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.

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