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 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.
Smart Rope — Connected jump rope
For the most part, Smart Rope is exactly what you’d expect form such a device. It’s got embedded sensors that keep track of every jump, and a little Bluetooth radio that relays all the fitness data back to your smartphone, where it’s then crunched and displayed in an easily-digestible format inside of an accompanying app. Pretty standard fare for any gizmo bearing the “smart” label — but jump tracking and wireless connectivity isn’t all that Smart Rope has going on under the hood. You know those alarm clocks that seemingly display the time in thin air by waving a stick of blinking LEDs back and forth? Smart Rope does something similar, but instead of displaying the time on your nightstand, the thing displays your workout stats right in front of your eyes. As you jump, a row of embedded LEDs will blink out information right when the rope swings in front of you.
Spark Electron — Cellular dev kit
Tiny computers like Arduino and Raspberry Pi have helped jumpstart the Internet of Things by making it easy to bring connectivity to virtually anything. But while short-range networking via Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth is readily accessible, long-range options have remained elusive. Enter Spark’s Electron: a Kickstarter project which brings cellular networking to electronics projects — and does so without breaking the bank. The thumb-sized board includes an ARM processor, 128KB of RAM, 1MB of flash memory, a USB port, and (of course) a cellular modem and SIM card slot. Simple plug it into a breadboard and connect it to other hardware, such as a GPS chip, and you can build practically any Web-connected gizmo your heart desires — such as a pet tracker that transmits location data anywhere it can get a cell signal, or even a remote weather station that can report in from afar.
Radium — Portable Geiger counter
Radiation isn’t something that most people worry about, but as disasters like Fukushima continue to defy containment efforts, it’s probably a good idea to start looking out for irradiated goods. That’s where Radium comes in. Designed by Russian engineer Sergey Vladimirov, Radium is a powerful, compact geiger counter designed for everyday use. Under the hood it boasts a high-sensitivity Geiger-Muller pancake tube, which allows it to detect all major forms of radiation, including alpha, beta, gamma, and X-rays. To make it more user-friendly, the device is also equipped with Bluetooth LE, allowing it to wirelessly transfer recorded data to your smartphone, tablet, or desktop PC. It’s certainly not the only geiger counter on the market, but it’s one of a rare few that might actually fit in your skinny jeans. Portability is just as important as functionality here — after all, what good is a geiger counter if you don’t have it with you when you need it?
Flow Hive — Honey-on-tap beehive
The world needs all the citizen beekeepers it can get, so in an effort to help make beekeeping easier and more accessible, a pair of forward-thinking Australians have invented the Flow Hive, a new kind of beehive that requires minimal maintenance and allows keepers to harvest honey without disturbing the colony. Thanks to its clever design, the Flow Hive does away with many of the complicated parts of hive upkeep, and makes honey extraction as easy as turning a tap. It’s built with pre-made honeycombs that are angled downward, so when you remove the internal gate, gravity causes the honey to flow down and out through a spout. Brilliant, right? Who wouldn’t want fresh honey on tap in the backyard? These guys have basically devised a way to incentivize DIY beekeeping, which will hopefully help bees stage a comeback.
Pebble Time — New Pebble watch
Pebble, maker of the popular Pebble and Pebble Steel smartwatch, is back on Kickstarter this week with yet another model — the Pebble Time. In addition to the always-on, color E-Ink screen, the new Pebble features a built in microphone, so you can respond to notifications with your voice. Voice responses work with most Android apps, including SMS, Hangouts, Gmail, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, and many more. However, those with iPhones will find that voice responses only work with Gmail notifications at the moment, though Pebble promises that will soon change. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the Pebble Time quickly zipped past its $500,000 funding goal in a mere 17 minutes, hit $1 million in about half an hour, and shot up above $3 million before noon on the day it launched. Kickstarter confirmed that the Pebble managed to hit $1 million faster than any other project in history.