In no small part, crowdfunding has changed the game when it comes to bringing product ideas to market – for better or worse. While backing early always has the baked-in risk of broken promises and snake-oil sales, some of the most innovative ideas of recent years, like the VR-pioneering Oculus Rift and pioneering smartwatch Pebble, owe their success to platforms like Kickstarter. So from major success stories to those that have flown under-the-radar (we'll get to the biggest disasters at a later date), we've picked out the cream of the crowdfunded crop that you can buy right now.
Most of the items in our roundup are of the under-the-radar variety, but we'd be remiss to not include the VR headset that started it all.
The Rift (which includes both the consumer version and the prototypes and dev kits preceding it) likely needs no introduction at this point, apart from saying that it's been one of the most innovative products from the last decade – and that status will only be accentuated as virtual reality grows in importance.
Prynt photo-printing phone case
Phones are already our constant photographic companions, but there's still a place for the printed image. Sure, we can still go and get our pictures printed, but as far as immediacy goes, the classic Polaroid performs better. Prynt is a phone case that aims to merge the charm of the old with the convenience of the new, by instantly printing photos from Android or iOS devices.
Filters, stickers and frames can be added with an accompanying app, before printing the shot onto paper that peels off as a sticker. The Zink paper enables ink-free printing, so there's no needs to refill cartridges.
A neat little kicker: each photo has a video virtually embedded into it. Through a QR code-like system, users can scan a printed pic with their phone, and the Prynt app will play a short clip captured at the time of the still shot.
The Prynt was funded in March 2015, raising $1.5 million from a target of just $50,000. It's currently available for $149, with a 50 pack of paper refills costing $25.
Beam lightsocket projector
Portable projectors are getting smaller and smarter, and Beam is designed to be as simple as switching on the light – literally – as it's designed to screw into a light socket and project images up to 150 in (381 cm). Unless you have a lot of sideways-facing sockets in your house, Beam will probably wind up mostly using ceilings and tabletops as its screen, but thanks to a slightly flattened edge on one side of its circular shape, you can lay it on a table to aim at a wall. It also functions as a regular bulb.
With Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, users can mirror their phone's screen to the projector, or store apps and media on the device's 8 GB hard drive. The Beam app adds If-Then functionality too, so you can set it up to wake you up at 7am with a video of a rooster crowing, or welcome you home with the news.
Beating its goal of $200,000, the Beam was born in March 2015, raising $759,256.
The Beam is available for $549.
Tado Smart AC
Another app-controlled smart home device, Tado Smart AC functions as an aftermarket add-on to turn your regular air conditioning system into one that senses who's home, and adjusts the temperature accordingly.
Standing in for your AC's remote is a wall-mounted unit, which hands control over to your smartphone and relays instructions to the AC itself. That means you can manually set the temperature of the house from anywhere, but the headline act is the system's geolocation abilities. It knows when the last person leaves the house and automatically turns itself off to save power, and as you head home in the evening, it'll make sure the house is just the right temperature when you get there.
The Tado Smart AC raised over $200,000 of its $150,000 goal in June 2014. It's currently available for $169.
Avegant Glyph personal theater
While it may look like a VR headset in disguise, the Avegant Glyph walks a line between immersion and awareness to deliver a different kind of product. With a crisp HD screen and rich audio, the Glyph is designed to make it feel like you're sitting in your own personal theater. Immersive as it is, you never fully lose awareness of your surroundings either, so you can keep an eye on your luggage at the same time – assuming you're brave enough to wear it out in public, that is. If not, it slides up and (almost) hides in plain sight as a functional pair of headphones.
Social acceptance is a big issue: It makes the most sense in public, yet it also makes you look like a sci-fi character in public. There's also the fact that it won't work with any of Samsung's 2015-16 flagship phones, which lack the necessary HDMI out capabilites.
Still, the last time we tried it, we found the Glyph to be a solid and original idea that was quickly gaining polish. The device was successfully funded in February 2014, smashing its goal of US$250,000 by bringing in over $1.5 million.
The Avegant Glyph is currently available for US$699.
Big Turtle Shell outdoor Bluetooth speaker
There's no prize for guessing what kind of products Outdoor Tech makes. True to its word, the company's Big Turtle Shell is a Bluetooth speaker designed for the great outdoors: solid and water resistant, with a long battery life and 110 decibels of campground-piercing sound. Big and bulky as it is, the Turtle Shell is still designed to be portable, thanks to a handle for carrying it or hanging it from poles or trees. With a 16-hour battery, you can take the party miles from the nearest power point (or neighbor), and if other devices need a pick-me-up, it has enough juice to charge an iPhone four times over.
Outdoor Tech raised over $315,000 in May 2014, far surpassing its $40,000 goal. The Big Turtle Shell is currently available between $179 and $192, depending on your choice of color.
Pebble Time smartwatch
Pebble, the first high(ish) profile smartwatch, got its start on Kickstarter in 2012 and has returned to the crowdfunding trough for the last two years. There are more advanced smartwatches you can buy, but if your priorities lean towards battery life, simplicity and not-quite-as-high pricing, the year-old Pebble Time is still a solid choice.
GoJoe portable coffee brewer
In the modern world, coffee and convenience go hand-in-hand, and the coffee-centered startup Hey Joe set out to make your daily caffeine hit even more readily available. The GoJoe is a tall, battery-powered mug that brews fresh coffee at the push of a button. The top section is filled with water, and when the button is pushed, a heating plate in the middle warms it up. Once it reaches the desired temperature, the water drips down into a coffee pod in the middle, and soon a second reservoir at the bottom is full of your morning cup of joe. The battery detaches from the bottom for convenience or charging, which it does via USB.
In July 2014, the GoJoe campaign made almost $110,000, from a target of $20,000. It's currently available for $99.
Hudway Glass car HUD
Smartphones can house plenty of important information about a drive, like when to turn, how fast you're going and if a wild Pikachu has appeared, but letting them distract you can have serious consequences. In response, heads-up displays (HUDs) that project those details into your peripheral vision are finding their way into cars, and Hudway Glass might be one of the most elegant and inexpensive solutions.
Unlike others which reflect directly onto your windshield, the device sits on the dash and cradles your smartphone, and with a HUD app open – including Hudway's own – drive information is reflected onto a small glass plate for easy viewing. To avoid cluttering up the screen and distracting the driver anyway, the system only shows the important details, like speed, directions, and what's ahead in the road.
Hudway Glass raised $622,785 in November 2015, after seeking $100,000. It's available for preorder on Amazon, with units shipping in September.
MOSS, the modular robot kit
Like Lego, Meccano and Minecraft before it, Modular Robotics has tapped into the insatiable appetite kids have for building stuff. Since its original campaign, the company has created a series of MOSS robot kits, culminating in the deluxe set that is the MOSS Exofabulatronixx 5200. This mouthful of a model kit lets you loose with 52 blocks, some of which perform specific functions, while others are there to support the structure. Combine those with the 140 carbon steel balls that act as joints and hinges, and Modular Robotics promises a range of possible robot designs that numbers in the thousands.
The block functions on offer include motors, pivots, flashlights, microphone, and light and distance sensors, as well as the Double Brain block, which connects the custom contraption to an iOS or Android device via Bluetooth.
Modular Robotics ran a campaign for the MOSS kits in December 2013, bringing in over three and a half times its $100,000 target. The MOSS Exofabulatronixx 5200 Model Kit is currently available for $599.
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