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Awesome tech you can’t buy yet: solar jackets, floating bonsai trees, and more

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 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.

ThermalTech Jacket — solar powered jacket

Solar panels are absolutely everywhere these days. They’re on our rooftops, our smartphone cases, and even our cars — so why not put them on our clothes? That’s precisely the concept behind ThermalTech, a new breed of “smart jacket” that uses an innovative new textile to harvest energy from the sun. Unlike other solar-powered outerwear, ThermalTech doesn’t make use of any photovoltaic cells. From the outside, it looks like any other jacket — but it has a whole lot more going on under the hood.

The team behind the jacket claims that its proprietary fabric can “instantly transform[s] the sun’s rays into heat for your body.” This is a fairly radical departure from traditional coat design. Unlike your normal jacket, ThermalTech outerwear doesn’t look to trap and recycle the wearer’s body heat in order to provide warmth. Instead, this 21st-century garment absorbs “energy from indoor and outdoor light to bring warmth to the wearer” and can allegedly generate up to 18°F of heat in just two minutes, regardless of external temperatures.

Read more here.

Tylt Vü Pulse — Heart rate monitor and Qi charger for Pebble

Pebble may have kicked off the whole smartwatch zeitgeist that’s recently taken hold of the world, but now that a bunch of competitors have sprung up to steal its thunder, it’s hardly the top dog anymore. A horde of newer weareables have sprung up in its wake, and many of them offer advanced features and functionality (heart rate monitoring, activity tracking, etc) that Pebble just cant match. But Pebble isn’t out of game yet. The company purposefully kept its watches simple, and made it easy for outside companies to design 3rd party accessories that could expand their functionality. Now, that approach is finally paying off.

Tylt, a company that has made its name on wireless charging products, has risen to the challenge, and designed a smart new add-on for Pebble’s Time smartwatch. The Vu Pulse, as it’s called, is designed to snap onto your existing Pebble watch and give it two new features: Heart rate monitoring, and the ability to charge wirelessly via Qi. And the best part? It only costs about 45-50 bucks, depending on your backer level. That’s a hell of a lot cheaper than buying a totally new smartwatch.

Read more here.

Air Bonsai — Floating bonsai trees and plants

I honestly don’t know what to say about this thing. It’s a f*%king plant that defies gravity — what more do you need to know!? Sure, we could go on about how it’s designed by two Japanese entrepreneurs, and how it uses a system of magnets to make your plants hover, but that’s all extraneous information. What’s important is that this thing will make your plants float in midair, and it’s probably the coolest idea we’ve seen in months.

For the curious,  the base of the device is made from traditional Japanese porcelain, while all the magnets and other gadgetry are housed inside. The top, meanwhile, is made from a moss ball with a sponge interior, which helps the plant hold water. To make your plants float, the sponge contains a repelling magnet that counteracts the force of gravity. It’s actually a pretty simple design, and if you don’t feel like dishing out the $200 the creators are asking for on Kickstarter, you could probably just build one yourself.

Read more here.

Orison — Multipurpose, grid-connected home battery

If the world is going to switch from using dirty power sources like coal and natural gas, and transition to greener sources like solar and wind, then our homes need better power management systems. Because wind and solar don’t always provide a constant flow of power to the grid, we need ways to store power so it can be used during periods of low or limited production. That’s where Orison comes in.

It’s basically a simpler, more user-friendly version of Tesla’s Powerwall home battery — but unlike Tesla’s product, the Orison battery can plug into your wall outlet, and doesn’t require an electrician to install.  The system offers 2.2 kilowatt-hours of storage, which the company says would be enough to keep your energy-efficient fridge running for about two days if the power went out. It also automatically kicks on when there’s a power outage, and you can use the accompanying app to set schedules for charging and battery use.

Read more here.

Just in Case — Call recording iPhone case

Recording phone calls on your iPhone isn’t as easy as it should be. While there are a few app-based options, many of them require extra awkward steps to start the recording, or force you to pay a by-the-minute rate for the privilege. The “Just in Case,” a hybrid iPhone case and audio recorder that’s currently raising money on Indiegogo, claims to eliminate both of the obstacles and give users a one-button solution for recording phone calls.

Compatible with iPhone 5 or later, the Just in Case looks like your standard bulky smartphone case, except for two extra buttons: one to start and end recordings and a second to play them back. Rather than relying on an app that cuts into the call, the case opts for a comparatively low-tech solution: a small microphone placed in just the right spot to record both your voice and the sound coming out of the receiver. The microphone can also be used as a stand-alone audio recorder for in-person conversations.

Read more here.

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Drew Prindle
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Drew Prindle is an award-winning writer, editor, and storyteller who currently serves as Senior Features Editor for Digital…
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