Thursday, October 31, 2013

Some favorite crowd-funded projects

There is a lot going on with crowd-funding these days. Over the past year or so, it has become huge. One might venture to say that it is a significant source of innovation in science, technology and art. Obviously there will be projects that cannot be crowd-funded; it is difficult to imagine a successfully crowd-funded Mars mission or cancer cure. But the space of feasible new projects is vast, and what follow are a few of my favorite crowd-funded projects.

But first, there is a recent noteworthy development from the SEC: previously allowed only to hand out rewards, crowd-funding campaigns will soon be able to award equity too. Equity had thus far been only for accredited investors, people with buckets of spare money in their garages and garden sheds. The possibility of investing in a successful venture rather than simply receiving a toy and a good feeling might make the already-fascinating crowd-funding scene a much more interesting place. It could play an important role in economic recovery.


The Oculus Rift is a virtual-reality headset representing an enormous improvement in performance-to-price ratio. The head tracking is smooth and the graphics are good. This is one of the first crowd-funded projects I heard about, and the first one I contributed to. For $300, I got a headset with a very entertaining demo, and if I get up the energy I will do something myself with science education.

By getting in early and having a huge success, the Oculus Rift set a precedent for big splashy projects, and probably helped Kickstarter as much as Kickstarter helped Oculus.


CastAR is another virtual reality gadget, this time a pair of glasses that project an image onto a retroreflective surface in front of the user. One big innovation here is that the virtual reality can be mixed with actual reality, for instance using game pieces or other objects. Also, because the user is looking at things some distance away, eye strain is reduced. The head-tracking on CastAR follows both rotation and translation where the Oculus Rift only follows rotation.


This is a Bluetooth-enabled Arduino board. Arduino is a cheap easy-to-use controller board for hobbyist projects and art installations. With Bluetooth, whatever you're building can connect to a phone or tablet.


The Espruino is another Arduino-based controller board. What's unique is that it is designed to operate with a language called JavaScript, which has been used in web browsers for a long time but has slowly been gaining momentum as a hardware control language.


This is an instructional program to teach yourself Mandarin. There are flashcards and animations to learn the written characters, and audio materials to learn the spoken language.


If you miss the pre-J-J-Abrams Star Trek franchise, this is for you. This movie brings back Walter Koenig (Chekhov from the original series) with several actors from Star Trek: Voyager. It is set ten years after Voyager's return to human space, and politics and hilarity ensue.


Another big success story, the Pebble can now be purchased for $150 at Best Buy. It connects to your phone and can run Android apps on a very small screen. It has a magnetometer (compass), a three-axixs accelerometer, Bluetooth, ambient light sensors, a 144x168-pixel screen, and a week of battery life between charges. It connects via Bluetooth to your phone so the phone can stay in your pocket most of the time.

My long list below includes some projects that were already funded and have gained significant fame, like the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, or the Pebble smartwatch now available at Best Buy.

Random projects

Phone and tablet

Electronics and computers

Robots and Flying Things


Maker stuff

Here's an interesting list of crowd-funding resources:

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