At any given moment there are approximately a zillion different crowdfunding campaigns happening on the Web. Take a stroll through Kickstarter or Indiegogo and you’ll find there’s no shortage of weird, useless, and downright stupid projects out there – alongside some real gems. We’ve cut through the Pebble clones and janky iPhone cases to round up the most unusual, ambitious, and exciting projects out there this week. Keep in mind that any crowdfunded project — even the best intentioned — can fail, so do your homework before cutting a check for the gadget of your dreams.
MAID — Smart microwave and convection oven
While most big-name appliance manufacturers are busy making fridges that can send texts, washing machines that can wirelessly power your gadgets, and other appliances of questionable value; Palo Alto-based startup SectorCube was hard at work building a smart appliance with features that might actually be useful. The MAID oven functions as both a microwave and convection oven, so it can handle a bag of popcorn just as easily as it can cook a batch of cupcakes. it’s also hooked into the Web and comes loaded with a slew of different sensors, so you don’t even need to enter in temperature or duration — just tell MAID what you’re cooking (with verbal commands!) and it’ll automatically choose the optimal settings. It also recognizes gesture commands, can read recipes to you out loud as you cook, and can even be controlled from afar via an accompanying smartphone app. That’s just the tip of the iceberg — check out our full post to read about the rest of MAID’s next-gen features.
B4RM4N — Smart cocktail shaker
The B4RM4N is a sensor-studded cocktail shaker that aims to streamline the process of mixing drinks. Under the hood, it’s equipped with a high-precision weight sensor, a set of accelerometers, and a Bluetooth radio that allows it to relay data to your smartphone. With the help of an accompanying smartphone app, this badboy can tap into a drink database to fetch recipes, and then guide you through the mixing procedure step by step. Once you’ve connected the B4RM4N to your phone, you simply fire up the app and select the cocktail you’d like to make. As you pour booze into the shaker, the onboard weight sensor will determine in real time how much you’ve poured, and let you know when to stop with a colored LED indicator light. No messing with jiggers or other measuring gear; the B4RM4N takes care of all that for you. Dozens of people have taken a stab at the same idea, but as far as we can tell, the B4RM4N is the first device of its kind that incorporates all the weighing and sensing tech directly into a mixing vessel.
Dexmo — Force-feedback virtual-reality glove
Instead of providing simple haptic feedback and vibrations like oldschool game controllers, the Dexmo exoskeleton glove is designed to provide your fingers with resistance; thereby enabling you to ‘feel’ the presence of virtual objects with your hands. This is made possible with the help of a cleverly-engineered braking system. When inactive, the brakes don’t impede the wearer’s finger movement at all, and allow for full freedom of motion. When switched on, however, individual braking mechanisms will prevent the user’s fingers from moving up or down when they come into contact with a ‘solid’ virtual object. If the wearer were to grab a virtual ball, for example, the brakes would stop the person’s fingers at a certain point, making it feel as if there’s a spherical object in their hand. And that’s not all — Dexmo can also be used as an input device for just about anything: a robotic hand, the arm of a virtual character, an RC car, or even the lamp on your desk. The possibilities are nothing short of staggering.
Warblr — Bird song identifier app
Ever found yourself wondering what bird you just heard on your morning stroll through the park? There’s an app for that — or at least there likely will be soon. Recently launched on Kickstarter, the Warblr app can identify bird species by listening to their chirps. Similar to song-identifying apps like Shazam and SoundHound, Warblr uses your smartphone to record a nearby bird song and then analyze it in real time with sophisticated machine-learning algorithms to determine the species of the performer. That might sound fairly straightforward, but deciphering bird chirps is a bit more complicated than identifying a song. Unlike a song you hear on the radio, bird songs aren’t sung by just one artist. Tweets and chirps are sung with varying speeds and cadences, so even among birds of the exact same species, identifying a particular song can be tricky. Warblr’s algorithms have to account for all this — not to mention the fact that individual birds often have large repertoires of different songs and calls — which is quite an impressive feat.
MegaBots — Robot fighting league
Remember Real Steel? That horrible movie where Hugh Jackman and some pre-pubescent brat join forces to enter a robot fighting league? Well if you can look past all the bad parts of that movie (the acting, writing, directing, cinematography — I could go on, but I won’t), and just focus on the underlying premise of the movie, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what MegaBots is all about. These guys are basically looking for 1.8 million dollars to start the world’s first giant robot fighting league. We’re not talking small-scale, remote-controlled bots like they had in that show Robot Wars back in 2001 — we’re talking full-on Hawken-style mechs with real people inside of them, duking it out in front of a live audience. Will the project succeed? Probably not — but we’d definitely be pretty pumped if it actually did. Giant robots fighting to the death in an arena would be part demolition derby, part science fair; so geeks and rednecks could finally find common ground and the world might finally achieve utopia.