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 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 even the most well-intentioned crowdfunded project can fail. Do your homework before cutting a check for the gadget of your dreams.
Bluetooth speakers are a dime a dozen these days. They come in practically every shape, size, and configuration at this point — but somehow, the Grey Street Design managed to end the monotony and make a speaker that stands out from the rest of the pack. The Fireside Audiobox, as it’s called, is essentially a speaker with a fire-based waveform visualizer on top that creates flames that dance in time with your music.
Here’s how it works: On top of the speaker, there’s a tube filled with propane. As sound moves through the gas, the waves create areas of high pressure and low pressure form at fixed points along the tube. This forces the propane gas to be expelled from the holes more quickly in some zones (generating a taller flame) and more slowly in others (creating a shorter flame) This effectively allows you to visualize the standing wave that’s created inside the tube. When you play a constant tone of, say 440 Hz (the musical note A), the flames will form a perfect sine wave. Adjusting the frequency of this tone will alter the shape of the wave accordingly, and playing a full song will cause the flames to dance and pulse with the music.
Remember the M3D Micro? The pint-sized 3D printer that took Kickstarter by storm back in 2014? Well this week M3D is back with a Pro version. As per user requests, the new-and-improved M3D printer features a range of advanced features and specs that were notably absent from the Micro. First and foremost, the Pro model is equipped with a tempered-glass heated bed, which improves adhesion and helps prevent warping, two things that the Original Micro tends to struggle with. The Pro also boasts a larger build envelope, and allows users to print objects up to 7.8 inches tall and 7.2 inches wide — a considerable improvement over the Micro’s 4.29 inches by 4.45 inches. And best of all, the new printer is much quicker than its predecessor, boasting a travel speed of up to 120 mm/s.
M3D also stuffed this device full of sensors and internal memory, which makes it more reliable than ever before. Thanks to these additions, the M3D Pro doesn’t need to stay plugged into your computer, and can also recover from print failures. If the power goes out, or your print stalls in the middle of a job due to a filament jam, the printer can pick up where it left off when you’re ready to start printing again.
Take a stroll through Kickstarter or Indiegogo on any day of the week and you’re basically guaranteed to encounter dozens upon dozens of toys and games designed to teach children how to code. They’re absolutely everhwhere these days — but Marty is arguably one of the best ones yet. He’s basically a mini walking robot that’s fully programmable, Wi-Fi enabled, and Raspberry Pi-compatible — designed with the sole intention of making programming, electronics, and mechanical engineering a fun and engaging process. On top of that, he’s also totally customizable and built from 3D-printed parts, which let you easily install custom upgrades and modifications.
“Marty is designed to bridge the gap between smart toys and a real robot,” creator Alexander Enoch told Digital Trends. “[He’s] a cute little robot that can be played with like any other toy, but which provides opportunities to get stuck in with real programming and engineering. It was really important to us that we made something that could really provide a journey to users — from starting off remote controlling, then using the graphical programming language Scratch, through commonly used languages like Python, and even up to some university-level stuff if you want to go that far.”
Solar chargers are great for keeping your gadgets juiced up in the backcountry — but what happens when the sun goes down or a cloud front moves in? That’s where Enomad, a startup from South Korea, comes in. The company has built a hydropower device called the Estream, which is designed to convert running water into electricity that can charge your phone and other USB devices. Once submerged in running water, the device’s turbine rotates and generates electricity that gets stored in the Estream’s built-in 6,400mAh battery, which takes about 4.5 hours to fully charge.
According to the creators, a full battery should be able to charge up to three smartphones or action cameras. Estream claims that it’s able to charge devices twice as fast as a regular outlet thanks to a quick-charge function. Unlike solar chargers, it’s impractical to charge your device while the Estream is generating power, but being independent of sunlight means that you can leave it in a nearby stream overnight and wake up with a fully charged power bank.
Dig the idea of exploring the bottom of the ocean, but don’t have the money or expertise to strap on a bunch of scuba gear and do it yourself? Well good news — the folks at Fathom have developed a new RC submarine that makes exploring the depths easy and accessible for pretty much anyone. The Fathom One, as it’s called, has a hydrodynamic design that’s incredibly efficient at flying through in the water in long, straight runs, yet still maneuverable enough to slide in between underwater rocks and crevices. It’s also modular and collapsible, so you can easily stuff it inside a backpack.
According to its creators, the Fathom drone is able to dive to a depth of 100 feet, and has a range of 100 feet from shore station, plus 100 feet of tether. The modular aspect of Fathom One is equally exciting. Not only does it make it easier to transport, since you can easily take it apart and put it back together again, but it also offers the tantalizing promise of add-ons.