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.
Sam – Modular Web-connected electronics kit
In all the years that I’ve been keeping up on the crowdfunding scene, I’ve seen a lot of different modular kits that aim to simplify and democratize the process of building/programming DIY electronics. I can think of at least a dozen off the top of my head, but the most most recent example of this that’s worth writing about is SAM, a U.K.-based Kickstarter project that brings together sensors (inputs) and actuators (outputs) with a graphical programming interface. This makes it extremely simple to link pieces together and make them do what you want, and because each module is equipped with Bluetooth, you can connect/control them via an app on your smartphone. This also makes it possible for Sam modules to connect to the Internet and interact with a range of different webapps, such as Facebook or Twitter. It’s a little on the spendy side as far as DIY electronics go, but based on what we can see in the video, the whole ecosystem looks extremely polished and intuitive.
Darma – Smart seat cushion
If you work in an office environment and spend the majority of your life hunched over in front of a computer screen, we’re willing to bet that your posture is probably atrocious. But not to worry — thanks to an upcoming device from Palo Alto-based startup Darma Inc., you’ll soon be able to leverage technology to help fix the problem. Over the past couple years, the company has developed a small cushion that sits between your butt and your office chair to monitor your posture. Using an array of embedded sensors that can read where you’re placing your weight, the Darma cushion can reliably discern between when you’re slouching and when you’re postured up. On top of that, it’s also uses ballistocardiography to read your heart rate, respiration rate, and movement. With all this information, the cushion can actually tell when you’re stressed out, and even push breathing and relaxation exercises to your phone to help you calm down and get back on track.
Matchstick – Firefox OS streaming dongle
Chromecast’s reign of domination as the most affordable streaming device might soon be coming to an end. In the past few months, a handful of competitor streaming dongles have sprung up, and many boast additional features and functionality that Chromecast does not. The latest such device is Matchstick — the first Wi-Fi connected HDMI stick built for and officially certified by Mozilla. At roll-out, the Matchstick team plans to deliver a core set of apps for the device, with Netflix, HBO Go, and Pandora already aboard, similar to the early days of the Chromecast before Google opened up the SDK kit and let the dongle fly. As its developer community grows, the company claims the Matchstick will quickly garner new apps and functionalities. Taking Firefox’s open source format to heart, the company claims it has removed “any barriers to development and manufacturing” by making the reference designs and hardware schematics available for download. Check out our full article on it here.
5AXISMAKER – 5-axis milling machine
Additive manufacturing – AKA 3D printing– gets all the attention these days, but despite the feverish pace at which the technology is advancing, traditional manufacturing processes still carry certain advantages — namely, the ability to work with materials other than plastic. They’re coming along, but 3D printers that print anything other than PLA or ABS are ridiculously expensive, so if you want to make something out of metal or wood, your best bet is to go with a traditional CNC mill. 5AXISMAKER is essentially a simplified version of what you’d find in a full-fledged machine shop, but with 5 different axes instead of the traditional four. This additional degree of freedom makes it possible for the machine to mill shapes that would otherwise be impossible to make. It’s also much faster than your average 3D printer, since it doesn’t have to carefully lay down plastic row by row. So if you’re looking for a fast way to turn the idea in your head into a tangible object, look no further.
PlexiDrone – Ultra-portable auto-follow drone
For general consumers, drones are available in two flavors. There are those toy-like, preassembled quadcopters that are easy to use but limited in functionality, or professional, heavy-duty versions that are difficult and expensive to put together, as well as more complex to operate – each seemingly catering to users on opposite ends of the spectrum. But what if you’re somewhere in the middle — a hobbyist after something more robust, or a filmmaker who wants something easier to use? That’s the idea behind the PlexiDrone, which its maker, DreamQii, calls “the first ultra-portable, swarm-capable, easy-to-control camera robot made for professional photographers, filmmakers, hobbyists, and developers.” In addition to being super durable and compact, it’s also equipped with a GPS-based auto-follow function, so you don’t even have to fiddle with the controller if you’d prefer not to.