Awesome tech you can’t buy yet: Cheap AR goggles, 3D printing on a conveyor belt

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.

Hammocraft — multipurpose hammock stand

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, easier to carry, simpler to set up, and offer better all-around comfort. But you know what they can’t do? Float. And that’s a bummer, because a floating hammock would basically be the best invention since individually-wrapped cheese slices.

But if lazily floating over a body of water while suspended in midair has always been a dream of yours, then we have good news for you: there’s finally a way to make it happen.

The Hammocraft is a hammock suspension system designed to sit atop just about anything. If you don’t have access to a body of water, you can set it up it on the ground and support up to five hammocks at once — but that’s just the most basic use of its abilities. If you feel like stepping up your lounge game, this crazy contraption can be affixed to a pair of kayaks (or paddleboards, or whatever) to make it buoyant. That means you and four of your closest friends can enjoy your hammocks in the middle of a lake — or even take them down a lazy river.

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Digitsole Smartshoe — activity tracking smart shoes

Ever since Marty McFly’s iconic self-lacing sneakers first appeared in 1989’s Back to the Future Part II, tinkerers and designers from all over have sought to make high-tech footwear a reality — and Digitsole’s new Smartshoe stands as one of the most intriguing efforts yet.  Currently raising funds on Kickstarter, these kicks that not only look like they come from the future, but also boast a smorgasbord of smart features, ranging from auto-lacing functionality and Bluetooth 4.0, to sensor-based health analytics and built-in heating pads.

“We don’t want to gadgetize footwear, we want to make the most of it,” Malik Issolah, head of marketing for Digitsole, said. “We started by developing connected insoles, heating and tracking. Then our passion for footwear pushed us to create the craziest shoes. And what’s crazier than a shoe that works by itself? It started as a fun experiment, but then we realized this innovation could make a real change for people who struggle to put shoes on for various reasons.”

“We thought it was high time we came up with a shoe that could meet most any people’s needs in terms of health monitoring,” Issolah continued. “That’s why we included an auto-regulated heating system for comfort and blood circulation issues, a tracker to keep an eye on your activity, and finally a 3D analyzer to give you a full report of your health.”

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Blackbelt — conveyor belt 3D printer

3D printers have come a long way in the past few years. It used to be that they were only found in well-funded engineering labs and the basements of uber-geeky enthusiasts — but now they’re available to anyone with $150. On top of that, the range of materials we can print with has greatly expanded in recent years. It’s not just ABS and PLA anymore; 3D printers can make stuff with wood, clay, nylon, and even metal these days. But despite all the advances we’ve seen lately, there’s still one big limiting factor that’s holding 3D printers back: build envelope. Right now, if you want to make an object that’s bigger than your printer, you’re out of luck — but what if that wasn’t the case?

That’s precisely the idea behind Blackbelt — a clever new 3D printer that recently launched on Kickstarter. Instead of printing onto a static build plate with a fixed set of dimensions, the Blackbelt creates objects on top of a small conveyor belt. This allows the machine to move the print along the Y axis during the printing process and create objects that are actually longer than the printer itself. Alternatively, this configuration also makes it possible to print a continuous stream of objects without the need for an operator to remove each completed part from the build plate.

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Aryzon — ultra-affordable augmented reality headset

With its affordable $20 DIY headset, Google Cardboard set out to make virtual reality accessible to everyone.  Now a new Kickstarter campaign by the startup Aryzon wants to do for augmented reality (AR) what Cardboard did for VR. Thanks to a set of lenses, some cardboard, and a smartphone camera, the comapany’s ultra-cheap AR headset is able to add a virtual layer over the user’s real-world environment.

The result promises to provide stunning AR for quite literally 1 percent the cost of the $3,000 Microsoft Hololens. And it all comes flatpacked in a DIY kit that’s thin enough to fit through your front door mail slot!

“What makes this exciting is that it allows everyone to experience augmented reality,” Maarten Slaa, founder and CEO of Aryzon, said. “We have designed the Aryzon to be as easy to use as possible. It comes as a DIY package, and if you’ve finished arts-and-crafts [class] you will be able to build it. Using the Aryzon is just as easy: just open the app, slide in your phone, and [we] will guide you through the possibilities of AR.”

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The City Clock — Architecture-inspired clock

While certainly not as familiar as regular analog or digital clock faces, our inner geekiness has always dug binary clocks — clocks that display numbers in binary fashion, using only 1s and 0s. Yes, they’re impractical in the sense that they require more than a quick glance to read, but they’re also neat, nerdy fun — and their use of on/off lights can make for some eye-catching timepieces.  That’s certainly the case for The City Clock, a beautiful binary decorative clock that just arrived on Kickstarter.

Resembling the kind of classic Parisian building you’d spot on a stroll along the Seine, the City Clock employs the use of light-up windows to indicate time. From the impressive levels of detail, you can almost imagine the tiny French inhabitants switching lights on and off as they enter or exit rooms.  The first floor of the house equals 1, the second floor equals 2, the third equals 4, and the top floor equals 8. Using this system, it’s possible to create every digit from 0 to 9 by adding one number to another. All that’s needed is a bit of mental math.

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