Awesome tech you can’t buy yet: Life-seeking telescopes, scuba arms, and more

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.

PLANETS Telescope — exoplanet observation telescope

The PLANETS Foundation believes that we can find life outside of the solar system within a decade. How? By closely examining exoplanets orbiting nearby stars. The problem is we don’t currently have the observation technologies necessary to begin the search — but that might soon change.

Years ago, the PLANETS (Polarized Light from Atmospheres of Near Extra Terrestrial Systems) Foundation embarked on a mission to build a sophisticated new telescope that could do the job. Now the project is nearing completion, and the foundation has turned to Kickstarter to help fund the final polishing stage of the PLANETS telescope mirror.

Currently under construction, the PLANETS telescope will be the world’s largest off-axis telescope (1.85 meters) for exoplanetary science. The telescope site is located on Haleakala, a 3,048m (10,000ft) volcano on the island of Maui, Hawaii, one of the world’s best astronomical sites.

Scheduled to be completed by 2019, the PLANETS telescope is a pathfinder project for even more sophisticated telescopes capable of seeking out and characterizing life on nearby exoplanets. Pledge your support and you could potentially fund the discovery of alien life!

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Scubalec — arm-mounted underwater propulsion device

Like something out of a Sean Connery-era James Bond movie, Scubalec is an exciting new arm-mounted personal jet drive, designed to propel intrepid users through the water.

“People go snorkeling because it’s a great way to explore the underwater world,” creator Un-Yong Park said in an interview. “For those people who love snorkeling, we’ve created a handy device to bring even more fun to the underwater experience. Simply put Scubalec on your arm and it pulls you just in the direction you point, easy and simple.”

The Scubalec is comprised of two small jet drives combined with a 7.500 mA/h lithium-ion battery. When fully charged, it will provide 10-12 minutes’ worth of continuous propulsion.

Park describes the experience of using the Scubalec as being “like a cyclist with a tailwind on their back.” And that’s with just one. Imagine what having one on each arm would be like!

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Hypar — folding kayak

Folding kayaks are nothing new at this point. Boats with a collapsible frame and a removable skin have been around for decades. The technology has improved to the point that these folding kayaks can compete favorably with traditional hard-shell kayaks in performance and durability.

Over the past few years, innovation in this category of watercraft has moved the boats away from the skin-on-frame design to a single-piece collapsible form factor that makes the kayaks easy to carry around.

The latest entry into the foldable and portable kayak market is the Hypar. Hypar sets itself apart with its unique hull shape that uses two hyperbolic paraboloids to form a hull that is razor sharp at the stern and wide at the bow. This configuration allows the boat to cut through the water with minimal distortion and drag. It also provides a stable base that can be fitted with a motor, or even transformed into a sailboat with the addition of a mast and sail.

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B2 Nano Blade — ultracompact pocket knife

Looking for a good pocket knife that isn’t too bulky? Check out the B2 Nano Blade. Inspired by the B-2 bomber, the knife is made from heat-treated 440C black stainless steel, which not only gives it a military look, but a high level of durability as well. Those same materials are also lightweight, allowing the knife to maintain a solid level of performance with a svelte design.

The folding and locking knife measures 1.8 inches in length when closed and 3.1 inches in length with the blade deployed. It weighs less than an ounce and comes with a lifetime guarantee.

Bomber and Company used a split-blade design when creating the Nano that allows it to provide a surprising amount of utility in a small package. The front half of the blade is a standard knife edge designed to cut as needed, while the second half features serrated teeth that are meant for use on tougher materials such as wood or thick rope. The entire blade has also been perforated for ease of cleaning and to prevent debris from sticking to it when in use.

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Guardian LF1 — Lionfish catching robot

Lionfish may be beautiful creatures, but they’re also one of the ocean’s biggest pests. They are native to the Indo-Pacific, but fish hobbyists around the world have been attracted to their striking patterns and spines since the 1980s.

Scientists think that these pet owners began to release their adult lionfish into the Atlantic, where the fish thrived, bred, and spread up the coast to Maine, throughout the Gulf of Mexico, and down to Panama. The problem is that smaller native fish don’t recognize the invasive lionfish as a threat — and lionfish have voracious appetites. To make matters worse, these spiny sea creatures lack natural predators in the Atlantic, resulting in marine ecosystems with an unregulated and very deadly species.

A number of initiatives have been launched to hunt down lionfish, offering incentives to spear fisherman who target the species. These efforts have been effective in the shallows, but researchers have found that most lionfish live 200 feet beneath the surface — too deep for the average sport diver. So to augment these existing efforts, RSE Technologies is developing a robotic terminator, which will be designed to target and eliminate lionfish at all depths.

This machine roves around the water, stalking any lionfish it finds. It then stuns them and sucks them into a tube before carrying them to shore for removal.

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