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Awesome tech you can’t buy yet: folding canoes, cheap mobile VR, and more

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.

Nolo — motion-tracking system for mobile VR

Want a room-scale motion-tracking VR system without having to dish out big bucks on an HTC Vive and a VR-ready gaming PC? Nolo is a set of peripherals designed to work with lower end, smartphone-based VR headsets like Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR, and even those cheap cardboard headsets that everyone makes these days. Just clip a sensor onto your headset, set up the sensor beacons, grab the controllers, and you’re off to the races.

Sure, the graphics processing abilities won’t be as robust as what you’d get with a full-fledged VR setup (you’re still using a smartphone, after all), but Nolo will definitely expand the range of games you can play — and also what you can do inside them. Room-scale motion tracking is quite literally a game changer. With the ability to move around freely inside your VR world and manipulate objects with your hands, you’ll be able to play games and use apps like Job Simulator, Tilt Brush, and dozens more. Early-bird backers can snag the kit for just $99, but even if you’re late to the party, you can still lock one down for $109. That’s pretty cheap when compared to HTC’s Vive.

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Vaquform — desktop vacuum forming machine

3D printers have come a long way in the past few years, but despite the huge improvements they’ve seen recently, most still suffer from the same big drawback — they’re excruciatingly slow. If you’re making anything larger than a walnut, it’s probably going to take a few hours to print. To make matters worse, you can’t actually design stuff with your hands. Instead, you have to learn all the ins and outs of 3D modeling software before you can bring your idea into the real world.

Vaquform aims to remove the complex barriers standing between idea and fabrication. It’s basically a desktop-sized vacuum forming machine that allows you to create high-fidelity molds of just about any shape. To use it, you start by creating the shape you want with whatever material is easiest — foam, wood, play-doh, or even a potato. Once you’ve sculpted the object to your liking, just place it inside Vaquform and let it go to work. The machine will heat up a sheet of thermoplastic, then vacuum form it around your shape. After a moment or two, the plastic will solidify, and leave you with a perfect negative of your object — which you can then use like a mold.

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Flavour Bottle — sense-tricking water bottle

A lot of people have trouble drinking enough water each day — and it’s easy to see why. In a world filled with so many flavored, fizzy, and sugar-laden drinks, it’s no wonder that many people have trouble kicking the habit and downgrading to the healthier, albeit flavorless and flat, option. But what if there was a way to trick your brain into believing that your regular H2O is spiked with strawberries, oranges, or lemons? Would that make it easier to get your daily water requirement?

That’s preciesly the idea behind the Flavour Bottle. It uses scent to trick your brain into thinking your water is infused with flavor. In case you aren’t already aware, your sense of smell is inextricably linked to your sense of taste. Take bread, for example. When you bite into a slice of bread, most of the flavor you sense isn’t actually coming from the cooked dough — it’s from the gasses that are released  when you chew on the porous piece of bread. This is known as retro-nasal olfaction, and it’s essentially “tasting” with your nose. The Flavour Bottle exploits this bodily quirk with aroma pods, which fool your brain into tasting fruity flavors in otherwise flavorless water.

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Norton Point — Shades made from salvaged ocean plastic

Ocean plastic never looked as good as it does on your face. Thanks to Norton Point, the recyclable trash found in the sea is being repurposed into glasses that help you see a bit better in the sun. The Martha’s Vineyard-based company is the first to develop a line of eyewear made from recovered high-density polyethylene (HDPE) ocean plastics. The result is shades that’ll make you feel as good as you look.

“We believe that the 8 million metric tons of plastic flowing into our oceans is one of our planet’s greatest environmental challenges, and we have chosen to become part of the solution,” the company says on its Kickstarter campaign page

The sunglasses themselves are chic, well-designed pieces for both men and women that can complement just about any style or aesthetic. But when you buy a pair of sunglasses from Norton Point, you’re doing a lot more than making a purchase — you’re helping fulfill a promise.

“For every product we sell, we are committing to you to clean up 1 pound of plastic from the ocean,” Norton Point says. “We have also chosen to give back five  percent of net profits to global cleanup, education, and remediation practices,” specifically to organizations like the Ocean Conservancy.

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MyCanoe — folding, origami-style canoe

There’s nothing quite like paddling around and exploring a new area by canoe — but unfortunately, they’re not exactly the most convenient vessel to carry around. They’re large, unwieldy, and too cumbersome to carry over great distances, so taking one along on your next outdoor excursion isn’t always an option. But what if there was a canoe you could easily pack around?  That’s precisely the idea behind MyCanoe. With a clever origami-inspired design, the full-size canoe can be folded up and packed into a case that’s roughly the size of a lawn chair.

Don’t let the origami analogy fool you, though — this boat is anything but fragile. The body of MyCanoe is made from a marine-grade custom polypropylene with a 15-year UV treatment that can allegedly withstand up to 20,000 folds. It’s also highly customizable. With a wide range of compatible accessories (stabilizer buoys, paddle clips, etc) and eight different seat positions, it’s arguably one of the most versatile folding vessels we’ve seen thus far.

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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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