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.


Runcible is unique pocket watch-style mobile phone

For consumers looking for a unique mobile phone with a unique internal and external design, there aren’t many options available on the market today.

The makers of Runcible are out to change that with a mobile phone modeled on the look of pocket watches. Internally, the Runcible’s operating system is built on top of Mozilla’s open source Firefox OS. It features a fully round screen and a palm-sized form factor. Although it uses Bluetooth, LTE and Wi-Fi, Runcible will never beep, alert or otherwise interrupt the user, its maker says.

Runcible is certainly unique, so there might be at least a small group of consumers attracted to it on that basis alone. Beyond that, however, it’s too soon to predict how well Runcible might perform in the marketplace, largely because of the few product details available on Monohm’s website, the device’s manufacturer. The device will ship in late 2015 though product pricing hasn’t  yet been provided. Monohm, though, says the cost will be comparable to a premium, unlocked smartphone.


Pi Watch open source smartwatch makes room for teeny Arduino board, microSD slot

As many cool and exciting things the smartwatches on the market allow users to do, at the end of the day they’re locked into their own hardware and software. This ultimately limits their use to only what the company behind it intends, and limits the imagination of those who buy it. As a result, consumers may have some of the most advanced tech on their wrist, but they basically have no clue how it works.

A big problem lies in the motivation to learn, something the Pi Watch does a good job of creating. The star of the show is the onboard, Arduino-ready Teensy 3.1, a powerful platform that supports a wide array of programming initiatives with the help of integrated Bluetooth 4.0, an accelerometer, magnometer, microphone, buzzer, and infrared transmitter. A bright and round 220 pixel TFT LCD brings it all together, offering users 160 pixels per inch and a 10-point touch ring surrounding it for both pre-programmed and custom gestures.

So far, the Pi Watch has demonstrated light video playback, the ability to be a password keeper, the control of televisions with the infrared transmitter, and the ability to play custom games. A lot more content can be created and added to the watch with the help of the microSD card slot, even if the 480mAh rechargeable battery may not last as long as users may hope. The $119 Pi Watch is expected to ship in March of 2015 should its campaign successfully reach its $50,000 goal.

For the most part, the Pi Watch is being presented as a learning tool, evident in its less than stellar aesthetics. But it serves the purpose of engaging in the technology hands-on and follows the lead of other open source platforms like the RaspiTab, Pi-Top, and Novena, this time with a wearable, an exciting opportunity for many tinkerers.


Librem 15 open source laptop keeps your digital life liberated with quality parts

Ever since revelations of spying corporate and governmental have become widespread, the tech scene has become a hotbed for the privacy issue. For the most part, though, everything is business as usual. There are choices, but they either treat privacy with the same attitudes, or don’t and offer hardware that isn’t up to snuff. Hobbyists can build their own computers, but even loose components can have shady links to the companies that made them.

The Librem 15 is letting users have their cake and eat it too. Each and every single piece of hardware is specially selected to make sure it is completely devoid of any unknown code, because the company believes in respecting the fundamental right to privacy people have. The Librem 15 combines an open source approach with high-end, quality parts. The laptop runs with the best of them, sporting a 15″ 1920×1080 screen, a 720p camera, an 8 core Intel i7, 4GB of ram, 500GB of storage, 3 USB 3.0 slots, an SDXC slot, and a CD/DVD-rom driveand it all weighs in at 4.4lbs.

Compared to products like the Novena, the Librem 15 is the pretty much the sleekest, most powerful Linux-based laptop available, and its price reflects that. But as there’s a market for high-end Apple laptops, there is sure to be one for a high-end open source laptop, too. The earliest birds can grab a base model for $1,149, while those later on can spend upwards of $1,899 for the same. Purism is looking for $250,000 in funding to have the laptop shipped by July 2015.

Virtual Reality

Open DoVision creates VR using open components

When Oculus Rift was bought by Facebook, many interested parties suddenly found themselves without that passionate interest in the device. Thankfully, companies like DotLab are working on alternatives, like the Open DoVision; a fully open-source VR headset that is easy to connect and use. By simply connecting the USB cable and the display output cable of choice (HDMI, VGA, A/V), Open DoVision can display any content right in front of the user’s eyes, with head-tracking features by moving the mouse cursor with accelerometers.

Because Open DoVision is open-source, DotLab encourages users to get their hands into the code and create new features and functions for the device. Additionally, a few parts can be interchanged in the headset to create a simple head-mounted display for use in games that don’t natively support VR headsets or for movies or other media content.

DotLab needs $20,000 AUD (~$17,000 USD) to release Open DoVision, and backers can get their head in the game for $99 AUD (~$85 USD) in January 2015. The presentation is a little lacking, and gamers shouldn’t expect direct support for the Open DoVision for a while, but at this price tag, this is a VR headset worth looking into.

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.


iBox nano 3D printer lets you make stuff anywhere

With 3D printing enjoying increasing coverage nowadays, more and more people are beginning to understand the possibilities. As a result, eyes widen at the concept, but not as many people have actually had hands-on experience because of the prohibitive costs. For those who currently do use 3D printers, it’s more likely someone wants to only print smaller objects, but has to shell out for a costly, large printer to get it done.

iBox Printers has created the iBox nano 3D: the world’s smallest and quietest 3D printer. Weighing in at three pounds, the device is capable of untethered resin printing over Wi-fi using any browser on any device, eliminating concerns of compatibility. The product was also conceived with the home user in mind, so there is no software to install. In addition, this product takes advantage of the large amount of open-source 3D modeling software and uses UV LEDs instead of DLP projector bulbs which last longer and use less power. The 328 micron resolution of the XY axis complements the .39 micron resolution on the Z-axis so that users can print fine detail without breaking the bank for more expensive printers. The company is looking to raise a whopping $300,000 in total. 3D printing pioneers can get their hands on one for $269.

The iBox nano 3D piques interest considering its portable, lightweight, and extremely open nature. The Pocket 3D printer has also positioned itself as a portable printer and, even if it’s form factor doesn’t quite lend itself to portability, what it produces doesn’t have a curing period like the iBox nano 3D. This is the biggest oversight: the iBox may be portable, but it doesn’t mean it will be actually usable everywhere as the resin supplied has very specific handling concerns. That might impede its practicality and may or may not be enough to turn people off, but its price point will probably ensure it won’t be much of a problem.

Food and Beverage Technology

Barobot mixes drinks from up to 12 bottles at once, won’t hear your sob story

The Premise. Getting home from a hard day at the office or throwing a party for friends would be better if nobody had to play bartender the whole night. One can always pour their own cocktails, but getting the ratios right can be difficult and what should be refreshing can turn out overpowering.

The Product. The Barobot is a shelf-top device for top-shelf liquor that can hold up to 12 bottles and pour perfect shots into a cup as it moves it back and forth down the alcoholic assembly line. With an open source, open platform design, the Barobot is completely customizable — from the LED lighting displays to the touch-screen interface that makes ordering any drink a snap. New cocktails can be added to the menu easily, and for those that want to have a drink waiting for them, a tablet can be used to place a drink order so that by the time the walk to the Barobot is completed, so is the beverage.

The Pitch. The Barobot pitch is just like its design: colorful, playful, and inviting. The idea alone of a robot that makes drinks for an entire party is something to smile about. The Barobot team is wise not to get too involved in the technical side of things, going so far as to compare assembling the device to playing with LEGO. Barobot is looking to raise £90,000 to handle production of the device.

The Perks. The Barobot is available to supporters for £774, complete with all of the necessary hardware in choice of color, and the app. For those that doubt their construction skills, the fully assembled version is available for £1,479, and those that want a one-of-a-kind personal touch can have their Barobot customized for £3,499. The first batch will ship in August, with more in September of 2014.

The Potential. Between the high-class image that comes with owning a bartending robot, the quality parts, and the open source design, the Barobot is a very tempting item to consider owning. The price point is a little high for a device that moves cups and pours shots, however, no matter how trendy it looks. It’s a shame to be turned off by the price alone when the rest of the machine is extremely likeable, but it will probably prove to be a price point too high for all but the most affluent of home technology show-offs.


m!Qbe controls lighting with a roll of the die

The Premise. The downside to upgrading a home’s lighting system to something more advanced than a simple on/off switch is learning how to make use of the new control panel that comes with it. Adding functionality without overcomplicating things is a constant struggle for any design.

The Product. While it may look like a children’s toy from the future, the m!Qbe is really a lighting control system designed to make the most of modern lighting and its features. By programming different settings into the faces of the cube, changing light distribution, color, and brightness is as simple as setting a different side of the m!Qbe face up. Certain faces are also motion-enabled, allowing users to twist the cube to adjust colors or dim lights, and indecisive owners can even shake the cube to randomly generate a lighting option. The m!Qbe is open-source, allowing designers to develop applications for the device beyond lighting.

The Pitch. Positioned in the video as a solution that even the designers’ grandma can use, the m!Qbe product demonstration is equal parts simple and confusing at first. Once it becomes clear that users design their own preferences to the different symbols on the faces of the cube, making use of the device proves to be that much easier. The flexibility of the luminaires is on display with the variety of options shown in the video that can be changed on the fly with a simple roll of the m!Qbe. m!Qbe designers Blue Asterisk UG want €120,000 to finish streamlining the device and moving into the testing and production phases.

The Perks. An m!Qbe control is available for pledges of €125, available in October 2014. Add-ons are plentiful, with wi-fi for an extra €15, an extra charger for €25, and an extra base for the luminaires for €95. The complete set can be shipped out for those that contribute €235, with higher tiers including more components.

The Potential. The m!Qbe is very modern in its design, turning a complicated light panel into a simple handheld cube. While it’s open-platform design makes it flexible to tackle any kind of appliance or home ambience system, a simple app could do the same thing. The m!Qbe is a home novelty at best, something that could be replaced by a more intuitive system.


Novena gives hackers the portable, customizable PC of their dreams

The Premise. In some circles, it’s become increasingly commonplace to want to build  a computer rather than buy a ready-made model. Even when building, however, buyers are at the mercy of multiple manufacturers who may or may not want to add things like unwanted programs or trackers to prevent any tampering with the hardware.

The Product. Going far beyond lower-end hacker hardware like the Raspberry Pi, The Novena Open Laptop is a device designed by two men with a passion for open-source, flexible computers made to be hacked and played with. Developed entirely in-house from the ground up, from motherboard to operating system, the Novena is meant to be a powerful computing option for people who want their machine to do a lot, and who want to do a lot to their machine. With a 1.2 GHz quad-core processor, 4 GB of RAM, a 4GB microSD card, and onboard Wi-Fi, Novena is built to crunch some serious code.

The Pitch. From the get-go, the passion of Novena founders Andrew “bunnie” Huang and Sean “xobs” Cross regarding open-source and hacking is apparent. That passion translates to every aspect of the Novena system, from the easy-open case to the extensive documentation for the boards that makes the hardware (relatively) easy to tailor for any need. Novena wants to raise $250,000 to bring this openly designed laptop to market, mostly to handle manufacturing and finalization of the firmware.

The Perks. Hardware junkie DIY builders can receive just the Novena board and build their own case for $500. The pre-built “desktop” model is available for $1,195, the laptop for $1,995, and for those that are obsessed with style, a hand-crafted wood and aluminum case laptop is available for $5,000. The boards are expected to ship in November, with each higher tier launching in subsequent months.

The Potential. Let’s be clear, for everything the Novena can do, it is certainly not going to be a mass-market, user-friendly option. What it can do is give hardcore tech lovers a device that is flexible and accessible to any need or hypothesis that can be tested. Because everything is open and accessible, some professional knowledge of usage and safety is required, but for those who have that knowledge, this is a compact, modifiable solution for any kind of software or hardware development needs.