Awesome tech you can’t buy yet: Art lenses, tankless diving, Shazam for birds

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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.

MC Hammie — 3-in-1 hammock/tent/blanket

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Over the past few years, many backpackers have taken to replacing their traditional tents with a hammock, and it’s easy to see why. Hammocks are often lighter to carry, faster and less complex to set up, and offer better all-around comfort to boot.

Hammocks are not without their drawbacks, however. For starters, they require properly spaced and sized trees to be useful, and most can only hold one or two people. Additionally, they tend not to be especially adaptable, mainly serving only one purpose. But a company called Wildish is looking to change that with the introduction of the M.C. Hammie: a hammock it promises will be the most versatile ever made.

The M.C. Hammie launched on Kickstarter last week. It’s made from rugged ripstop nylon that has been treated with a durable water-resistant coating. It functions just like a standard hammock, allowing users to sling it up between a pair of trees and relax in comfort both at home or while in the backcountry.

But, unlike most other hammocks, M.C. Hammie can also serve as a waterproof ground blanket with enough room for up to eight people. In a pinch, it can also be converted into an emergency shelter, not unlike a traditional tent.

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AirBuddy — tank-free diving apparatus

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If you’ve always wanted to try scuba diving but have been scared off by the high cost of gear and the prolonged certification process, this new Kickstarter gizmo just might be your dream come true. The AirBuddy promises to deliver a full diving experience that offers the ease and simplicity of snorkeling. It’s a diving apparatus that doesn’t use a tank, thereby making it easier and more accessible for beginners and pros alike.

Weighing in at just 17.2 pounds, the AirBuddy is allegedly the smallest and lightest diving device ever created. The unit is able to cut a considerable amount of weight by doing away with the traditional scuba tank. Instead, it employs a unique design, which includes an air compressor that floats on the surface above the diver, pumping fresh air through a flexible tube that’s connected to a mouthpiece regulator.

The device can reportedly run for up to 45 minutes on a rechargeable battery, allowing the diver to descend as far as 40 feet below the surface without being encumbered by heavy equipment in any way.

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WarblrGA — Shazam for birds

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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 will be soon. Recently launched on Indiegogo, 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 — an impressive feat.

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NeoLucida XL — tracing tool

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Ever heard of the camera lucida? It’s an old 19th century optical tool that artists utilized to help them draw things that they saw — kind of like tracing an object in the real world. It’s centuries old, but has now been updated for the modern age by two university art professors.

Pablo Garcia, an assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Golan Levin, an associate professor at Carnegie Melon, devised an inexpensive, portable version of the camera lucida, which allows the user to “draw from life,” as the creators put it.

The NeoLucida XL is “ … a prism on an adjustable stand. When an artist looks down through the prism, they see the world in front of them, plus their hand on the page, combined in perfect superimposition. In short, a camera lucida allows you to trace what you see.”

Highly popular in the 1800s, it’s an effective method in portraitures. In Garcia and Levin’s modern version (shown above), the NeoLucida XL is highly portable, with a large prism attached to flexible stand with clamp. There’s no electricity required, nor are there any computer components reproducing the image, so you can take it anywhere and use it without any prior experience.

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Neptune — swappable art lens system

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Interchangeable lens cameras offer incredible versatility, but what if you could also swap out the individual pieces inside that lens? What kind of crazy, beautiful, and outrageous photos could you create? If you want to find out, we highly suggest you check out the Neptune from Lomography: a convertible art lens system that’s essentially three prime lenses in one. Both launched and fully funded on Kickstarter last week, the system uses an unusual but historically inspired modular design.

The Neptune consists of three parts. The first is the lens base or mount. Most photographers will only need one, but creatives that shoot with multiple brands can use the same lens on their Canon, their Nikon or their Pentax by swapping out the base.

The second piece is a swappable aperture plate. As an art lens, the plate sits inside the camera’s usual diaphragm to alter the shape of the background bokeh from stars to teardrops.  The final piece is the front lens, the section that determines the lens’ focal length.

The project is expected to launch with a 35mm f/3.5, a 50mm f/2.8, and an 80mm f/4, though Lomography is already designing additional parts to expand the system from 15mm to 400mm.

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