Awesome tech you can’t buy yet: Record-playing robots, a universe you can hold

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 all 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 any crowdfunded project can fail — even the most well-intentioned. Do your homework before cutting a check for the gadget of your dreams.

Universe in a Sphere – Glorious desk ornament

Remember that scene from Men In Black? The one that zooms out to reveal that our entire galaxy sits inside the marble on a cat’s leash? Well if that scene stuck with you, there’s a good chance you’ll appreciate this new desktop trinket that recently popped up on Kickstarter. The Universe in a Sphere is exactly what it sounds like; it’s a desk ornament that contains a tiny scale model of the cosmic neighborhood that we live in.

“What I did was is to take a catalog of galaxies, including our home supercluster called Laniakea, converted the XYZ coordinates and selected all of the 675,758 galaxies in a radius of 125 megaparsecs,” creator Clemens Steffin told Digital Trends in an interview. “One megaparsec stands for about 3.2616 million light years, so the cloud in my glass sphere represents a diameter of 815,400,000 light years.” Steffin next searched for (and found) a company capable of lasering in each one of these 380,000 dots, each representing an entire galaxy, into a glass sphere. After that, he launched his Kickstarter.

Read our full coverage here.

NexD1 – Multi-material, circuit-making 3D printer

3D printing has progressed by leaps and bounds over the past few years, but regardless of all the advances we’ve made, the vast majority of printers can still only print parts. If you want to create a functional electronic objects, you generally have to print multiple separate parts, add wiring/electronics, and then fasten everything together at the end.

The NexD1 aims to change all that. The printer features an innovative multi-material printing system that allows you to not only print plastic parts, but also print functional circuits directly into the parts you’re printing. In essence, this allows you to create electronic objects that are fully functional and ready to use right after you pull them off the print bed — no wiring, no soldering, and no assembly required. This could very well be the future of 3D printing.

Read our full coverage here.

RokBlock – Portable vinyl record player

Normally, if you want to play a record, you place your album on a turntable, which spins it and reads the tunes with a needle. RokBlock turns that method on its head. Rather than spinning the record itself, RokBlock is designed to drive around your vinyl like a little car going in circles, read the songs with a needle, and beam the audio to a Bluetooth speaker. Pretty clever, right?

And for those of you who are worried about scratching up your vinyl, don’t be. “RokBlok has been engineered to prevent damage to your records when in use,” the company states on its Kickstarter campaign page. “We do this by carefully balancing and distributing the weight of the player (3.2oz) across it’s scratch-proof rubber wheels and not the needle. This makes it so the needle does not take the brunt of the weight out on your record’s grooves.”

Read our full coverage here.

ComPod – Compostable coffee pods

You know those single-serving coffee pods that let you make precisely one mug of coffee instead of brewing an entire pot? Well, despite the fact that they’re outrageously convenient (or perhaps because of it), they’re also pretty bad for the environment. According to one study, all the little plastic K-cups produced in 2013 alone could encircle the Earth 10 times if they were stacked end to end.

ComPod wants to put an end to this pollution — but without putting an end to the glorious convenience of single-serving coffee. How? By making the cups biodegradable, of course! “ComPod capsules brew just like your favorite Nespresso-compatible capsule,” the creators explain on Kickstarter, “but they help the environment instead of hurting it. Simply brew a delicious cup of coffee like any other Nespresso-compatible pod and when you’re done, throw your used coffee capsule in your compost, garden, or worm farm. The capsule will completely biodegrade within six months.”

Read our full coverage here.

Heimplanet Motion Series – Anti-back-sweat backpacks

Does the name Heimplanet ring a bell? No? Well, even if you don’t remember its name, there’s a good chance that you remember the company’s flagship product: that crazy inflatable, geodesic tent that popped up on the web a couple years ago. The Cave, as it’s called, was the company’s first big product release — but now its back with something new on Kickstarter.

This time around, Heimplanet decided to rethink the backpack and continue its geodesic design theme with the Motion Series — a pair of innovative packs that aim to do away with the dreaded “sweaty back syndrome” that plagues most backpacks. Heimplanet built these suckers with a clever 3D foam backing that promotes airflow and keeps your back dry while you hike, but without adding any extra bulk or weight to the pack itself.

Read our full coverage here.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Booze-filled ski poles and crypto piggy banks

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!
Outdoors

Snooze soundly anywhere you lay your head with the best sleeping bags

A proper sleeping bag has the ability to make or break a camping or backpacking trip. Here are our picks for the best sleeping bags on the market to help you choose the correct bag for any type of outdoor adventure.
Computing

You can now get a Surface Laptop 2 for $800 at the Microsoft Store

Along with deals on other variants, starting configurations of Microsoft's Surface Laptop 2 are now going for $800 online at its retail store, cutting $200 from its usual $1,000 starting price. 
Deals

The best air fryer deals you can still snag before Christmas

Christmas is closing in on us fast, but you still have a little bit of time left for last-minute kitchen gifts. We've searched the depths of Amazon and Walmart to bring you the best air fryer deals going on right now.
Emerging Tech

Thrill-seekers will be able to pilot themselves in a giant drone as soon as 2019

Want to hitch a ride on a giant drone? The startup Lift Aircraft is gearing up to let paying customers fly its 18-rotor giant drones over assorted scenic landscapes across the U.S.
Emerging Tech

CRISPR gene therapy regulates hunger, staves off severe obesity in mice

Researchers from UC San Francisco have demonstrated how CRISPR gene editing can be used to prevent severe obesity in mice, without making a single edit to the mouse's genome. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

Rise of the Machines: Here’s how much robots and A.I. progressed in 2018

2018 has generated no shortage of news, and the worlds of A.I. and robotics are no exception. Here are our picks for the most exciting, game changing examples of both we saw this year.
Emerging Tech

Capture app saves money by 3D scanning objects using iPhone’s TrueDepth camera

Capture is a new iPhone app created by the Y Combinator-backed startup Standard Cyborg. It allows anyone to perform 3D scans of objects and share them with buddies. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.
Emerging Tech

Parker Solar Probe captures first image from within the atmosphere of the sun

NASA has shared the first image from inside the atmosphere of the sun taken by the Parker Solar Probe. The probe made the closest ever approach to a star, gathering data which scientists have been interpreting and released this week.
Emerging Tech

Say cheese: InSight lander posts a selfie from the surface of Mars

NASA's InSight mission to Mars has commemorated its arrival by posting a selfie. The selfie is a composite of 11 different images which were taken by one of its instruments, the Instrument Deployment Camera.
Emerging Tech

Researchers create a flying wireless platform using bumblebees

Researchers at the University of Washington have come up with a novel way to create a wireless platform: using bumblebees. As mechanical drones' batteries run out too fast, the team made use of a biology-based solution using living insects.
Emerging Tech

Bright ‘hyperactive’ comet should be visible in the sky this weekend

An unusual green comet, 46P/Wirtanen, will be visible in the night sky this month as it makes its closest approach to Earth in 20 years. It may even be possible to see the comet without a telescope.
Emerging Tech

Gorgeous images show storms and cloud formations in the atmosphere of Jupiter

NASA's Juno mission arrived at Jupiter in 2016 and has been collecting data since then. NASA has shared an update on the progress of the mission as it reaches its halfway point, releasing stunning images of the planet as seen from orbit.