10 fascinating tech projects that crowdfunding has made possible

10 fascinating tech projects that crowdfunding has made possible

Summary: A look at some of the most promising and novel tech projects to come out of crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

TOPICS: Hardware

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  • Innovation — every big tech company talks about it, but many of the new computers and gadgets that hit shelves are simply glossier versions of existing tech.

    Today anyone looking for a piece of technology that dares to be different can turn to crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

    Anyone with an idea for a project can set up a page on these sites, outlining their vision and how much money they need to make it a reality.

    Freed from corporate constraints crowdfunded projects are pushing into interesting areas of technology, from VR headsets to low-cost supercomputing boards.

    Projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo have raised millions from individual backers, who pledge money to support projects in return for rewards, including the promise of receiving the finished product.

    It's arguable these crowdfunded projects are already influencing the behaviours of the tech giants, with Samsung launching a competitor to the Pebble soon after the crowdfunded smartwatch's release.

    Of course, anyone backing a project should be aware that projects can and have gone wrong, with various examples of teams burning through pledges and leaving backers without the finished product.

    That said, here are some of the most interesting and successful projects to come through crowdfunding websites:

    Structure Sensor

    Occipital's Structure Sensor is a device that turns an iPad into a mobile 3D scanner.

    Structure Sensor is an attachment that fits on the side of an iPad or Android tablet and combines with an app turns a tablet into a scanner for capturing real-world objects and turning them into 3D models.

    Because Structure is a handheld scanner it can be used to scan objects of varying sizes, from a teddy bear to a living room. The sensor's range is described as ranging from 40 cms to more than 3.5 metres.

    The scanner works by using dual infrared (IR) LEDs to illuminate the outline of objects so that its IR sensors can capture the reflected outline of objects and transform them into 3D models.

    3D models of objects and people captured by the device can be imported into CAD and used as a blueprint for 3D printing.

    Despite only recently going live on Kickstarter, the project raised many times its funding goal of $100,000 within days of launching. With 25 days left before the funding period runs out the project has raised more than $870,000.

    The Structure Sensor is available to order at $350 until November 1st, with an estimated shipping date of February 2014.

  • Oculus Rift

    Until recently, virtual reality (VR) had failed to live up to expectations. Just ask anyone who suffered through VR in the late 90s, when encyclopaedia-sized headsets and graphics blockier than Minecraft were the order of the day.

    But in the intervening decade and a half, Moore's Law has pushed graphics and motion tracking technology to the point where VR can present a far more convincing vision of reality than was once possible.

    The Oculus Rift, dreamt up by 20-year-old Palmer Luckey, is a VR headset that soared past its $250,000 fuding goal on Kickstarter to raise more than $2.4m, and has tempted gaming industry veteran John Carmack to become its CTO. In total $16m has been raised for the project through a variety of sources.

    The headset tracks head movements at 1000Hz and reflects those movements in a virtual world in real time, allowing the wearer to look around without noticeable lag. The screens almost entirely fill the user's field of view (FOV), with a horizontal FOV of more than 90 degrees, which reportedly greatly adds to the feeling of being in a virtual world.

    Those who've used the prototype Oculus Rift headset generally describe the experience as transformative, offering a level of immersion that can't be achieved by playing a 3D game on a monitor. The game singled out for particular praise is space dogfighter Valkyrie, an offshoot of the multiplayer space epic Eve Online.

    More than 15,000 prototype headsets have shipped with Oculus Rift development kits, and hackers are finding uses beyond gaming, including an explorer for Google Streetview and a chance to experience the Northern Lights.

    The headset is not perfect; testers have complained about the blurriness of the screen, the resolution of the development headset is 1280x800 (640x800 per eye), while the version released to consumers is expected to have a resolution of at least 1920x1080. Some users have also said they suffered nausea after using the headset for prolonged periods.

    There's no confirmed release date for the Oculus Rift, but the development kit is available to order through the Oculus Rift website for $300.

  • Narrative

    Another famous project to come out of Kickstarter is life-logging camera Narrative, formerly known as Memoto.

    The Narrative Clip is a one-inch square camera, that snaps and stores a five megapixel photo every 30 seconds. The camera only takes pictures when clipped to a person and a built-in GPS geotags each image.

    The camera can store 4,000 images, and includes a free one-year subscription to Narrative's cloud-based storage service, with a maximum of 1.4TB storage.

    Images can be accessed and shared through an Android or iOS app, which organises photos into groups of "moments".

    The clip can be ordered for $279, with delivery promised after 1 November. The firm behind the camera has said it expects to sell 10,000 this year.

    The current fixed-focus lens has 70-degree viewing angle but a snap-on lens that is being developed will give it a 135-degree view and a fish-eye perspective.

    The company is also developing a waterproof case and planning on releasing an API to allow others to build further software and services for Narrative.

    Although the company asked for $50,000 to build Narrative, it ended up raising more than $550,000 last November. Narrative also recently received $3M in a funding round led by San Francisco-based True Ventures.


Topic: Hardware


Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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  • The Narrative Clip

    The stupid thing is $280! That's more than a 32GB Nexus 7 tablet!
    I am really into tech and love to buy new stuff. I expect the new tech to be expensive since it takes a lot to get things off ground. But the price point of $280 is ridiculous. At half that, it may make sense to get one or two.
  • Crowd funding open hardware

    The latest campaign I'm finding interesting is to create an open source GPU: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/725991125/open-source-graphics-processor-gpu