Arts Maker/Development

SmartMatrix LED display trips the lights fantastic

Once, thethe pixel a common companion in the lives of many, but the race for higher density displays across the devices in our lives has squarely relegated the pixel to an afterthought. Still, many still have soft spots in their hearts for the blocky phones screens, Pac-Mans, and Marios of yesteryear.

That nostalgia still lives on today through a plethora of retro-styled games and art, and the SmartMatrix LED board is positioning itself as the best way to display it all in the home. The SmartMatrix’s 9″ by 9″ frame contains a compact 32 RGB LEDs working in tandem as everything from a music visualizer to a video game art display to a GIF display, making for some seriously throwback light shows.

Kids/Babies Maker/Development

Fun with Circuits promises a storybook beginning for engineers in training

Kids are drawn naturally to technology, but oftentimes understand little of how those pixels light up. One way to change that is by stirring the first steps to understanding electronics into a familiar learning took for young ones: the storybook

The Fun With Circuits storybook and basic block-like interactive electronics kit that introduces children to electrical circuit concepts that are fundamental to STEM education. By using storytelling complemented by inviting illustrations, children more easily understand the electrical concepts that underly all types of technology through meaningful context. Kids have to use the colorful circuit components to solve simple puzzles to advance the story. .The developers recommend the product for kids aged 6 through 10 and seek $35,000 by May 9. For $75, one can be shipped by December.

We’ve seen a number of kids’ introductions to electronics and robotics lately. Similar products to Fun With Circuits include the Codie, but there’s something unique about pairing the learning experience with a traditional book that reinforces the idea of being hands-on.


mDrawBot is the Transformer that took up an art career

Makeblocks give intrepid DIYers a versatile assortment of parts to make whatever kind of robots they can dream up, all in conjunction with components like Raspberry Pi or an Arduino board.

Now, the same team behind Makeblocks has come up with mDrawBot. mDrawBot is a kit of specific Makeblocks used in conjunction with a proprietary Arduino board. Together, they can be used to create a 4-in-1 drawing robot capable of fulfilling whatever artistic impulses one can think up. The product’s hands-on nature may scare off some, but it’s all worth it when one considers that the mDrawBot can be configured into four different forms. The first is the mSpider, which can draw and paint on any vertical surface, and whose string lengths are adjustable to increase its range.

Its second form is the mScara, used to draw on paper with an installed pen, or engrave on material like wood if a laser diode is installed. Its third form is mEggBot, used solely with eggs and other oval-shaped objects similar to eggs. Lastly, its final form is the mCar, used to draw on the floor. The kit’s versatility promises to be extremely useful in a number of varied, albeit specific, situations. Even if the DIY nature of mDrawBot is challenging to some, the product holds a lot of appeal for others.

A standard mDrawBot kit costs $179, and is compatible with Mac, Windows, and Linux. A May 2015 ship date is dependent of the success of its $50,000 campaign goal which ends on May 28.



Kids/Babies Maker/Development

Codie steers its way to teaching kids simple programming concepts

There are many apps and Web sites that help teach young minds how to program. In addition to being a worthwhile pursuit in and of itself, it helps students learn lessons in logic and problem-solving. However, in this era of connected devices, it’s helpful to see the ways in which coding can affect objects in the real world.

Codie is a small robotic set tank tread that has various sensors in it. Unlike many kits that combine development and robot-building, it is ready to go right out of the box. A companion app allows beginning programmers to implement very simple instructions and logic to control the bot via Bluetooth. Codie includes a microphone, proximity sensor, light sensor, ultrasound sensor, accelerometer and gyroscope. Not everything Codie does depends on its wheels. It can even be used as an alarm clock.

Codie includes a rechargeable lithium ion battery that allows it to run for about four hours of continuous play.. Codie’s use of Bluetooth and simple companion app are part of what set it apart from Romo, another crowdfunded kid-friendly programmable tread-based robot.

The makers of Codie compare it to Lego Mindstorms, a far more expensive and elaborate — albeit expandable — early robotics kit that is used in introductory robotics. Codie is certainly better geared toward younger kids and has a lower price. The Budapest-based team seels $70,000 by May 15;  Codie costs $169 and should be delivered by November.


Raspberry Pi cleans up by donning the PiKasa

Raspberry Pi devices are super useful precisely because they offer so much functionality. From messaging, games and music playback to controlling “internet of things” devices – it can pretty much handle whatever light duties need to be accomplished. The biggest problem, though, is how messy everything becomes when the bare Pi is out in the open, with all kinds of wires connected to it.

As it turns out, the Raspberry Pi cleans up nicely with the PiKasa, a simple but attractive housing structure dedicated to making the module more presentable. The housing comes complete with a 7″ HDMI LCD screen, five USB ports, a LAN hookup, speakers, a battery charger, and a spill proof keyboard just for safety. This setup deepens the Raspberry Pi’s versatility while also making it something that can be left out in the open without causing one to look like a mad scientist. Backers can grab one for $99, with a ship date somewhere in August 2015. Its funding goal is $25,000 by April 14.

The Raspberry Pi certainly has many outfits, and this one is limited to being just a desktop. If a user is looking for something a bit more portable, the RaspiTab offers some Pi in a hackable and upgradeable tablet form.

Maker/Development Technology

LED-studded Cuberox supplies notifications with a shake and style

Whenever someone has a successful idea, most products or services that follow will likely look identical. That is, until something new comes along and shakes things up. Take smartphones for example: today, every single smartphone is a small slab of well-manufactured aluminum with a bright and luminous screen. A similar thing seems to be happening with products like Pixxso and DISPLIO, external E-Ink screens that provide small bits of information from connected devices.

The choice to use E-Ink is certainly efficient, but that’s not what Cuberox does. The six-sided and completely waterproof cube doubles down on power, stuffing an entire Linux-powered computer into a small but elegant solution. With each of its sides sporting a bright, 16×16 LED-enabled screen, Cuberox does everything other external screens do but with much more style. Cuberox is controlled soley by gestures. Unfortunately, touch capabilities don’t appear to be on the product roadmap at the moment. Still, the device’s limitations open it up to a much more visceral manner of control through shakes, slaps, and swings, along with voice control support if a user isn’t nearby. A low power CPU along with Qi wireless charging capabilities ensures that the Cuberox is always charged and ready to go.

Cuberia, Cuberox’s app store, lets users find apps for all sorts of needs. Weather, gaming, calendar notifications, and tweets just scrape the surface of what the device can do. Meanwhile, available APIs let anyone create whatever they’d like for the product. Its makers are seeking to raise $150,000 by March 29. Each Cuberox is priced at $249, with an expected ship date of December 2015.

Cooking Maker/Development

PancakeBot batter printer whips up your favorite breakfast in different shapes

There’s no better way to start a morning than with the savory smell of pancakes fresh out the griddle, sizzling with buttery goodness. What could possibly be better? Well, how about a machine that prints pancake batter onto a griddle in any form you can dream up?

patent-claimedThat machine exists, and it’s called the PancakeBot. For some, the PancakeBot is a dream come true. Users, using either a Windows machine or a Mac, can trace out an original design and transfer it over to an SD card. From there, the SD card is inserted into the PancakeBot whereupon a specially designed vacuum and pressure system control the flow of batter to create a unique pancake. For users who don’t want to get bogged down in design, PancakeBot’s companion software comes with a number of pre-loaded designs. Operation wise, the PancakeBot is relatively straightforward as it doesn’t include Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity. For some, though, the lack of connectivity options may be a huge negative. Interested backers can add this fun device to their kitchen for $179, with an estimated ship date of July 2015. The PancakeBot campaign is looking for $50,000 in funding by April 10.

The absence of some sort of flipping mechanism makes the idea of an entirely self-contained printing process too good to pass up in the products next iteration. For those looking for a more capable, well-rounded cooking appliance, take a look at the ChefBot instead.

Games Maker/Development

Hackaball ball will get your kids off the couch and outside

Time and time again, traditional video games have gotten a bad rap as enablers of a sedentary lifestyle. These days, with both console and mobile games increasing in popularity, many kids are spending much less time outdoors, their eyes instead glued to a screen.

Hackaball wants to lend a helping hand in getting them moving again. At its core, Hackaball is a computer kids can throw around. Inside the product’s tough, transparent case sits a plethora of motion sensors, 9 LEDs, an accelerometer, and a gyroscope, all of which can be programmed by using the companion iPad app to create games. With it, kids are limited only by their imagination as they can think up of many new ways to play with Hackaball. Additionally, the product comes with unlockable features that become available the more it’s used.

All of this fun is ultimately educational, with the companion app serving as a light introduction to programming — which makes sense given that there’s mention of future Arduino support for Hackaball. Hackaball’s ultimate enemy just happens to be the demographic they’re targeting: children’s attention spans. The $69 product is estimated to be delivered in December 2015, provided a successfully funded $100,000 campaign goal by April 3.

Food and Beverage Maker/Development

Edu-CADO makes growing guacamole trees easier on green thumbs

Many young children, both boys and girls, love playing around and roughhousing in the dirt. And while getting one’s hands dirty is undoubtedly fun for kids of all ages, it would certainly be nice if parents could inject a bit of education into the mix at the same time.

The Edu-CADO promises to do just that. Edu-CADO is an educational gadget that ultimately helps kids and parents work together to plant a guacamole tree. The device’s avocado seed holder is a modern take on the old fashioned method of sticking toothpicks in the seed and balancing it over a glass of water, though the Edu-Cado is notably toothpick-free. The green plastic Edu-CADO contraption offers a more stable way to balance an avocado seed over a glass of water as it houses a pocket for the seed, holes for the roots, and four hardy arms to hold it all together. Though specific measurements aren’t provided, the device appears to be compatible with pretty much any size glass or mug you might have in your cupboard.

Edu-CADO provides a fun activity for both kids and adults who want to exercise their green thumb. It also presents a new and improved way for nature-oriented homeowners to plant a tree in their own backyards. Other easy and fun gardening items worth checking out include NutriTower and Powerguard Greenhouse. This campaign seeks to raise $9500 by April 13, 2015. Backers can pick up one product for $7 with an expected delivery of Aug 2015.

Maker/Development Technology

You can 3D-print your OwnFone, but forget about fancy apps

Many people like to express themselves with their clothes. But outside of supporting particular brands or buying a licensed cellphone cover, it’s pretty difficult for people to use cellphones to express themselves in a similar way.

The London-based developer of OwnFone is out to change that by allowing people to 3D-print the phone itself versus just a cover. The company allows consumers to either design the device using its maker’s FoneBuilder App website and let his company make it for them, or design OwnFones themselves at home using the company’s PrintFone Dev Kit.

Don’t expect a lot of fancy-functionality, though. OwnPhone is a voice-only mobile phone that works on a 2G mobile network; the product has already been available in the U.K. since 2012. U.S. consumers can now buy one for about $100, and can select from a version with word buttons, image buttons, a number keypad, Braille buttons, or a few other configurations. OwnFone will ship in the U.S. in July. Its maker is trying to raise £200,000 (~$308,000) by March 21.

There is likely a market for custom-made cellphones such as OwnFone. One large segment that will likely find it appealing is kids. But there are likely many parents who won’t be willing to shell out $100 on a mobile phone for their children. There are also likely many people who will opt to spend $100 on a low-end smartphone than a nice custom-made phone with limited functionality.