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In the June Strange Tech column, we explore parent-approved cellphones, geofenced natural wonders, and insects delivered to your doorstep.

Utah Business

In the June Strange Tech column, we explore parent-approved cellphones, geofenced natural wonders, and insects delivered to your doorstep.

The strangest tech to come out of Utah in June

Walk into any Utah bar/coworking space/Dairy Keen and it won’t be long before one of the following topics surfaces in conversation: NFTs, the blistering heat, or whether you know who went on a spa weekend or an ayahuasca trip. Hopefully, you’re self-aware enough to know we create our own echo chambers—or do we? With Google Trends as our guide, let’s clear a few things up for the State of Deseret. 

Despite the never-ending NFT buzz, the “metaverse” is the clear conversational winner. The search term received a 1,000 percent increase in searches compared to an 850 percent rise for “NFTs” at the time of this writing. Crypto is another red-hot topic, but think red alert instead of red-letter day. Google Trends has seen a 4,750 percent spike in searches for “Why is crypto crashing?” and a 1,750 percent rise in “Why is Ethereum dropping?” Yowza.

Groan away—you’ll fit right in with the theme of this month’s Two Truths and a Lie, the Utah Tech Edition: Puns. Out of the following three punnily-named startups, which is the fake one? You’ll find the answer at the end of this article.

  • Ontray: a marketplace startup that sells and delivers home-cooked entrees to hungry diners
  • BuzzKill: a pest control startup that humanely rids your home of bee nests
  • Lazorback: a startup that designs a laser-equipped wearable that gamifies correcting poor posture
In the June Strange Tech column, we explore parent-approved cellphones, geofenced natural wonders, and insects delivered to your doorstep.

Creeping on your kids just got easier

There’s a point in every parent’s life where they have to allow their little ones to leave the nest and scavenge for themselves. The fear is real: will they flourish or flounder? Will nasties prey on them? Luckily, the wonders of today’s technology allow children to contact parents at the push of a button, and phone GPS even pinpoints their location. But, according to MTV’s “Catfish” and its ilk, that same mobile device can also be an entry point for the aforementioned nasties.

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

This is part and parcel of a broader issue of parents micromanaging their kid’s interactions. The desire to add extra spyware to kids’ phones has resulted in attorney general Sean Reyes placing Snapchat and TikTok on his hit list. Reyes recently co-signed a letter with 43 attorneys general demanding the social networks embrace parental control apps. “Empowering parents is necessary,” it stated. 

Troomi’s latest update is ominously named “remote text monitoring,” an application they say will protect kids from bullies. The company says its text and photo cloud storage “eliminate[s] awkward phone hand-overs.” 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 cellphones, geofenced natural wonders, and insects delivered to your doorstep.
Photo appears courtesy of Gabb Wireless

Bug out with a monthly BugBuddies box

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

Once my ick factor subsided, I realized this isn’t some dastardly spiders-by-mail shenanigan but a way to introduce elementary school kids to the insect life cycle in a non-threatening way. 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 is paired with an informational video that tells kids about that species. “Hawkmoth caterpillars will shed their skin five times before pupating,” Nielsen says in a video demo. “They shake when they feel threatened.” BugBuddies, which is in the prototype stages, won the Actium Partners Bootstrap Award at the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute’s 2022 Utah Entrepreneur Challenge. 

Subscribers won’t be seeing the full life cycle here, just the end result. Perhaps that’s because 

caterpillar larvae aren’t as cute as butterflies, or that ready-formed pupas are easier to ship? This could change as the company grows, however. “I’ve raised my own caterpillars,” Nielsen says. “If I’ve enjoyed it, other people will too.”

In the June Strange Tech column, we explore parent-approved cellphones, geofenced natural wonders, and insects delivered to your doorstep.

Geofencing The Wave: An almost great idea

For some years now, people wanting to traverse The Wave—those undulating, colorful sandstone rock formations situated along the Utah-Arizona border—have been stymied by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) permit system. Because #instagrammers. 

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

This process is now nixed and replaced with a geofenced 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 show up by 8:30 a.m. sharp the following day for a mandatory briefing and to collect their permits—to be used the day after that. The process is still more dragged out than I’d like, but props to the BLM for trying. That’s more than I can say about other government agencies…

Answer to Two Truths and a Lie, the Utah Tech Edition

The pest control BuzzKill startup is the fake one. Provo-based OnTray is the online marketplace for community cooks. Saratoga Springs-based 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 cellphones, geofenced natural wonders, and insects delivered to your doorstep.

Zara Stone is a freelance journalist covering technology, culture, and everything in between. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and VICE.

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