backers who have contributed $25 or more. This amounts to about 90% of your contribution. How many Kickstarter campaigns make that promise?
There is one catch, however. Since zuks will set their own rates, and we don’t know what those will be yet, we can’t tell those of you pledging as zabs how much zuk time your pledge will actually buy. Based on conventional task-helping services, plus cellular data charges, we expect to see zuk rates in the $20 - $30/hour range, but we just won’t know for sure until the service launches. We may also offer a way for zabs to post how much they’re willing to pay, and let zuks accept what’s being offered.
So, that’s Zabosu. An incredible way to do things you’ve never been able to do before. How will you use it? Click the green button to find out!
Zabs and zuks will both be able to create accounts for free. Zuks will set their own rates, and Zabosu will collect the estimated charges from the zab (via credit card) at the start of the session. Zabosu will deduct its fee ($5.00 plus 10% of the zuk's fee) from these charges and pass the balance on to the zuk within 48 hours. The delay is to allow Zabosu to issue a refund in the event of a dispute between zab and zuk that resolves in favor of the zab.
Zuks and zabs will be able to store for free up to three videos totaling 30 minutes. Additional storage may be purchased at rates still to be determined.
Karl Lautman, Founder & CEO: A graduate of Stanford and the University of Chicago, Karl has over 20 years of experience in sales and marketing as an employee of, or consultant to, many established and start-up high-tech companies, including Intel, Oracle, Motorola, and Nvidia. An accomplished sculptor in his spare time (with work in public, private, and corporate collections), Karl has successfully completed one other Kickstarter project involving the production of over 60 copies of “Primer,” one of his pieces.
Shivakumar “Shiv” Mahadevappa, Video & Apps Architect: While working for a variety of companies like LG, Shiv has built streaming stacks, IPTV platforms, and transcoders, and has extensive experience creating products which are used by millions of consumers. His areas of expertise are streaming and coding video/audio, cloud environments, distributed and parallel computing, CDN distribution, scaling, and mobile. Do not play chess with him. You will lose.
Risks and challenges
In terms of basic functionality, everything is already done and working except the e-commerce portion allowing us to charge zabs and pay zuks. That's easy and will take less than a week. Most of the remaining work will focus on cleaning up the user experience on the phone app and web site, and testing, testing, testing.
One area of risk is how the site will respond to the load of increasing numbers of zabs and zuks. While everything that doesn't happen on the phone takes place in Amazon Web Services, and is designed for scalability, we're not able to realistically simulate hundreds or thousands of simultaneous sessions. Our plan is to let increasing groups of backers into the system (starting with $50 backers and then $25 backers) every couple of weeks once we launch, allowing us to manage the growth and plug any leaks as they appear.
Another area of risk doesn't have to do with us as much as the Internet. Latency (the time between somebody saying or doing something and when the other person sees or hears it) on Internet audio/video depends on many variables that are out of our control. In our experience, we've often seen latency of 1 - 2 seconds (which is quite usable), but it can be over 5 seconds (which makes communication virtually impossible). Until we have data from many people on different cellular networks (which will still only comprise some of the variables), we're not going to be able to make any general statements about what your experience will be like.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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