RoboCORE cloud-powered device and development platform opens the door to innovative robotics

Robotics as a hobby is becoming increasingly popular due to the the availability of development platforms such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi. These platforms are inexpensive and extremely customizable, making them especially suited to tinkerers everywhere. Their biggest problems are their lack of power underneath the hood, along with the offline-only limits that stifle all sorts of possibilities.

The RoboCORE is a cloud-powered device and development platform that combines hardware and software into one, streamlining the process for creating all sorts of inventions. It isn’t dependent on any particular mechanics system, so it can paired with anything from Legos to custom metal constructions—the only limitation being the skill and imagination of the person working with it. The RoboCORE’s Intel Edison CPU facilitates the control of both autonomous and remotely-controlled constructions, along with the attached modules, motors, sensors, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi within them. In the right hands, powerful robots can be created, running the gamut from telepresence to connected lawnmowers.

The beauty of the platform is its wireless capability, allowing users to program and control their creations from anywhere using web, Android, or iOS apps that take advantage of Web IDE. The company’s C/C++ proprietary robotics framework, titled hFramework, does the heavy lifting—although users can opt to code in Python as well. None of the advanced knowledge is needed for basic creations, though, as programming templates are available to get those interested started right way.

RoboCORE is another product aiming to streamline the necessities that a maker demands, but that is something a product like Mono does as well. As engaging and helpful as the RoboCORE can be, it will have a tough time garnering attention among a sea of other, more established development platforms.

A RoboCORE with an Intel Edison is awarded for $159, but early birds can grab one for less. The $50,000 campaign is looking to raise the funding by March 13, and expects to get the product out in the summer of this year.


MiniCut2D lets users take baby steps to 3D printing glory

While 3D printers are all the rage these days, they still remain somewhat of a mystery to the layman. Expensive machines coupled with complex programs ultimately build an extremely intimidating process most people would be scared off by.

MiniCut2D is aimed at those who are interested in what 3D printing can do, but lack the advanced skills necessary to transform what they have in their mind into a physical object. The product utilizes a hot wire that cuts hard polystyrene foam usually used as insulation material. The process is accessible to most because it only requires either a manually drawn image or a silhouette off of the Internet to help guide the wire to cut the shape necessary. The thickness of the material gives the object its third dimension as a result, and allows even beginners to create things such as words, planes, packing, and scale models. This gives users more variety than with scanners like the Pouff 3D that can only scan objects as big as the scanner itself.

Its open source Windows software supports CAD and SketchUp file formats, so MiniCut2D can serve as motivation for beginners looking to move on to more advanced ideas. The €8,900 (~$10,043) campaign is looking to have the €499 (~$563) product out to backers by May of this year.


Quirkbot marries straws and brains for childhood fun and games

Strawbees made it so that everyday straws could be connected together to construct all kinds of interesting shapes and forms. Its simplicity stems from its incredibly basic, small structure that is easily understood by all.

Now, another campaign has come along with the intention of expanding the possibilities of Strawbees. The makers behind Quirkbot have created an Arduino microcontroller that can serve as the brains of any Strawbees creation, allowing users to breathe life into them by programming lights, sounds, and motion. Quirkbot is an extremely versatile “toy to make toys,” and as such imagination is the only thing limiting the potential of what comes from the marriage of both. A donation of $63 gets backers the Quirkbot starter kit with one Quirkbot, 10 LED lights, and one Servo motor. The $55,000 campaign is looking to have the product out by August 2015.

An easy to use visual programming interface tries to make Quirkbot accessible to anyone, so that creations like dogs and hula-hooping humanoid figures can be created. Backpack extensions expand on functionality by adding additional sensors, and when it isn’t being used as the centerpiece of a figure, it can be programmed to act as a controller for any game of application. However, these creations are facing an environment filled with imaginative, creative toys all vying for children’s attention, like Snaak and CubeCraft.

Kids/Babies Maker/Development Toys

Cirkits sewable electronic kit encourages STEM skills, no old ladies in sight

Sewing is an action most popularly associated with the dry cleaners most go to when tragedy strikes their favorite pair of pants. As such, most people don’t thinking of sewing as a fun activity, a huge reason why more and more children are growing up without it.

The team behind the Cirkits sewable electronic kit thinks sewing can be a valuable part of a children’s play, and are harkening back to a time when sewing kits for children were an inspiration for everyone from Charles Eames to Frank Lloyd Wright. Their product brings sewing into the 21st century by combining it with the ability for children to make simple, series, and parallel circuits to animate the circus-themed cards packaged within the kit.

Beginner Cirkits cards come with a plastic sewing needle, conductive thread, a battery, and sewable LEDs, while advanced cards also enclose a motor, a sound buzzer, and a microcontroller for movement and sound, all to encourage storytelling, imaginative play, and curiosity in the sciences. A basic set of cards is priced at $30, while a set of all six cards of various levels is priced at $80. The $15,000 campaign is looking to ship Cirkits by December 2015.

This product certainly has a place alongside the many other toys no doubt occupying the attention of little ones all over, especially as more and more toys are released that aim to teach more STEM skills. Products like Bildy, XYZ, and Assembly are all in good company with Cirkits, and make for more engaged childrenas long as they can be pried from their tablets and game consoles.

Maker/Development Smart Home

Personal Robot combines home automation with facial recognition, other technologies

editors-choiceHaving a device in the house that can function as a personal assistant, while also serving as a home automation system would come in handy. Especially when it combines far-field voice recognition with emotion, facial and object recognition. Introducing the Personal Robot, one such device, from the New York-based company Robotbase.

Personal Robot features a 3D depth camera and noise canceling microphone array technology, and it can communicate with the user’s connected devices via wireless Z-Wave Plus, Zigbee, BLE and Wi-Fi. The far-field voice recognition enables the device to hear the user’s commands all the way from the other side of the room. The user can ask Personal Robot for information including the local weather, news, sports scores and recipes, as the video on its Kickstarter campaign shows. The device can also be used to play music, schedule meetings, set alarms, and control the temperature in a home to save energy and money. Backers who pledge $995 will get one when it ships in December. Its maker set a goal of raising $50,000 on Kickstarter.

Other devices on the market have attempted some of the same functionality. But Personal Robot’s advanced software, which incorporates deep learning algorithms, give it an advantage over some competing products. Some consumers might find the computer-animated female character that is featured on the device’s screen a bit creepy, although the device’s maker says the user can change how she looks.


RaspiTab open-source tablet is customizable, hacker-friendly

Every year, all the big name tablets on the market offer increasingly greater levels of performance and design, giving users unparalleled graphics and robust operating systems that pretty much do anything software-wise. Unfortunately, all this software is inherently limited by what hardware these companies choose to install in the device themselves. This leaves users who’d prefer alternative capabilities pretty much out in the cold.

While the RaspiTab won’t win any awards with its 7″ capacitive touch screen or 5MP camera, its Raspberry Pi heart will win over the legions of tinkerers and hackers who long for more autonomy over their hardware. The Pi allows for unparalleled customization of the RaspiTab to accommodate whatever someone might need inside it, from a GPS to a NFC chip to an accelerometer. To facilitate the easy installation of these parts, the product’s chassis is held together by minimal connections so that the process of taking it apart never becomes a chore. The RaspiTab can be had for £159 (~$248). Enterprising backers can expect their own come April 2015 should the campaign reach its £125,000 (~$195,400) goal.

The RaspiTab is certainly underwhelming on the stats side, but it’s completely up to the user if it stays like that. With so much room within its chassis to make adjustments, the hackable product has the capability to be similarly equipped to or even superior than other tablets provided the user knows enough. At the very least, the RaspiTab sits firmly in the Raspberry Pi tradition of creating an educational environment that can empower those learning hardware design and coding, alongside good company like the Pi Top.


Wizabiz business cards alight and animate when placed on a smartphone screen

Business cards are a great tool to have when networking at conferences and other social business gatherings. Wizabiz offers an opportunity to make a rather memorable impression with a business card. The translucent smart cards sit on top of the user’s smartphone and with the help of an accompanying app light up with color, animation, a short video or basic illumination, depending on preference. Then the card can be slid off the phone and handed to the prospect or new contact. The user can also take advantage of NFC to track who has viewed their business card anywhere in the world.

Given the fact that the average person spends about 1.5 seconds looking at a business card, this seems like it may have some potential to attract attention for a longer period of time and perhaps make a more memorable impression. However, the fact that the card is translucent seems like it could cause problems with contact information being visible once handed to the prospect or contact. This campaign seeks to raise $75,000. For $195, backers get 250 cards with an expected delivery of February 2015.


Tiny Mono provides development platform potential

Sometimes, our smart devices are a little too smart for what we want to do and a little too rigid for the intrepid among us. This makes merely tinkering with the different platforms in our lives pretty much impossible. Innovations like Arduino boards and Raspberry Pis lets buffs realize their ideas, but they can easily get out of hand and end up with nothing but a jumble of wires.

The one difficult thing when it comes to creation is testing out the idea, but the Mono makes it easy to do just that. The tiny device comes equipped with a 2.2″ TFT touch display, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, an accelerometer, and a temperature sensor. Mono is a gadget as much as it is a development platform. As such, it’s completely open source, so it can act as an interface for other, custom ideas, or act on its own. By downloading tailored apps from the MonoKiosk app store, Mono can act as a one-touch light for Phillips Hue connected bulbs, or can display weather forecasts, for example. A single, fully loaded Mono goes for kr710 (~$119), and is expected in May 2015. The campaign is looking for kr500,000 (~$83,300) in funding.

In and of themselves, the applications touted by the Mono seem fairly tame, but its potential is really in how makers end up utilizing it. An expansion connector on the device’s back allows for increased utility such as connected power, a 3.5mm carries multiple digital and analog signals, and an SD card slot really gets the mind going when it comes to how much programming and data a single 32GB card can hold. All this tech in the hands of the right person can result in comparable, more innovative products than those on the market now, all at a fraction of the cost.

Cycling Maker/Development

Bamboobee lets you build your own bike from bamboo

There’s a certain satisfaction from building things on your own that is unfortunately absent from an economy that wants us to buy everything pre-made and brand new. That experience doesn’t do much for us, so instead of going to your local bike shop and riding one out the door, why not make your own? The Bamboobee lets you do just that with a package that includes all the parts necessary to build your own bike frame from bamboo. Termed a BIY (build it yourself) bike, the Bamboobee makes it easy to assemble your own cross-country frame in just three days by giving you the instructions to do so along with a platform to do it on.

At this point in the campaign, the inventor is also offering a kit with everything but the wheels for an additional $139 so that you can be 99% at the end of the third day. The combination of beautiful materials and the excitement of riding a bike of your own making will have many interested in such an unique product. They’ll just need to be careful their assembly is up to snuff as it could lead to potential accidents. All in all, the Bamboobee’s customization options sure attract as does its $179 price tag. Backers can expect delivery of the bamboo bike in Februrary 2015. The campaign is hoping to raise $15,000.

Maker/Development Technology

Pi Top is a chunky open source laptop to teach you about coding

The increasing proliferation of technology in every part of our lives has led to a similar increase in demand for those who understand it all. With hardware, electronics, and code all at the heart of today’s most used technology, it’s an incredible challenge for those interested to even start. Outside of teaching yourself or attending costly college-level courses, there aren’t too many resources for those starting from scratch.

The mission behind Pi-Top is simple: focus on teaching people how to create and code great hardware. Initially, the open source laptop is shipped in pieces: a 13.3″ HD LCD monitor, various PCBs, keyboard, trackpad, Wi-Fi adapter, wiring, battery, and a Raspberry Pi to control it all. Instructions are included to lead users in the Pi-Top’s construction, and serve as an introductory lesson to everything the Pi-Top does. Afterwards, it functions as a laptop dedicated to teaching the skills necessary to transform a pure novice into someone who can design printed circuit boards, 3D print, and code anything they’d want using free online lessons direct from the company. In addition, the Raspberry Pi’s HAT specification allows small add-on boards to add functionality, a consideration Pi-Top was built with. This allows users to program robots or have access to a variety of sensors for home automation, and with more HATs being released, there are a wealth of options for the curious tinkerer. All in all, the Pi-Top is truly an accessible product priced at $285 and many agree: the company’s $80,000 has been funded.

The Pi-Top does a great job in streamlining the process of learning a topic that has incredible depth. The free online courses demonstrate immediate, physical results and will be great at drawing users in and keeping them there, a leg up on what the Novena does. Even if it may contain beefier internals (and a similarly beefy price), the makers behind the Novena do nothing to at least expand your knowledge. The Pi-Top is very user friendly, and will prove to be a hit with those who take the plunge.