3 of 10Image
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.
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.
Open Hand Project
The Open Hand Project is a project to build a robotic hand that offers much of the functionality of a human hand for less than $1,000 (£630) — up to 100 times cheaper than commercial alternatives.
The project is building the Dextrus hand, a robotic hands that uses electric motors instead of muscles and steel cables instead of tendons. 3D-printed plastic parts work like bones and a rubber coating acts as the skin. These parts are controlled by electronics that allow the user to handle a variety of objects.
The user controls the fingers by flexing muscles in the forearm. Electrodes attached to the user's arm capture electomyographical signals transmitted in the muscles and use those to control the device.
As well as the Dextrus being made for amputees, the hand is also being pitched at researchers looking into control systems for telepresence robots or hobbyists making humanoid robots.
A full working prototype of the Dextrus hand has been built, with the core electronics running on a breadboard — a board for prototyping electronics — and the software on PC.
The next step in the project is to design and prototype electronics and build printed circuit boards.
Project backers need to pledge £460 to receive a Dextrus, although to receive a Dextrus plus power supply, batteries, charger, electrodes, cables and EMG board a pledge of £700 is required.
The £39,000 target for the project is less than the cost of one hand from commercial manufacturers of robotic prosthetic hands and with five days to go before its funding drive runs out on Indiegogo, the project has raised £40,950.