Awesome tech you can’t buy yet: Custom 3D-printed sandals and desktop foam cutters

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.

Cora Ball — anti-pollution laundry ball

Laundry machines, like most of the convenient things we take for granted in this modern world, aren’t all that great for the environment. As it turns out, when you wash your clothes, tiny little fibers (known as micro fibers) are shed from your garments and mix in with the wash water.

After this water is pumped out of your washing machine and funneled away from your house, it eventually makes its way out to the open ocean. These microscopic fibers are then ingested by marine animals like fish and crustaceans. Because we eat these animals, we ultimately end up eating the microfibers that we unknowingly flushed out to sea.

Scientists have only recently begun to see the effects of this problem. Microfibers, and the chemicals they’re made of, are now so prevalent in our oceans and marine life that they’re beginning to have a noticeable effect on human health.

But that’s not to say that there isn’t anything we can do about it. This new gizmo, called the Cora Ball, is designed specifically to capture microfibers in your washing machine and prevent them from making their way into our waterways. All you need to do is toss it in with your next load and hit start — the ball takes over from there.

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Kniterate — digital knitting machine

Love knitwear, but don’t want to do the knitting yourself? Check out Kniterate, a digital knitting machine that promises to “bring fashion fabrication back to your neighborhood.” In essence, it’s an industrial knitting machine that will fit on your desk and turn your digital designs into knitted pieces of clothing.

The team behind the device says that it’s managed to make the process of both designing and constructing knitwear “very easy.” Whether you want to make a scarf, a beanie, a tie — or for the more advanced, a dress, sweater, or even a pair of shoes — you’ll be able to do it with this machine.

“We have developed Kniterate because we want everyone to be able to explore knitting’s potential,” the Kniterate team says on its campaign page. “Until now the only similar tools available were industrial knitting machines, which cost upwards of $50,000, take a lot of space, and require a technician to run. With Kniterate you can make personalized professional knitwear at the click of a button, and repeat and share your favorite designs over and over again.”

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Wiivv Sandal — custom 3D-printed orthotic sandals

A little over a year ago, a little known startup called Wiivv took Kickstarter by storm with an innovative new idea: custom 3D printed orthotic insoles. Normally, you visit a doctor and dish out $400 or more for orthotics, or go the cheap route and snag a pair of pre-made Dr. Scholls inserts that don’t fit the contours of your feet. Wiivv came up with a happy medium: fully customizable 3D-printed insoles that are cheap and perfectly formed to the unique shape of your foot.

Now, the company is back with a different take on the same idea: custom made, hyper-personalized, 3D-printed sandals. You start by firing up the accompanying Wiivv smartphone app and snapping a few pictures of your feet. The company’s software will analyze these photos and use them to construct a model of the underside of your foot. Wiivv then takes this model and sends it to a 3D printer to create your sandal. This kind of on-demand additive manufacturing is perfect for custom footwear, since no two feet are exactly the same.

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P400 — high-precision desktop foam cutter

Manufacturing is in the midst of a renaissance right now. Technologies that were once only accessible through industrial machine shops and specialized factories are being systematically shrunken, simplified, and made available to the masses.

Take 3D printers for example. Additive manufacturing has been around for decades, but it wasn’t until recently that the technology became easy and accessible for the average person. Ten years ago, 3D printers were only found in well-funded engineering labs and the basements of uber-geeky hobbyists. Nowadays, they’re a billion dollar industry.

3D printers are not the only example. This democratization is happening with other manufacturing technologies as well. Laser cutters, CNC mills, vacuum formers, water jet cutters — name any industrial fabrication technology, and there’s probably a desktop-sized machine that does it nowadays.

The newest addition to the group? Foam cutting. Up until recently, getting a piece of foam cut into a specific pattern or dimension required access to industrial machinery (or a lot of skill and patience) — but now, thanks to the P400, virtually anybody can cut foam like a pro.

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Ori-Kit — multipurpose origami measuring spoons

Do you need new measuring spoons? Whatever your answer, you’ll probably want some after you see Ori-Kit in action. It consists of a set of all-in-one measuring spoons that, thanks to their clever design, are flat when not in use, but fold up origami style into spoons when you need them to. Check out the video — it makes your busted old set of teaspoons on a keyring look downright primitive.

While they’re in their native state, Ori-Kit spoons feature several pre-marked areas across their surface that allow users to fold them into any tablespoon or teaspoon size. Simply picking up Ori-Kit spoons along any of their labeled score lines will quickly transform them. Plus, due to their naturally flat design, cleaning these cleverly designed tools requires nothing more than some hot water and a soapy sponge.

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