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.
Have you ever wanted to control your smartphone, and play games, by flexing your muscles? No? Well even though you never asked for it, that’s precisely the concept behind a new device called FlexR, which is currently raising funds on Kickstarter. It’s a small wearable gadget that can be attached to your skin, recognize muscle contractions, and translate those signals into inputs for your mobile device. Once you have it all hooked up, this setup allows you to play games while exercising — sort of like a Wii Fit or Xbox Kinect, but without having to make large movements like jumping or waving your arms.
The technology that makes this possible is called electromyography (EMG) — an electrodiagnostic medical technique used for evaluating and recording electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles. Doctors have used it for decades, but it only recently started popping up in wearables and other consumer technology.
If you’ve ever ridden an exercise bike and thought to yourself, “why can’t I use this sucker to generate power?” then the Chess Trainer is for you. Currently raising funds on Kickstarter, Chess Trainer describes itself as an energy-harvesting, device-powering, tour-enabled, virtual reality-enhanced stationary exercise bike machine. It’s essentially a stationary mount for your existing bicycle (AKA, bike not included) that allows you to generate and store some of the kinetic energy you create while you pedal away.
As you pedal, the excess juice you create gets stored in removable, portable battery power pack called the Spark, which you can then use to power a phone, tablet, or other USB-powered device. But that’s not all. The Chess Trainer also comes with a VR headset of sorts, which allows you to plug your phone in, Google Cardboard-style, and then enjoy immersive virtual reality footage of scenic bike tours of cities like New York, London, or Tokyo — no passport required.
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Remember Hudway? That app that lets you use your phone as a dashboard GPS HUD? It’s based on a pretty clever idea: instead of forcing you to look directly at your smartphone map, the app projects a reflection onto our windshield, which allows you to get info without taking your eyes off the road ahead of you. It’s great in theory, but in practice, it’s a pain — so Hudify Inc. (a totally different company) decided to improve on the the idea.
Hudify does almost the exact same thing that the Hudway app does — but instead of bouncing the image off your windshield, Hudify has its own piece of reflective (but still transparent) glass to bounce images off of. This setup effectively rids you of the hassle of finding the right mounting position for your particular dashboard/windshield, and instead allows you to place your phone in a little dock. It’s the same idea as before, just executed in a more convenient fashion.
You know all that talk about paperless offices? Imagine if you could take the same idea to your bathroom. No, we’re not talking about checking your emails on the toilet (because nobody does that, right?), but rather an alternative solution to wiping your butt with reams of toilet paper, courtesy of a smart water-spraying bidet that sits on top of your existing seat. It’s like buying the worlds fanciest bidet — but without all the hassle of remodeling your throne room and hiring a plumber to install it for you.
To make this possible, the Swash uses a pair of retractable, adjustable, self-sterilizing nozzles — complete with customizable water temperatures, water pressures, and spray widths. The seat also offers a warm-air dryer, deodorizer, heated seat, and even a soothing night light with cool blue hue for those midnight trips to the bathroom. On top of that, users also get a remote control that lets two people customize their settings. The best feature is the Swash’s streamlined design, which doesn’t feature visible wires or a hose — or look like you’ve jammed a massive bulky smart seat on top of your existing toilet.
Learning a new language is hard, and to make matters worse, there’s not really a fun way to do it, either. Sure, there are a plethora of games and apps out there that aim to “gamify” the process and help you master a new lingo in a fun and approachable way — but the vast majority of them are focused on rote memorization, which makes it easy to lose interest pretty quickly. LingoZing, however, takes a totally different approach.
The app, which is still in development, promises to help you learn a new language by reading interactive comic books and graphic novels. As you make your way through the story, LingoZing lets you hear each panel narrated in two languages — and even lets you switch back and forth between them. Then, once you’re confident enough, you can have a go at reading the panels yourself, with a voice recognition feature that grades your pronunciation. Pretty cool, right?