Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Racing drones and robotic ping pong trainers

Drew Prindle

At any given moment, there are approximately a zillion different crowdfunding campaigns happening 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. We’ve cut through the fidget spinners and janky iPhone cases to round up the most unusual, ambitious, and exciting new crowdfunding projects out there this week. Keep in mind that any crowdfunding project — even those with the best intentions — can fail, so do your homework before cutting a check for the gadget of your dreams. 

August 18

Joola Infinity — robotic ping pong trainer

Here’s a quick cut from our full article: “In the most basic terms, the Infinity Smart Table Tennis Training Robot is like one of those ball-firing machines used by tennis players or in baseball batting cages. It fires out balls at a rate of 30 to 100 per minute. But it doesn’t stop there. It can perform just about any kind of shot — from no spin to topspin, underspin, or side spin — by moving 150 degrees side to side. The app-controlled drills will be selected by world-leading players and coaches.”

DRL Racer4 Street — Professional racing drone

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“The DRL Racer4 Street is nearly identical to the DRL Racer4 drone that the pilots [will] navigate through complex courses in iconic venues around the world,” Drone Racing League founder and CEO Nicholas Horbaczewski told Digital Trends in a recent interview. “It has the same high-performance, speed, and modularity, so fans can experience exactly what it’s like to fly like the best pilots in the world. The only difference is that the DRL Racer4 Street will have 100 LEDs instead of a thousand, as well as simplified electronics. Our professional racetracks require an advanced radio package and diagnostics tools that aren’t necessary for flying on the street.”

Rype Go — A.I. language learning app

“Rype GO uses A.I.-powered speaking lessons that empowers you to speak any language from day one without feeling judged,” CEO Sean Kim told Digital Trends in a recent interview. “Our speaking lessons are designed to feel like real-life conversations you would have with a friend, a co-worker, or a native speaker you just met. Rather than feel embarrassed by asking someone to correct you, our speech recognition technology gives you real-time feedback to keep you on the right track. Our app [also] provides bite-sized, engaging video lessons that we produced in our studio that you can enjoy before your speaking lessons. Instead of learning how to say ‘pineapple,’ you’ll learn everyday relevant topics like how to talk to someone at a party, and even how to communicate with your AirBnB host.”

Genki Covert Dock — ultraportable Nintendo Switch dock

Here’s DT’s Gabe Gurwin with the lowdown: “The Nintendo Switch is a brilliant hybrid console, and this is largely in thanks to its ability to be used either as a handheld  system or a traditional system. Connecting it to a television requires a dock, and Nintendo’s own design is unwieldy and bulky. The Genki Covert Dock aims to eliminate this issue by combining the dock’s functionality with a charger in a tiny single device. The dock, which just launched on Kickstarter, includes an HDMI port, foldable prongs, and USB 3.1 and USB-C ports for charging and accessories.”

Pale blue — rechargeable lithium polymer batteries

Rechargeable batteries certainly aren’t a new idea at this point, but most of the ones you can buy right now aren’t particularly convenient. In addition to losing their capacity over time, many of the rechargeable batteries on the market right now also take a long time to recharge. Pale Blue batteries aim to alleviate these issues. They’re lithium polymer batteries, which means that in addition to being more power dense, they’re also capable of recharging quite quickly.

August 4

Sonny — portable bidet

Somebody recently called this thing “the iPod of bidets” and honestly I don’t know what else I could possibly say about it. That says practically everything you need to know. I’m not even going to try to explain more than that.

Noir — security cam hidden in a charger

We’re at a weird point in human history right now. Somehow, “nanny cams” hidden in teddy bears are so common that, if you suspect you’re being watched, the nearest stuffed bear is the most logical place to check for a hidden camera. I’d argue that this is common knowledge at this point. So if you want to spy on someone without them knowing (though you probably shouldn’t, you goddamn creep), you’ll need something a bit more discreet — something like this HD security camera that’s cleverly tucked inside a standard-looking USB wall charger. I bet most people could look straight into the lens of this sucker without even realizing it.

Flit-16 — folding electric bicycle

Folding bikes just keep getting better and better, and at this point I’m not sure how it’s even possible. This latest entry into the category is called Flit-16, and in addition to the fact that it packs down smaller than any folding bike I’ve ever seen, it’s also fully electric. If you live in a place where suitable bike parking is scarce, or you’re simply worried about thieves, something like this would be ideal. Instead of locking it up, you can just collapse the frame, pick up the whole bike, and carry it to the safety of your office or apartment. Pretty neat, right?

Alulu — receipt paper instant camera

Instant cameras are all the rage right now. Maybe it’s nostalgia for the Polaroid days of yore, maybe it’s a manifestation of our subconscious lust for tangibility in a world where everything is digital. Who knows. But regardless of the reasoning behind it, one thing is certain: instant print paper is expensive. Oftentimes you’re forced to buy a specific brand or style that’s compatible with your particular camera and have no choice but to pay whatever the price is. Alulu is an attempt to fix that problem. Instead of printing on proprietary photo paper, it’s designed to print photos on receipt paper. This way, it doesn’t use any ink, and is also extremely cheap. The only downside, of course, is that it’s only capable of printing in black and white. Still — what a great idea!

Huskylens — computer vision camera module

This one blows my mind. It’s essentially an A.I.-powered camera module that makes computer vision cheap and accessible to the DIY electronics community. Plug this sucker into your favorite single-board computer (it’s compatible with Raspberry Pi, Arduino, LattePanda, and a host of others), and you’re off to the races. Thanks to its onboard computer vision software, it’s capable of recognizing (and tracking) faces, objects, lines, colors, and tags. You can also apparently teach it new things just by clicking on them. All that, and this thing only costs 40-50 bucks. It’s insane how cheap and accessible advanced A.I. has become in the past few years.

July 28

Lyra — handheld, Raspberry-Pi-powered gaming console

You know how you can load up a Raspberry Pi with emulation software and use it to play old-school Nintendo and Atari games? Well this is that same exact idea, but stuffed into a handheld console that’s mildly reminiscent of a Nintendo Switch. “Lyra can virtually emulate any game console of the classic era,” the creators explain on Kickstarter, “making it possible for you to carry hundreds of them in your pocket. You can play your all-time favorite video games whenever you want, wherever you want.”

Solidmaker — affordable true SLA 3D printer

It used to be that SLA 3D printers were expensive and out-of-reach for the average consumer,  but that’s now beginning to change. Thanks in large part to crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, these kinds of printers have become drastically more affordable and available in the past year or so. The latest one to hit the crowdfunding scene is Solidmaker — a highly affordable true (laser-based) SLA printer that, despite costing just $499 on Kickstarter, comes with a range of high-end features that you typically only see on machines that cost upward of $1,500. Most notably, it has an automatic resin pump that keeps the vat full at all times, a touchscreen interface, a large print volume, and automatic bed leveling. What more could you want?

Mirobot — multipurpose robotic arm

If you’ve ever dreamed of having an automated assistant similar to Tony Stark’s JARVIS robot, you should probably stop whatever you’re doing right now and go check out Mirobot on Kickstarter. In contrast to robotic assistant devices geared specifically towards makers and designers, Mirobot is a robot arm that can serve virtually any purpose around the home, from artistic projects to 3D printing to stirring your coffee. It’s equipped with computer vision and visual processing technologies, as well as a huge array of swappable end effectors, so it can be used for an absolutely massive range of different tasks.

Voyager kettle — collapsible, portable kettle

Why does the world need a collapsible kettle? I don’t know, but it seems like it might come in handy from time to time — especially if you’re the kind of person who can’t survive without coffee or tea. The Voyager Kettle, as its called, features a design that’s seemingly borrowed from those collapsible silicon-sided cups that you’ve probably seen at REI. To use it, you just lift up the accordion-style top to expand the kettle’s walls, and pivot the handle/spout assembly 90 degrees. Best of all, all of the Voyager’s heating tech is contained in the base of the unit, so you don’t even have to plug it in.

Sight Extended — Augmented reality short film

I don’t usually include video game and film projects in this roundup, but this one is a special case. About 7 years ago, a fantastic sci-fi short film called Sight took Vimeo by storm. The story revolves around a guy named Patrick, and explores what life might be like in a world where augmented reality is the norm and nearly every facet of human life is gamified. It was essentially an indie Black Mirror episode, but before Black Mirror was on anybody’s radar. Now, the filmmakers who created it are raising funds to make a full-length version of the film. Definitely watch the original if you haven’t already — you’ll be pining for more as soon as the credits roll.

July 21

Nils — wearable charging cable

As a proud owner of a first-generation Nils wristband, I can say with confidence that this thing rocks. You should most definitely throw some money at version 2.0. It’s essentially a USB charging cable that’s cleverly disguised as a leather bracelet and designed to be worn on your wrist. That way, when you need to juice up your phone, you don’t have to go find a cable — you can just rip off your bracelet and start charging. I dare say it’s one of the best things i’ve ever purchased from a Kickstarter project, and it’s absolutely the one I use most often.

Nanobag 3.0 — ultracompact reusable bag

Reusable shopping bags are a great idea in theory, but regardless of which kind you use, they all suffer from the same drawback: in order to use them, you have to remember to bring them. But what if you didn’t have to remember? What if there was a bag so small and convenient that you could just carry it with you all the time? That’s precisely the idea behind the Nanobag — a product that’s now in its third iteration on Kickstarter. Thanks to an ultra lightweight and compressible fabric, this little sucker can be stuffed into a storage bag that’s so small it’ll fit into the watch pocket of your jeans. Toss a couple of these in your backpack or purse and you’ll never have to use paper or plastic again!

Norshire mini  — ultracompact car tire inflator

A portable tire inflator is smart thing to keep in the trunk of your car, but unfortunately most of the available options are either powerful but bulky, or compact and grossly underpowered. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get the best of both worlds? Well if the Norshire Mini makes its funding goal, you might soon be able to. This little sucker is both compact and powerful enough to inflate a car tire, it’s completely digital, and even has a pressure gauge function that can automatically turn the pump off when you hit the desired PSI.

Keystone — A.I.-enhanced analog keyboard

Kickstarter as hosted thousands of keyboard projects over the past decade, but this one might be the most innovative yet. Keystone, as it’s called, is an analog keyboard that uses an incredibly clever magnetic mechanism to register keystrokes. This allows it to gauge pressure, which means the keyboard can differentiate between a light tap and a strong press — thereby allowing you to map different functions to those inputs. The keyboard also ships with adaptive A.I. that learns how you type and optimizes itself automatically to accommodate how hard you strike each individual key. It’s pretty amazing — definitely check out the video for this one.

Circa Solar — daylight clock for smart devices.

This one is a bit odd, but I absolutely love the concept. The idea is to make a clock that, instead of displaying hours, simply displays when the sun rises and sets. That way, instead of thinking about time in terms of increments, you’re encouraged to think about time in more natural terms: day and night. The only problem? Due to the way the earth wobbles on its axis, the amount of daylight that we experience in a given 24 hour period varies wildly depending on the season. For this reason, a static clock face isn’t possible. It needs to be dynamic — and that’s something that the adaptable screens of today’s smartwatches and smartphones are perfectly suited for. The best part? You only have to pledge between 2-6 bucks to lock down a download of the app.