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 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 even the most well-intentioned crowdfunded project can fail. Do your homework before cutting a check for the gadget of your dreams.
Internet security is a hot topic these days, as people become more aware of the fact governments, corporations, and even individuals have the ability to track their activity online. There remain plenty of ways to protect your identity online and one of the most popular methods are virtual private networks (VPNs) — these essentially function as a middleman between users and the websites they visit. For those who want to take advantage of VPNs but do not want to subscribe to one of the many VPN services out there, Betterspot seems like a viable option. This small, lightweight device functions as a portable VPN, allowing you to safely browse the internet whether you’re at home, a coffee shop, or anywhere else.
The creators of Betterspot claim it’s compatible with all major operating systems and various devices, so if you have a PC, an iPhone, and a Fire tablet, they should all work fine. In addition to protecting your identity online, VPNs have another benefit: allowing users to get around region locks on content. If you do a lot of international traveling, a portable VPN might be a great tool to have.
Every jazz guitarist has encountered this nightmare scenario at some point in their life: it is a nice day, you are walking through the park, guitar slung on your back, when suddenly the people passing by who notice your instrument cry out, “Play something for us! Play Take Five!” Smirking and happy to oblige, you reach for your axe, only to realize you do not have an amplifier on you. Unless, of course, you have the Mighty Flea.
Weighing roughly 13 pounds, the Flea is easy enough to carry around. It runs off a Lithium battery pack which the creator says lasts for two hours of play. It uses a class-D amplifier which converts power to sound more efficiently than many other amps — of which often lose energy in the form of heat. The Flea has a clean, bright sound well-suited to jazz compositions, though metalheads may want to look elsewhere.
Many craftsmen appreciate the power of water jet cutters. Using high-powered streams of water laced with abrasive particles, these devices carve objects out of many different materials and because there’s no heat involved, there exists little chance of warping or structurally changing the material in the process. Unfortunately, these devices are often bulky and very expensive. This is exactly something the creators of the WAZER hope to change, offering a water cutter which is small enough to fit in any workshop while still powerful enough for any job.
Capable of running off tap water and household power outlets, users have the option to set up the WAZER without the need for industrial infrastructure. The device’s companion software allows users to upload design files from various programs, so users may easily program the machine to make the precise cuts they want. The machine comes with a lid to protect users from debris and as a safety measure, the WAZER does not cut while the lid is open. If there is one drawback to the WAZER, it seems to be slower than industrial water cutters but this is a small price to pay for the convenience it offers.
Phones, tablets, mp3 players; there are so many mobile devices these days and managing the different cables for them is often a hassle. The makers of the x-connect want to help people cut down on wire clutter with a cable that connects to every Android and Apple device. How can such a thing be possible? The power of magnets.
The x-connect comes with various tips (micro-USB, USB-C, and Apple) which users insert into the charging ports on the appropriate devices. These tips fit securely and contain neodymium magnets, which means the magnetic charging cable snaps into place and stays there; the hold is so strong, you’d even have the ability to hoist a tablet by the cable without it falling out. Now when a friend asks to charge their iPhone, you no longer have to say “Sorry, this is a Samsung house.”
Readers who owned a Game Boy Advance back in the day may remember the Advance Wars games, a series of titles which offered simple but surprisingly deep tactical gameplay on the go. Sadly, developer Intelligent Systems seems to have abandoned the franchise, having not released a new installment since 2008’s Days of Ruin. A new studio, Project Milk, is trying to carry the torch with Tiny Metal, which takes the core elements of Advance Wars and updates the formula for a contemporary audience.
The development team consists of various veteran Japanese developers, including Hiroki Kikuta (Secret of Mana) and Hiro Inaba (I am Setsuna), and they have uploaded a prototype of the game so potential backers may see if they like it. The creators intend on releasing the title for PC but have included Mac OS and Linux versions as stretch goals.