Awesome tech you can’t buy yet, for the week of December 21, 2014

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At any given moment there are approximately a zillion different crowdfunding campaigns happening on the WebTake a stroll through Kickstarter or Indiegogo and you’ll find there’s 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.

Thinking Cleaner — Connect Roomba to Wi-Fi and HomeKit

Thinking CleanerWe’ve tested just about every major robotic vacuum in the biz, and regardless of the make or model, we consistently have the same gripe about every one we try: They don’t have network connectivity options. Despite boasting all manner of sophisticated navigation software and room-scanning sensors, there isn’t a single model on the market that can connect to your home Wi-Fi network. It’s a travesty — but Netherlands-based startup Thinking Bits has come up with a solution. The company has developed a device called Thinking Cleaner that you can install on any Roomba to retrofit it with wireless networking tech. This gives the robot the ability to send you alerts when it gets stuck or its bin needs to be emptied, and gives you can control the robot from afar via smartphone. Because it’s a retrofit and not a full-on robot, it’s also quite a bit cheaper than buying a new, top-of-the-line robovac.

ProtoCycler — 3D printer filament recycler

ProtoCyclerOnce you’ve forked over the cash to cover the initial cost of a 3D printer (which can be rather spendy) the only thing keeping you from printing your own mansion is the cost of 3D-printing filament. Filament is to 3D printers as ink is to regular printers, and unfortunately, it’s similarly expensive. You can burn through $100 worth of filament without breaking a sweat — especially if you’re printing something particularly large or dense. ProtoCycler offers an alternative: Instead of buying spools of filament, you buy plastic pellets at a fraction of cost, pop them into ProtoCylcer, press a button, and slowly spin out filament on your own. Depending on the pellets you buy, it can spit out either ABS or PLA filament in a variety of different colors, and the extruder’s diameter can even be adjusted if you need different sizes. It’s even got a built-in shredder that makes it a breeze to recycle your old prints and reuse the plastic.

X PlusOne — Quadcopter/wing drone hybrid

X PlusOneCant decide between a quadcopter and a wing drone? The X PlusOne offers the best of both worlds. Designed by aerospace engineer JD Claridge and freshly launched on Kickstarter, this drone blurs the line between winged and multi-rotor aircraft. Thanks to an ingenious form factor, the X PlusOne is able to take off, hover, and land like a traditional quadcopter, and also accelerate forward like a wing drone. The key to this ability is the craft’s innovative design. In place of the usual crossbars that hold up a drone’s four rotors, the X PlusOne uses an upward-facing wing. When in hover mode, this wing doesn’t do much of anything, but if the drone tilts upward 90 degrees and kicks up the speed a bit, the wing’s shape can provide enough lift to keep the craft airborne. Once it’s in this position, with all four rotors providing forward thrust, the X PlusOne can achieve speeds of up to 62 miles per hour (100 km) — nearly double what traditional multi-rotor drones are capable of.

Andromium — Desktop operating environment for Android

AndromiumAndromium is, put simply, an alternative environment for Android that looks and feels like a desktop operating system. It has a taskbar, is designed for a screen that’s in landscape orientation, and provides full support for a keyboard, mouse and monitor. All of this is enabled through a combination of software and a custom dock with video outputs and USB ports.  The dock itself is about the size of a Roku and has a flip cover that protects it during travel. Originally Andromium intended support only for the Samsung Galaxy line of smartphones, but backer pressure has encouraged the company to extend support to the HTC One, LG Nexus 4 and Nexus 5, and the Nexus 6. “Large screen tablets” will be supported as well, though details on that are vague.

Ruku — Rubik’s cube solver kit for STEM education

RukuIf you’re an educator and you’re in need of a cool STEM project that’ll get your kids excited, check out Ruku. It’s a kit for anybody that wants to learn about robotics, computer science, engineering, or math, and wants to have fun while doing it. The kit uses a smartphone camera to analyze a Rubik’s Cube and determine the fastest way to solve it — instructions that are then sent to a set of robotic arms that move the Cube’s blocks to complete the puzzle. Students must build the kit from the ground up — everything from the solving algorithm to the code that moves the arms. Ruku is 100-percent open source, meaning all the hardware and software is available for students and developers to modify and contribute to. Pre-made lesson plans for middle school ages and up are available with the kit, so it’s got just about everything you need to get started.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

A 3D printer the size of a small barn will produce entire homes in Saudi Arabia

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Deals

Walmart slashes prices on iRobot Roomba and Shark Ion robot vacuums

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Computing

Make the most of your toner with our five favorite color laser printers

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Emerging Tech

A silver bullet is being aimed at the drug-resistant superbugs on the ISS

A bacteria which is benign here on Earth can mutate into a drug-resistant superbug once it enters space. Now this problem is being tackled by a team of microbiologists who have found a way to inhibit the spread of bacteria in the ISS.
Emerging Tech

Tombot is the hyper-realistic dog robot that puts Spot to shame

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Twitter is officially a teenager now. Are we raising a monster?

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Researchers gave alligators headphones and ketamine, and all for a good cause

Researchers in Germany and the United States recently gave ketamine and earphones to alligators to monitor how they process sounds. Here's what it reveals about alligator evolution.
Emerging Tech

Cheese tastes different when it listens to Led Zeppelin, Swiss study finds

A funky new study says that exposing cheese to music changes its aroma and flavor. What’s more, the genre of music matters. Researchers from the Bern University of Arts played music to nine, 22-pound wheels of Emmental cheese.
Emerging Tech

Astronomers plan to beam Earth’s greatest hits into deep space, and you can help

A new project from the SETI Institute (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) will give the public the chance to submit compositions to be beamed into space, with the aim of connecting people around the world through music.
Emerging Tech

Scientists have a way to turn off alcoholism: Blasting the brain with lasers

Researchers from Scripps Research have demonstrated that it is possible to reverse the desire to drink in alcohol-dependent rats by targeting a part of the brain using lasers. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

China has cloned its best police dog. Now it wants to mass-produce more

Scientists in China have cloned the Sherlock Holmes of police sniffer dogs, with possible plans to mass produce it in the future. Here's why its creators think that's a great idea.
Emerging Tech

Scientists use drone to map Icelandic cave in preparation for Mars exploration

Researchers from the SETI Institute and Astrobotic Technology have demonstrated a way that astronauts may be able to map Martian caves using a Lidar-equipped drone that can travel autonomously without GPS.
Deals

Need a ride? Amazon is slashing prices on popular electric scooters

If you’re not much of a cyclist or if you’re looking for a lazier way to zip about town, an electric scooter should be right up your alley. Two of our favorites, the foldable Glion Dolly and the eco-friendly Razor scooter, are on sale…