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Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Electric Legos, robo-wheelchairs, and more

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 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.

Brixo — Conductive, sensor-studded, Lego-compatible building bricks

Lego sets have become more and more high-tech as the years have passed, but if you’re still not satisfied with your Technic sets and MindStorms modules, you should probably check out this freshly launched Kickstarter campaign from Brixo. As the creators explain, “Brixo blocks are chrome-coated building blocks that act as electric conductors. They interlock to produce complete simple circuits with no wires involved, adding lights, motion, and sound to any construction. The blocks are powered by a low voltage built-in battery and coated in chrome, a non-toxic metal, to ensure your safety.”

“Basically, they’re bricks that safely conduct electricity and connect to your phone to enable you to do all sorts of cool things with your designs. And no, you don’t need to buy a whole new set, because they’re used interchangeably with your favorite building blocks to add an element of interactive awesomeness.”

Read more here.

Ekko Hub — Synchronized streaming device

Ever wish you could simultaneously beam audio to a bunch of different headphones, sort of like how you can beam the same song to an array of networked Sonos speakers? If so, this gizmo from Ekko Audio might be just what you’re looking for. The Hub, as it’s called, is a Wi-Fi audio hub that allows users to connect as many as 10 headphones or speakers at the same time. Using Wi-Fi for connectivity rather than Bluetooth or RF, the four receiver pucks that charge on top of the Hub offer a 3.5mm jack for standard headphones, as well as volume controls and a mute button.

As for specs, the Hub delivers 96kHz/24-bit audio quality to listeners, and even offers individual equalizers to alter audio settings and adapt to each user’s headphones. According to the Kickstarter page, the pucks have a real-world range of about 50 feet from the Hub base unit, and should last about four hours on a single charge.

Read more here.

Olo — $99 smartphone-powered 3D printer

OLO is designed to take your smartphone and transform it into a fully functional 3D printer. No joke — you seriously just fire up the app, choose the object you want to print, pop your phone into the device’s base, and pull out a completed part a few minutes later. It’s like magic, and the whole thing costs less than a pair of Nikes.  Here’s how it works: The printer consists of three main parts — a reservoir, a special photopolymer resin that you pour into it, and a mechanized lid that contains the build plate and control electronics. At the bottom of the reservoir, there’s a piece of polarized glass which you place your phone underneath, facing upward.

Basically, once you place the lid on top and the printer starts going, the app makes your phone’s screen light up with a specific pattern. The polarized glass then takes all this light (which shines outwardly to give your phone a wider viewing angle) and redirects it so that all the photons are traveling straight upward. As your phone’s screen beams light up into the reservoir, the directed light causes a layer of resin to harden onto the build plate, which slowly moves upward as each new layer is created. It’s basically a tiny DLP printer that uses your phone’s screen instead of a projector.

Read more here.

Bento Lab — Compact, portable, affordable DNA testing lab

For those of us without access to a lab full of equipment, collecting and analyzing genetic data is a pretty daunting task — but if London-based entrepreneur Bethan Wolfenden has anything to say about it, that won’t be the case for much longer. Wolfenden and her team have essentially minimized and consolidated a bunch of different lab equipment and stuffed it into a convenient little box called Bento Lab.

Tucked inside this box, you’ll find nearly everything you need to conduct basic DNA analysis — including a centrifuge for extracting DNA from a biological sample; a thermocycler for selecting and copying a specific piece of DNA, and a gel electrophoresis unit for viewing and interpreting results. It’s definitely not as capable as a full, professional DNA testing lab, but with a price tag under $1,000, it’s much, much cheaper. The hope is that by driving down the price of DNA testing equipment like this, Bento Lab will help to democratize the technology and make genetic analysis more accessible for citizen scientists.

Read more here.

Ogo — Hands-free, gyroscopically balanced wheelchair

Designed by New Zealand-based inventor Kevin Halsall, the Ogo is a unique hands-free wheelchair that stands upright on just two wheels. Much like a Segway, it’s equipped with an array of different sensors that pick up on the rider’s motion and translate it into directional movement. If the rider leans forward forward, for example, the internal motion sensors instantaneously recognize the movement and relay it to the Ogo’s motor, which then propels the wheelchair forward.

Unsurprisingly, Halsall actually built the chair by tearing apart a brand new Segway (which he paid 14,000 New Zealand dollars for — about $9,140 in the U.S.) and modifying it to be more suitable for a seated user. He didn’t just bolt an old car seat to the thing and call it good, though. Segways aren’t designed to be completely hands-free, and require riders to initiate turns with handlebars, so Halsall had to rebuild the control system from the ground up. The wheelchair is now controlled by a finely tuned moving seat that allows the rider to initiate turns by leaning in either direction.

Read more here.

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