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Awesome tech you can’t buy yet: 4WD skateboards, robochess, a cheap CNC mill

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.

Maslow CNC – Affordable open-source CNC mill

3D printers may hog the limelight, but CNC mills, which cut materials with extreme precision, have also come a long way in the past few years. It used to be that these machines could only be found in machine shops, but over the course of the past decade or so, the technology has largely been democratized. You can now get your hands on a user-friendly desktop CNC mill for less than $1,000, but size remains a major restraint. Unless you shell out a lot of money, you can’t really find a machine that’ll mill parts larger than a foot in any dimension, so you’re fairly limited in terms of what you can create.

Maslow CNC is an attempt to change that. This beast can mill shapes up to four feet wide and eight feet long — and it only costs around $500. Creator Bar Smith designed it from the ground up to be simple and affordable, so it’s a complete reimagining of the concept of a CNC milling machine. Instead of using rails, the Maslow CNC uses gravity and a pair of roller chains to move around the cutting surface. Oh, and it also stands up just a few degrees short of fully vertical, so it won’t take up a ton of space in your garage.

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Acton Blink — 4WD electric longboard

Electric skateboards are everywhere these days, but to be quite honest, the vast majority of them are garbage. Sure, they’ll let you zip around town without ever having to kick, but as soon as you run into a moderately steep incline or run out of battery power, you’re screwed. Most boards don’t have the power to boost you up hills, and many rely on belt-drive systems that create a noticeable amount of drag while coasting and pushing the board manually. So in other words, everything’s peachy as long as you only skate on flat terrain and never run out of juice.

Acton’s new Blink board doesn’t suffer from the same drawbacks. It has a myriad of cool features that separate it from the pack, but the secret sauce is really in the wheels. Instead of using a belt-drive or gear system like you’ll find on every other electric skate, the Blink is equipped with four hub motors built directly into the wheels. It’s basically the world’s first four-wheel drive longboard. This configuration not only makes the board more powerful and responsive; it also allows the wheels to spin freely when the motors aren’t engaged — so even when the battery dies, you’re still free to push, slide, and bomb down hills just like you would on a regular skateboard.

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Square Off — Automated, app-enabled chess board

Sure, you can already play chess with someone across the country using an app. But what if you could use a physical board to play against a remotely-located (or virtual) opponent? That’s precisely the idea behind Square Off — an internet-connected chess board that blurs the line between physical and digital gameplay. As your opponent makes moves thousands of miles away, the pieces on your board move themselves.

To make this possible, creator Bhavya Gohil equipped the chess board with a series of hidden stepper motors and electromagnets. With some clever programing, this system allows the board to move chess pieces automatically, as if you’re playing against a ghost. A sensing membrane built into the board also reads which move the human player is making. This way, when you move a piece, the board knows what piece you moved and where you moved it to — information that’s relayed through an accompanying app so that it’ll show up on your opponent’s board.

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Airblock — Modular, STEM-teaching drone

Programmable robots that teach kids (and adults) how to code are a dime a dozen these days. Take a stroll through Kickstarter or Indiegogo and you’ll find no shortage of them. They come in practically every shape, size, and configuration you can imagine. What sets Airblock apart? Instead of walking or rolling around on the ground, it flies.

Using the accompanying app, you can program Airblock it to do practically anything you want — hover in place, fly in a certain pattern, follow you, or even navigate through a maze. The app supposedly makes it simple and intuitive to write code for the drone, even if you’ve never programmed anything before. You can build a flying drone, a hovercraft, or get crazy and tackle other DIY projects, like powering a Lego car.

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CompRest — Vacuum-packable foam sleeping pad

Ask anyone who’s camped with an air mattress, and they’ll likely have nothing good to say about the experience. More often than not, a slow leak leaves occupants sleeping on the ground by morning. Canadian entrepreneur Sawyer Pahl wants to do away with these leaky air mattresses, and is working on a much more comfortable alternative for campers. His solution, dubbed CompRest, is a vacuum-sealed camping mattress that combines the portability of an air mattress with the durability of foam.

Basically, CompRest leverages the comfort and insulating benefits of foam while eliminating the major drawback to the material — its inherent bulkiness. To help make foam more portable, Pahl developed a vacuum-packing system that reduces the size of the bed by 20 percent . Before you head off for your next camping trip, just fold the bed, place it in its vacuum-sealable bag, and attach the vacuum. In just a few minutes, you’ll have a compressed bed that’ll easily fit into your overstuffed car. At the campground, just open the vacuum-sealed mattress bag and the bed will automatically re-inflate to its original dimensions, which are like an extra-narrow twin bed.

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