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 Pebble clones and janky iPhone cases to round up the most unusual, ambitious, and exciting new crowdfunding projects out there this week. That said, keep in mind that any crowdfunding project — even the best intentioned — can fail, so do your homework before cutting a check for the gadget of your dreams.
Specdrums — light-sensitive music creation platform
If there’s one thing crowdfunding sites are good for, it’s helping crazy new musical instruments come to life. Over the years, kickstarter and indiegogo have acted as springboards for just about every oddball noise-making device you could ever imagine: drum pads built into pants, motion-sensitive synthesizers, and even an all-in-one guitar/bass/piano/drum kit. The trend isn’t going away, and the latest addition to the growing list of offbeat insruments is arguably one of the strangest (and most intriguing) yet.
Specdrums, as its called, is a freeform music creation system that relies on programmable, light-sensitive actuators that translate color into sound. To make music with Specdrums, you start by slipping one or more of the system’s Bluetooth-equipped rings onto your fingers (or drumsticks, if that’s more your style).
When the rings tap on a surface, they shine a light on the surface, and a small sensor picks up the color. This color is instantly translated into a corresponding note — which plays through a connected speaker. The sound a given color creates can be assigned with the accompanying Specdrums smartphone app — meaning you can basically turn anything into an instrument that makes any sound you desire. Pretty nifty, right?
Luna Display — Wireless display extender for Mac/iPad
Ever wished you could use your iPad as a wireless second display for you Mac? Well, good news! There’s finally a decent way to make it happen. It’s called Luna Display, and it’s basically a tiny dongle (roughly the size of your thumb nail) that plugs into your computer’s Mini DisplayPort, USB-C, or USB 3 port. Once installed, it works through an app on your iPad, and connects the tablet display to your Mac via Wi-Fi.
Now, truth be told, this kind of thing has been possible for quite some time, but most Mac-to-iPad display extenders are software-based solutions, not hardware-based like Luna. The dongle approach has a couple big advantages though. Because it’s plugged into your Mac, Luna can tap into its graphics processor capabilities — something no app can do. Essentially, this means that Luna can offer super high image quality, despite the fact that it’s completely wireless.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Luna Display is actually a two-way extension to your Mac, allowing you to interact with your computer directly from your iPad. It literally turns your Mac into a touchable device, allowing pinching, panning and tapping, making it much more than just a second screen.
New Nine — Size-adjustable 3D printer
3D printers have come a long way in the past few years. It used to be that they were only found in well-funded engineering labs and the basements of uber-geeky enthusiasts — but now they’re available to anyone with $150. On top of that, the range of materials we can print with has greatly expanded in recent years. It’s not just ABS and PLA anymore; 3D printers can make stuff with wood, clay, nylon, and even metal these days.
Despite all the advances we’ve seen lately, there’s still one big limiting factor that’s holding 3D printers back: build envelope. Right now, if you want to make an object that’s bigger than your printer, you’re out of luck — but what if that wasn’t the case?
That’s precisely the idea behind the New Nine — an adjustable, scalable 3D printer that can be resized to accommodate bigger parts, when the job calls for it. We’re not just talking more width, either — the printer’s dimensions can be expanded along all axes, meaning you can make it wider, longer, taller, or any mix of the three.
As if that wasn’t awesome enough, it also has a boatload of high-end features, such as a heated bed, a mass damper to eliminate wobble, and a magnetic screen that can be re-positioned in seconds. Oh, and it’s also completely open source, which is pretty awesome.
DribbleUp — Smart soccer ball
Smart sports equipment is everywhere these days. We’ve got swing analyzers for golf, tennis and baseball; sensors that measure reps for weightlifters, and a veritable boatload of fitness trackers that analyze your daily activity. But oddly enough, soccer (or football, to anyone reading this outside the U.S.) has largely been ignored in this trend, despite the fact that it’s arguably the most popular sport on the planet. But that might soon change if DribbleUp’s latest Kickstarter campaign finds success. The company, whose first product was a stat-tracking basketball that launched a few years ago, is now working on a stat-tracking soccer ball.
“We’ve reinvented the soccer ball for the digital generation,” Eric Forkosh, CEO of DribbleUp, told Digital Trends. “Our ball connects to an augmented reality app on your phone so you can train anytime and anywhere — in your home, on the field, wherever. The virtual trainer on the app guides through interactive drills with live audio feedback and gives you a drill-by-drill graded breakdown so you know what you need to improve. Even when it’s raining or too dark outside, you can always practice in your room with the virtual trainer and take your game to the next level. Most importantly, our match-ball quality soccer ball has no batteries, so you never need to charge it and costs less than a standard match ball. Why buy a dumb ball when you can get a smart ball for the same price?”
Shaveman — Vibrating razor attachment
Ever since the practice of shaving has existed, inventors have been trying to re-invent the razor. First it was disposables, with cheap, mass-produced, and easily swappable blades. Then somebody decided to add multiple blades for more cutting power. After that came electric shavers, and now that Kickstarter and Indiegogo exist, there’s arguably more innovation in shaving technology than ever before.
In the past few years alone, we’ve seen everything from laser-powered razors that burn the stubble off your chin, to shavers with sapphire blades that never rust. And now, we can add another one to the ever-expanding list: the Shaveman.
The idea behind this gizmo is pretty straightforward. It’s basically a little vibrating puck that you can attach to any razor you own. Once activated, the Shaveman will vibrate at a super high frequency, which allegedly boosts the cutting power of your blades, and also makes the hairs on your face stand up straighter, thereby making them easier to chop down. We’re not entirely convinced that this scheme will work, but conceptually it’s a pretty cool idea, and is definitely worth bringing to life through crowdfunding.
With reports of Russians conducting wide-scale hacking campaigns against US election systems in 2016, you’d think that the individual states would know whether or not their voting systems had come under fire. However, that’s not the case… and in fact, they appear to have been cut out of the loop. The National Association of State Election directors’ president, Judd Choate, informs Reuters that the federal government hasn’t told state election officials whether or not their voting platforms were targets. Moreover, Choate says that this information is unlikely to become public even if it is shared.
The Department of Homeland Security isn’t denying that officials have held off on notifying states, but it says this stems out of an abundance of caution. It wants to protect the “integrity of investigations and the confidentiality of system owners” when it shares this info, according to a statement. It added that it had told the owners and operators of systems that potentially came under attack, although they’re “not necessarily” election officials.
The lack of communication illustrates the problems with mounting a coordinated defense against election hacks, or any kind of state-backed hacking campaign targeting government infrastructure. Choate says communication with the federal government has improved, particularly since the outgoing President Obama labeled voting systems as critical infrastructure. However, it’s clear that there’s still a lot of work left before the feds and the states are operating in harmony when it really counts.
Carriers are helping customers stay connected in their time of need.
Carriers in the U.S. have all released news that they are waiving some fees and overages for customers in some areas affected by Hurricane Harvey. During any disaster, your phone is one of the best ways to stay abreast on news and weather information as well as communicating with friends, family or emergency services. It’s great to see carriers come forward with any type of relief during difficult times.
Image courtesy NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team
The details for each carrier:
Our thoughts are with everyone impacted by Hurricane Harvey and our customers who have friends and family there.
Beginning today, Aug. 26, 2017, and running through at least Sept. 1, 2017 we will issue credits to AT&T wireless customers in impacted areas for additional data, voice and text charges, and AT&T PREPAID for additional voice and text charges.
More at AT&T
August 26, 2017 – Effective today through September 1, 2017, Sprint will waive casual call and text fees for Sprint, Boost and Virgin Mobile customers in the impacted areas of Texas and Louisiana. Fees will be waived during the time specified. Customers on Unlimited plans will continue to enjoy their unlimited data, call and text benefits.
Customers are encouraged to use text messaging when possible due to high call volumes and possible network congestion in the local area.
“Our thoughts are with everyone impacted by this incredible storm and we are doing all we can to help them stay connected during this time”, said Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure.
More at Sprint
To help our customers connect with loved ones in the path of Hurricane Harvey, T-Mobile (NASDAQ: TMUS) is making it free for customers, including prepaid customers, to call or text from impacted areas of Texas and Louisiana.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in the path of this powerful storm,” said John Legere, president and CEO of T-Mobile.
From Aug. 25-Sept. 1, T-Mobile and MetroPCS customers in the following area codes can call anywhere in the US for free (T-Mobile ONE and Simple Choice customers always have unlimited calling/texting):
- Texas: 830, 512, 210, 936, 956, 361,979, 281,832,713, 936, 409
- Louisiana: 337, 985
More at T-Mobile
Sometimes life throws the unexpected at you, and it could mean using extra data that you weren’t planning on needing. Verizon is offering 3GB of bonus data to qualified Texas counties, so you can stay connected when it matters most.
If you have any questions or concerns during this difficult time, don’t hesitate to visit a local store or call customer care at 1.888.294.6804.
Effective August 26th through September 8th.
More at Verizon
Hashtags could soon be useful for a lot more than fostering discussion on your favorite social network. Researchers have developed a hashtag-shaped quantum chip (shown below) that could confirm the existence of the oddball Majorana particle, which exists as both matter and antimatter at the same time. The team has learned that laying indium phosphide nanowires in the familiar ‘#’ shape creates a closed circuit that lets the particles pass by each other and braid, rather that annihilating each other like they would on a single wire. Think of it like creating streets with intersections instead of a one-lane road — the ‘traffic’ can actually get around without collisions.
The processes for producing those nanowires and their particles are no mean feat. You have to subject the hashtags to a stream of aluminum particles that creates superconducting layers on specific parts of the wires, triggering the emergence of the Majorana particles. And did we mention that everything has to happen at near absolute zero temperatures in order to guarantee pure contacts?
If the chip works as promised, it would shake up our understanding of particles and physics as a whole. And in practical terms, it could help make quantum computers a reality. Two ‘braided’ Majorana particles could form the qubits that perform calculations in quantum systems, opening the doors to PCs that handle many tasks at once. There’s a lot of work to do before that’s a realistic possibility (how do you mass-produce these chips?), but this simple pattern could eventually form a cornerstone of computing.
Image credit: Eindhoven University of Technology
Source: TUe, ArXiv.org
Humans aren’t particularly good at spotting sharks using aerial data. At best, they’ll accurately pinpoint sharks 30 percent of the time — not very helpful for swimmers worried about stepping into the water. Australia, however, is about to get a more reliable way of spotting these undersea predators. As of September, Little Ripper drones will monitor some Australian beaches for signs of sharks, and pass along their imagery to an AI system that can identify sharks in real-time with 90 percent accuracy. Humans will still run the software (someone has to verify the results), but this highly automated system could be quick and reliable enough to save lives.
The detection AI is a quintessential machine learning system. The team trains the system to both look for sharks based on aerial videos as well as distinguish them from other life on the water. That approach doesn’t just help it identify sharks, though. It can also flag dolphins, whales and other sea creatures of interest, which could give researchers an additional way to track populations.
Also, the use of drones doesn’t just save helicopters valuable flight time. The drones hold beacons and life rafts, so they can offer immediate help to anyone who’s in distress. Little Ripper is also developing an electronic ‘repellent’ that the drones could use to keep sharks at bay until rescuers arrive.
Australia isn’t relying solely on drones. The country has been deploying nets along its northeastern shores to prevent sharks from entering areas in the first place. However, drones could at least augment those methods, and would arguably be friendlier to the local ecosystem. Instead of fencing off areas and potentially blocking access to other species, authorities could use robotic fliers to deal with sharks only when they pose a genuine threat.
Discord was quick to shut down neo-Nazi servers and accounts in the wake of racist violence in Charlottesville, but that doesn’t mean those conversations are gone forever. In fact, they may be instrumental to making criminal cases and lawsuits stick. The media collective Unicorn Riot has obtained leaked Discord chat screenshots (about 1,000 of them) and audio suggesting that many of the white supremacists were gearing up for a fight even as their organizers were supposedly calling for non-violence. In the days after the Charlottesville march, they also made light of the car attack that murdered Heather Heyer and injured many others.
In a conversation with Wired, far-right extremist and organizer Eli Mosley validated the accuracy of the Discord materials but insisted that he’d taken sincere steps to discourage violence, including banning 80 people from the Charlottesville server. However, that defense might not stand up in court: the American Civil Liberties Union says the chats show that the white supremacists were itching for an excuse to respond with violence. And of course, it’s not clear that the organizers were sincere in their attempts to discourage bloodshed.
There’s no guarantee that Unicorn Riot’s findings will clinch verdicts, although a lawyer representing women injured by marchers says that the Discord data could be the “crux of the case.” If it does, it could be a milestone in a number of ways: it’d be a rare instance of leaked chat transcripts leading to civil penalties or even a criminal conviction. It may also influence how local governments tackle protests. They may not have grounds to ban hate protests just based on ideology, but they may use chats like these to show that some groups plan to start trouble. At the least, the leak could easily drive groups away from Discord, Slack and any other online chat system where it’s easy for a mole to share incriminating evidence.
Source: Unicorn Riot
We’re sure people who were waiting for the Chevy Bolt EV were thrilled when General Motors started selling them much earlier than planned. Unfortunately, some of them might now have electric cars that could leave them stranded in the middle of nowhere. GM has admitted to Autoblog that a number of it earliest Bolts have battery issues that could lead to “unexpected loss of propulsion.” The good news is that only around one percent of the 10,000-or-so Bolts — so, approximately 100 — on the road are affected. Further, the automaker will fix it for customers at no cost.
According to GM rep Chris Bonelli, some of the first units the company manufactured might show more range than they currently have due to lower battery voltage. In truth, they could have very little charge and could run out of power without warning. Brad Berman of PlugInCars, a website that covers electric vehicles, even broke the story because his Bolt suddenly lost power despite showing 100 miles in range. Newer units don’t seem to be affected by the issue due to updated parts and other changes.
Bonelli said the problem can be fixed either by repairing faulty batteries or replacing them completely. GM has already gotten in touch with customers who might be affected by the issue and will arrange free service for them.
App Attack is a weekly series where we search the App Store and Google Play Store for the best apps of the week. Check out App Attack every Sunday for the latest.
For any parent out there, interacting with teenagers has definitely become an even greater challenge thanks to technology. Even though their phones are always in their hands rapidly texting their friends or scrolling through social media — mom and dad are low priority on the list to check and answer. I’ll admit, as an adult, I still tend to do the same with my parents. This week, we have an app that will prevent your kids — or anyone of significance — from ignoring your texts.
ReplyASAP is an app that lets parents contact their children — even if those kids always have their phones on silent. Creator of the app, Nick Herbert, noticed that giving his son didn’t actually help him get a hold of the boy. His son constantly had his phone on silent and was “too busy” to check in.
Herbert realized if the alarm on his phone could still go off even when his phone was set to silent, then there had to be a way to do the same for text messages. Currently only available for Android, ReplyASAP overrides the silent function of you phone whenever a text is sent through it. Though it can be used as an alternative for messaging apps or SMS, it’s mostly a great way to send emergency texts. The last thing a teenager wants is for their parents to tie them down via an app, so it’s not meant for on-going conversations. It easily lets a kid respond that they’re fine.
“It is key to discuss with the child that they understand the reason for having it. It is not a punishment or a tool for tracking them, nor will it remotely lock [or] freeze their phone,” Herbert told Digital Trends. “It is simply a means of allowing them to carry on using their phone however they want, but giving a means of getting [them] an important message when [you] need to.”
He developed ReplyASAP for Android first because it’s less locked down than iOS and they were able to get it ready quicker. The iOS version will be available soon, which will allow users to send messages regardless of their device.
Does it work?
I am the self-proclaimed queen of the “sorry, I just saw your text!” excuse. I even specifically turned on the read receipts in my iMessage settings because I’m convinced it’s a motivational tool for me to increase my response rate. Sadly, it’s not. I still manage to read a text and mentally respond instead of typing it out and pressing send. Instead, I go back to scrolling through social media and tell myself I’ll answer in a few. It doesn’t help that I too am one of those people who keeps their phone on silent or vibrate.
When I downloaded the app, I was particularly excited to see if whether or not an alarm would actually force me to respond quicker. In addition to read receipts and a loud ringing noise, it completely dominates your screen when you receive a message. The only way to silence it and get rid of the message is to press a button on the message takeover page, which then displays a read receipt.
Your two options on the takeover window are either “Cancel” or “Snooze for 3 Minutes,” both of which will be apparent to the other person. The sender will see a status of the message that either says “Pending” — if the recipient doesn’t have internet connection which is required for use — along with “Delivered,” “Snoozed,” or “Seen” if the recipient read it and pressed cancel. If you delete the app, users will receive a notification letting them know you no longer have it.
While the app is free, I quickly realized that you have to pay for how many users you’d like to add in order to use it. For a limited time, you can connect to one person for free, but after that you must buy a bundle. The “bundles” range from $1 to $14 depending on the amount of contacts you choose. Once you send an invitation via SMS to whoever you’d like to add, they’ll receive a text with a referral code to input into the app, letting them use it for free. If there’s someone else they want to send an ASAP to, they’ll also have to purchase a bundle.
Since my own dad has zero patience for his smartphone, let alone testing an app on it, I decided to try it out with my co-workers. We set up the apps on our phones and braced ourselves. The interface is simple to use with a dropdown menu of who you want to contact, a text box to write out your message, and the option to send it. You can even schedule a text to send later by setting the time.
The app did work the first few times as we sent messages back and forth. I would hit snooze when I received a text and it would clearly label “snooze” underneath the text. I couldn’t physically exit the window until I chose an action in response to the text — definitely an uncomfortable experience at first.
By the last test we did, I wasn’t able to turn off the alarm. The combination of the obnoxious sound and me not having a clue on how to get it to stop, was enough anxiety to make me realize the app definitely gets its point across. I found myself aggressively pressing the snooze and cancel button, but the horrific noise still wouldn’t stop. I handed off the phone to another co-worker instead who force quit the app instead. It did start working again even after the minor glitch and upon receiving another text, I became used to the sound and began replying a little quicker.
There have been constant bug fixes and improvements to the app since its recent launch, and Herbert says there is a long list of new features and updates to add in the future. His current focus is to roll out a version for iOS and to fix other issues with the app users are mentioning.
In theory, it makes sense to have an app that counteracts our constant habit to disregard text messages when our phones are always on silent or vibrate. But with ReplyASAP in its beginning stages, I wasn’t able to overlook a few of its problems. For instance, you can still force quit any app so it sort of defeats the purpose of its ability to freeze your screen. There’s also the fact that someone won’t be able to reach you through it unless you’re connected to the internet and in case of a real emergency, you’re better off not using it.
But the fear instilled from hearing the alarm is enough to remind teens to let their parents know they’re okay. There’s probably nothing more embarrassing than being at the movies or at a party only to have your phone loudly and uncontrollably go off.
Moral of the story: check in with your loved ones. It’ll take you less than two seconds. Then apps like this won’t need to exist.
Why it matters to you
What is a game? Indie developers continue to push the boundaries, blurring the line between games, art, and literature.
A 19th-century book about building a cabin in the woods and spending a couple of years musing about the meaning of life may seem like an unlikely subject for a video game, but Walden, A Game has recently claimed the Game of the Year and Most Significant Impact awards at the recent Games for Change awards.
Developed over a decade by Tracy Fullerton, director of the Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, the innovative indie game draws its inspiration from the writings of Thoreau, encouraging a deliberate and thoughtful pace. Walden Pond has been meticulously recreated, and the game loosely follows the events of his first year in the Massachusetts woods.
There’s a survival aspect to the game, as you must build your cabin, plant beans for food, and so on. But you’re also encouraged to explore the meticulously recreated Walden Woods to find various animals, plants, and relics like arrowheads. Spend too much time grinding away at working, however, and your “inspiration” level starts to drop. The world loses its luster as the colors become less vibrant and the music fades away.
Fullerton elaborated on some of the design decisions for Walden in an essay for Rolling Stone. “Today, we live in a world that has sacrificed simplicity and self-reliance for interconnectivity and convenience,” she said. “The speeding up of life that Thoreau identified as ‘railroad time’ might now be just as well thought of as ‘Internet time.’ The design of this game, with its affordances for reflective play, offers a chance for players, young and old, from all walks of life, to go to the woods, virtually, to live and play deliberately.”
The game received some notice in academic circles as well. It got funding from both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Smithsonian magazine called it “the world’s most improbable video game.”
Would Thoreau have approved of Walden, A Game and our interconnected and wired lifestyles of the 21st century? Possibly not, if this quote from Walden is any indication: “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.”
Why it matters to you
If you’re someone in the tech field having trouble landing your dream job, Leap.ai is here to help you.
Everybody wants to be able to find a job that they love, though the hiring process isn’t always want we want it to be. Richard Liu and Yunkai Zhou want to help those in the tech industry get interviewed for the kinds of jobs that they really want. The two ex-Google engineers have created a startup called Leap.ai, and the app’s goal is to help make things easier for those searching for a tech-related job.
The app officially launched on August 22 with $2.4 million in seed money. What you do is sign up on Leap.ai’s website or iOS app and create a profile for yourself, much like any other social media app. You submit a self-assessment, detailing your strengths, what types of jobs you prefer as well as your values as an individual. The algorithm then goes to work, matching your information with what a company is looking for in a potential employee. Once a match has been made, Leap.ai lets you know about the potential opportunity and sends your resume to the employer.
Not only does it go ahead and send the resume, but the app also delivers a letter of recommendation of sorts — an explanation of why the job seeker is a great match for the company and position. Leap.ai sets out to handle a lot of the work for you, making the act of job-seeking easier.
Dropbox, Zoom, and Uber are just a few of the customers the app has, which claims 50 in total. “We chose to partner with ZhenFund partially due to their strong brand recognition and Mr. Bob Xu’s strong influence over the young generation in China,” Liu, cofounder and CEO, wrote in an email to VentureBeat.
“I probably hired 500 people into my division,” Liu told TechCrunch in an interview. “We learned that hiring is hard. Your ability to learn, collaborate or take initiative are strong characteristics, but it is hard to get a feel for them from an interview. Curiosity and drive, in an interview process you can’t do too much to gauge that.”
Customers are charged when they hire a candidate through the platform, with the rate being based on the first-year salary.