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Awesome tech you can’t buy yet: Blimp drones, portable theaters, and more

At any given moment, there are approximately a zillion crowdfunding campaigns on the web. Take a stroll through Kickstarter or Indiegogo and you’ll find no shortage of weird, useless, and downright stupid projects out there — alongside some real gems. In this column, we cut through all the worthless wearables and Oculus Rift ripoffs to round up the week’s most unusual, ambitious, and exciting projects. But don’t grab your wallet just yet. Keep in mind that any crowdfunded project can fail — even the most well-intentioned. Do your homework before cutting a check for the gadget of your dreams.

OIO Amp — Foldable iPad speaker system

Tablets are often marketed as portable entertainment centers, and they certainly are a nice way to watch movies or play games on the go. The only thing keeping an iPad from being a true home entertainment system is the sound quality from the speakers, which just have the boost necessary to create engrossing soundscapes. The team at OIO wants to change that with the Amp, a portable Bluetooth speaker designed specifically to hold an iPad.

The Amp uses an aluminum frame, making it lightweight but sturdy. The two speakers can fold into the frame, allowing for easy carrying. Of course, the most important part of any speaker system is the sound. How does the Amp perform? We had a chance to test the Amp recently, and our reviewer noted that it “offered some impressive stereo imaging and also provided playback with virtually zero digital lag.” Even if you do not own an iPad, the Amp could still be for you; although the case is only built to clamp on to an iPad, any Bluetooth tablet or phone should be able connect and play audio through the speakers.

Read more here.

Mune — Electronic instrument

Electronic music is popular, but as the creators of the Mune note, many people find live performances odd. After all, it’s hard to get a feel of what electronic artists are doing on stage as they fiddle with their various knobs and sliders. What electronic music needs is a way for such artists to play organically. Enter the Mune, a digital instrument that anyone can pick up and play, giving electronic artists all the interaction of an acoustic instrument.

Using the various touch controls on the Mune, users can simultaneously emulate instruments, bring in drum beats, adjust pitch, and mix sound. Using the companion software, you can assign different functions to the different buttons. The Mune appears to be small and lightweight enough to be easily picked up, and the buttons are arranged in such a way as to encourage users to experiment with various combinations. Creating an entirely new instrument is a bold move, but the Mune seems like it’s on the right track.

Read more here.

The Wolfe — External GPU for laptops

One of the biggest drawbacks for most consumer laptops is the lack of power. If you want to play high-end games, you may need to invest thousands in a gaming laptop, which are often heavy and produce a lot of heat. This is particularly troublesome for Macbook owners, as even the Macbook Pro is not designed with gaming and virtual reality in mind. The creators of the Wolfe noted that just as one can buy an external hard drive to give a laptop more storage, it could be possible to make an external GPU to give laptops a performance boost. Thus, the Wolfe was born.

Weighing roughly 2 pounds, the Wolfe is certainly portable, and can plug into Thunderbolt 1, 2, and 3 ports, so older and newer Mac owners can use it. The box contains a Nvidia GTX 950 (or 970 in the Wolfe Pro), and when you plug your computer in, it offloads all the difficult tasks of rendering graphics to the Wolfe, rather than the onboard graphics card. This is nice for Mac users, as they should be able to play not only the latest games without framerate issues, but even use VR devices like the HTC Vive.

Read more here.

Falcon Airship — Inflatable drone

Drones are a popular hobby these days, and it is not hard to see why. They take the long-established fun of RC cars to the sky, and you can even use them to take pictures from up on high. For as cool as they are to some, however, drones can be a nuisance to others. Their distinctive buzzing can be irritating to people on the ground — it can also be a problem if you are trying to record footage with audio — and there is always the worry about a drone falling out of the sky and landing on somebody.

Arctic Sky hopes to provide a quieter, safer alternative to drones with the Falcon. Essentially a personal blimp, the Falcon is made of a lightweight, tear-resistant fabric that can be filled with helium. According to the project outline, the Falcon will be able to stay afloat for more than 24 hours and is quiet, so you can record audio without the sound of blades whirring. Try finding a drone that can do that.

Read more here.

Sienci Mill One — Desktop CNC milling machine

Modern 3D printers are a neat way to create various models and objects, but they can be slow, and only work with specific materials. Although programmable milling machines exist and are capable of carving various materials into any shape you want, they’re simply too large and expensive for personal use. At least, until now. The Sienci Mill One, designed by a group of students from Ontario’s University of Waterloo, is a tabletop CNC milling machine that gives consumers the ability to create objects without needing a lot of space or money.

Operating on three axes, the Sienci uses small rotary tools to carve a variety of materials, including wood, aluminum, brass, polycarbonate, and foam. The machine measures 250 x 200 x 100 millimeters, and the creators claim it will only require a few hours to assemble. The Sienci should work with any g-code, and the makers have partnered with Onshape and Kiri:Moto to create accessible apps for beginners.

Read more here.