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Awesome tech you can’t buy yet: Solar tents, growing furniture, a beer pong bot

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.

Cinch — Solar-powered pop-up tent

Generally speaking, tents are a pain in the ass. Even if you spring for a high-end model that’s well designed, chances are high that you’ll spend a good chunk of time setting it up. In the best case scenario, it might only take you three minutes or so — but if you went the el-cheapo route and bought the Coleman that was on sale at Wal-Mart, you’re in for at least 15 minutes of frustration before you can relax. Oh, and don’t even think about trying to erect it by yourself — we all know that feeding poles through sleeves is a two-man job.

Cinch is different. Tired of toiling with all the nonsense associated with traditional tents, creator Jake Jackson set out to create a tent that didn’t require lots of set-up time and effort. The fruit of that labor is Cinch, a high quality pop-up tent that both erects and breaks down in a matter of seconds. Instead of poles, it’s equipped with strong (but flexible) wires built into the body of the tent, so you don’t have to feed them through manually every time you set up. It’s also equipped with a set of detachable solar panels and a rechargeable battery, which helps keep your gadgets juiced up during your adventures.

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Pongbot — Randomized beer pong robot

Remember that viral video of a bunch of kids playing beer pong with the cups resting on Roombas? Well as it turns out, somebody actually had that idea quite some time ago, and has been developing a purpose-built product — called Pongbot — that can achieve the same effect. Like the best remixes of classic games, Pongbot doesn’t tamper with a proven formula too much. You still throw ping pong balls into cups and presumably still take drinks throughout play. But the robotic cup holder will move while you play, controlled either via remote in “Manual” mode, or in a more freewheeling “Auto” mode.

“It’s all about making beer pong a little more skilled and fun, versus trying to hit a stationary target,” Pongbot co-creator Jayson Esterow told Digital Trends. “It’s a lot of fun in both modes. Initially we had thought [Pongbot] would just move from side-to-side, but that would make it too too easy. In ‘Auto’ mode you’re contending with random movements: It might start going forward a bit, then left, then right, then spin. You really can’t predict what it’ll do.”

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Dot — Ultra-precise Bluetooth beacons

Dot is a new product built around a relatively old idea: Bluetooth beacons. These things were first conceived a few years ago, and were supposed to solve the occupancy-sensing problems that had been plaguing home automators for years — namely, that GPS-equipped smartphones lacked the precision needed to tell when you’ve moved to another room inside your house, and passive infrared sensors only work when there’s continuous motion in the room. To solve this problem, innovators proposed a system of small Bluetooth transmitters that could be placed around your home that use Bluetooth Low Energy to triangulate the relative location of your smartphone.

With this more detailed location information, your whereabouts can be used to trigger contextual, proximity-based actions — things like turning lights on/off when you enter/leave a room, sending you a reminder when you open the fridge, or even making music follow you around the house by jumping from speaker to speaker. That’s precisely the kind of stuff Dot can do, so if you’re looking for an easy way to dip your toes into home automation, you should definitely give it a look.

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Terra — Growing furniture

Sick of cheap plastic lawn chairs that crack, break, and become useless after a few seasons of use? Looking for something a little bit more natural and long-lasting? Check out Terra — a unique new furniture kit that makes it easy to build living, growing seats in your backyard. The kit consists of a cardboard scaffold that, once assembled, creates an array of cells you can then fill with dirt. When the cells are full and the seat is shaped to your liking, you simply sprinkle it with grass seed, water it periodically, and watch as the mound slowly transforms into a grass-covered chair.

Neat idea, right? Obviously not everybody will be willing to install permanent seating in their back yard — or take the time to mow the upholstery when it gets too long — but if you don’t mind putting some extra effort into construction and upkeep, grass furniture would certainly add some character and utility to an otherwise boring landscape. The only downside? The kits (which consist of nothing but cardboard pieces) cost a fortune. You’d almost be better off making them yourself.

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Zeeq — Sleep-tracking, snore-stopping smart pillow

In the past few years, a veritable boatload of gadgets have been released that aim to monitor, quantify, and improve the quality of your sleep. There are apps that track your movements, alarm clocks that track your REM cycles, and even sensors that you stick under your bed to monitor your heartbeat and breathing while you slumber. Same goes for snoring tech. Between all the breathe-right strips, throat sprays, and face masks, there’s something for every kind of snorer.

Zeeq basically takes all these sleep tracking and anti-snoring technologies and rolls them into one product: It’s a snore-stopping, sleep-monitoring smart pillow. Using an array of different sensors, the pillow tracks not only how much you move each night, but also how loud you saw logs. If you ever get too loud and risk waking your partner, the pillow will vibrate to gently encourage you to change positions. Zeeq even has speakers built into its body, which allow you to listen to music or white noise while you rest, without disturbing the person next to you.

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