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Awesome tech you can’t buy yet: Fish drones, bottle gardens, AI longboards


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.

Splash Drone 3 — waterproof camera drone

Flying a drone over solid ground is one thing, but flying it over water is a whole ‘nother ball game. With all manner of electronics on board, an unexpected aquatic landing is almost always a death sentence for your drone, which makes flying it much more stressful. That’s not the case for the Splash Drone 3, however. Recently launched on Kickstarter, this hardy little quadcopter is encased in a buoyant waterproof shell, so it can safely land and float on water without being damaged.

But waterproof components aren’t the only trick Splash has up its sleeve. Beyond the watertight hull, it’s still got an impressive list of features. On its underbelly, the Splash is outfitted with a 4K camera nestled inside a 3-axis gimbal — both of which are completely waterproof. Thus, you can shoot while airborne or submerged. It’s also equipped with an auto-follow function, so it can shoot video autonomously while you play in the water.

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Read Read — braille-teaching system

This one is fairly complex, so we’ll let the Read Read team do the explaining. Here’s an excerpt from their Kickstarter page:

“97% of blind adults who cannot read braille are unemployed, yet only 8.5% of blind students receive enough instruction to learn braille. The biggest barrier to braille literacy is a lack or complete absence of high-quality braille instruction. Currently, blind students are unable to learn and practice braille reading independently — all of their learning hinges on the presence of a teacher who knows both braille, and how to teach reading. Thus, the majority of blind students in the US are illiterate.”

Illiteracy in America is a huge problem for the visually impaired, and Harvard graduate student Alex Tavares built something to help. The Read Read, as it’s called, is the world’s first electronic braille teaching system that allows visually impaired students to learn the language independently.

The Read Read uses a system of electronic letter tiles that can be rearranged to form words, like tiles on a Scrabble board. These tiles feature raised lettering and a corresponding braille translation, as well as a touch-sensitive strip that speaks the letter sound aloud when touched. Basically, this device allows people to learn braille without relying on a human teacher.

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Biki — fish-like submersible drone

Bored of drones that fly in the sky? Check out Biki — an ROV that swims in the sea. The robotic submersible, recently launched on Kickstarter, can move at a leisurely 1.1 mph for up to 90 minutes on a single charge, with a flapping fish tail that propels it through the water. You can control Biki via the accompanying app or with a physical controller, and if at any point the connection goes down between you and the robot, built-in GPS means it’ll automatically return to base.

You can even program your own routes and swim alongside, or simply let Biki wander off by itself while you stay on dry land and enjoy the footage it streams back to your smartphone or tablet. Built-in obstacle avoidance tech should save the robo-fish from any calamitous mishaps, though it clearly won’t be quick enough to escape the jaws of an angry shark that crosses its path.

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XTND — AI-powered electric longboard

Ok so this one admittedly made us roll our eyes a bit when we first encountered it. Do you really need an electric longboard with artificial intelligence built in? Probably not — but after digging a bit deeper, it appears that the XTND does actually have some cool features that might make it worthwhile.

For starters, the XTND collects information on every trip you take. Once it has a bit of data to work with, it’ll start adjust its own settings and adapt to your particular riding style. If you’re new and struggling (like standing incorrectly), the board won’t even move, thereby keeping you safe. Similarly, if you jump (or fall) off a board while it’s in motion, XTND will start braking and prevent itself from rolling forward.

The board’s tracking ability is arguably its coolest feature. Over time, it’ll analyze the route you take and eventually suggest alternative routes that may be more efficient or more board-friendly. That way, you’ll be able to find better terrain, so you can get where you need to go more quickly and with less battery power expenditure.

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The World’s Smallest Garden — bottle-based hydroponic garden

Like the idea of having a garden, but don’t have enough space to make it happen? Check out the World’s Smallest Garden — a diminutive cylindrical device you place in the top of a regular bottle, transforming it into a self-watering herb garden in seconds.

Simply place the product into a bottle filled with water, and you’ll create an optimal environment for seed germination, as well as a mechanism through which your plants can water themselves.  All you need to do is make sure the plants are put someplace sunny — or, at least, with access to the appropriate light — and then check on their water levels once a week.

“What makes it so neat is its accessibility,” said Nate Littlewood, co-founder and CEO of Urban Leaf. “From the outset, we wanted to create a product that was easy to use and affordable. There are a ton of other home-hydroponic grow kits on the market already, most of which are in the $200 to $3,000 price range. These are inaccessible and intimidating to most people — and certainly too complicated for the beginner. The World’s Smallest Garden is intended as gateway product, designed to welcome people into the field of home-growing for the first time.”

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