Smart Cycles, Transparent Time, Other Disruptions

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TechCrunch Disrupt SF, the annual conference held by that widely read tech-news blog in San Francisco, has become a weird, not-so-little circus.

It draws celebrities and politicos (model Jessica Alba and Newark, N.J., mayor Cory Booker each showed up to discuss their online ventures). It features interviews and panels that can be enlightening (Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg admitted that the company botched its mobile strategy by neglecting its apps) and enervating (TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington spent too much time asking Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff how awesome it was to be rich). It even has a soundtrack, an endlessly replayed loop of techno songs that continues to besiege my brain two days later.

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But Disrupt also serves as a useful stage for startups pitching themselves in the hope of earning extra publicity — and a $50,000 prize to one company out of 30. (This year's winner, YourMechanic, promises house-call repairs for your car).

Some of these ventures look too oriented towards the kind of people who attend Disrupt — for instance, an app that filters what people say on all of your other social networks. But others featured clever uses of technology to iron out inefficiencies, tell us more about ourselves and save us time. These five seemed particularly interesting.

Lit Motors

This San Francisco firm showed off its C1, an enclosed electric motorcycle whose steering wheel, sunroof and airbags make it more of a two-wheeled car. Like a Segway, it balances itself automatically with a set of gyroscopes; kickstand-style landing gear deploy when you park it. It will run for 200 miles on a charge, the company says, and should recharge in six hours on a standard outlet. But at a projected price of $19,000 in 2014, it would be an expensive way to streamline a commute.

Chronos

This iPhone app aims to provide "time transparency" by tracking where you spend your day and how long you spend at those places. It uses Foursquare's database to decide which places represent work or play and noting when you're near friends who are also using the app. Think of this service as a FitBit for your calendar instead of your calories, providing quantified data in convenient charts that you can use to improve your life — say, by realizing you spend too much time at the gym and not enough with your kids or significant other.

MindMeld

Expect Labs' free iPad videoconferencing app listens to a conversation for keywords and then presents relevant search results–for instance, if somebody cites the iPhone 5's introduction, the program starts pulling up stories about it. The idea here is to minimize time spent on calls doing frantic Google searches to figure what somebody else just mentioned; that seems like a worthy goal.

PayTap

Consider this a sign of crummy economic times: PayTap allows friends and family to team up easily and securely to pay somebody else's bills without having to send checks back and forth, collect cash, share credit-card numbers or take turns covering the entire tab. The Dallas company charges $1 for each group payment, which beats PayPal's fees in some cases but not others.

Spinlister

Your bicycle spends much of the time sitting idle, so why not make a little money by renting it out, much as you might rent a spare room on Airbnb? This Facebook-linked service lets cyclists in New York and San Francisco do that, allowing renters to choose bikes by size and type (and, in the bargain, illustrating yet another way that technology can make transportation more efficient). Rates can go from $5 to $130 a day, with insurance included for bike owners; the site collects 25 percent of the proceeds.

Credit: Rob Pegoraro/Discovery

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