The Most Innovative Kickstarter Projects

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If you check out the projects on Kickstarter right now, you’ll get a sense of what will happen in the world of tech over the next few years. And the Oculus Rift’s imminent arrival got us thinking about the astonishing parade of innovative tech projects we’ve seen. But which ones were the most innovative? After some intense discussions, a few fights, and some tearful hugs, we came up with this entirely subjective list of ten projects. Share your nominees with us in the comments!

Photo by S. Galyonkin.
Photo by S. Galyonkin.

Oculus Rift 
When Palmer Luckey first started hacking together some virtual reality headsets, his plan was “to do a Kickstarter for about 100 of these things.” Then it all kind of blew up. The Oculus Rift will soon be everywhere, and the technology is already changing games, film, art, and beyond.

Before there was an Apple Watch, there was Pebble. Its first Kickstarter project wasn’t just an opportunity to help make the world’s first real smartwatch — it was an invitation to make that watch your own by building apps for it. So it made perfect sense for Pebble to return to Kickstarter last year with Pebble Time. With smartstraps, Pebble is letting the world build accessories that add new features to the watch, no permission required.

Atlas: Human Powered Helicopter
It took 33 years for a team to build a human-powered aircraft that could meet the stringent requirements of the Sikorksy Prize. The AeroVelo team, made up of students and graduates of the University of Toronto, took the honors in 2013 with a short but unprecedented flight. AeroVelo later went on to claim the title of world’s fastest bike in September 2015.

In 1976, Carl Sagan showed Johnny Carson a kite-like contraption, and talked about sailing through space powered by solar wind. It sounded crazy, and Johnny looked confused. But the Planetary Society is making it happen with LightSail, which is gearing up for launch in 2016. Space exploration funded by people, not governments or corporations? That’s revolutionary.

The idea of a robot that can explore the depths is cool enough. But the twist here is that the robot is open-source, meaning anyone can mess with its innards and share improvements with the community of OpenROV owners. They can even share their undersea adventures on OpenExplorer. The OpenROV team, which has declared war on apathy, returned to Kickstarter last year with the OpenROV Trident.

The Vo-96 Acoustic Synthesizer  
The Vo-96 uses magnetism to control the vibration of a guitar's strings — producing otherworldly sounds that are entirely acoustic. It’s one of a crazy array of Kickstarter projects that fuse music and technology. The device’s inventor, Paul Vo, previously applied his innovations to the Moog Guitar, and launched a handheld version called the Wond on Kickstarter this past year.

Dark Sky
“It seems so strange to us now, to look outside and watch people get stuck in the rain.” That’s the creators of the Dark Sky app, talking about what life was like before their app allowed people to get a short-term weather forecast for their precise location. They’re right: 2011 was a strange and primitive time. We stay drier nowadays.

Blaze Bike Light
Emily Brooke was a university student when she came up with a way to help cyclists avoid getting cut off by cars and trucks. Blaze uses a laser to project a bike symbol on the road ahead, creating a bike lane even where there is none. You may be seeing lots of those symbols soon: The lights are going to start showing up on thousands of bikes across London’s bike-sharing network.

There are now millions of 3D printers around the world, turning stiff plastic filament into fantastical shapes. But what if you took that same filament and put it into the hands of a human instead of a robot? That’s the innovation behind 3Doodler, which lets you draw three-dimensional shapes in the air, using filament that quickly cools and hardens. Last year’s 3Doodler 2.0 was smaller and even easier to use.

So many innovative Kickstarter projects are about taking powerful technologies and shrinking them down so they fit on a desktop. Voltera is one of those projects. It’s like a little factory for circuit boards, one that lets you skip the turnaround time required to have something made remotely and then iterate on it. The Voltera team just picked up a James Dyson Award, which honors design engineers.

    1. Paul Cloutier

      I really don't know why Kickstarter continues to tout poorly performing campaigns. Sure Lightsail earned a ton of money, but, four months after the promised rewards delivery date, very few rewards have been send out and communication with the Creators is sporadic, at best. It seems that Kickstarter judges campaigns solely on how much money they raise while failed or failing campaigns (even ones that Kickstarter went out of their way to promote while they were active) are simply not talked about. Even when you report a failing campaign, Kickstarter does nothing. They see if there have been any updates (they don't bother to check if the updates have been honest or consistent or even accurate) but they don't seem to care when 100s of negative complaints are logged in the comments. I'm sure this will be quickly removed, but maybe before it is someone with an ounce of integrity will see it and think twice before defrauding thousands of people through this platform.

    2. David Gallagher

      Hi Paul: Thanks for the comment. If you take a closer look at this list, it should be fairly obvious that the amount raised had nothing to do with what got picked. These are projects from people who used Kickstarter to make something genuinely new and exciting, and who found backers who shared their vision. We think that's worth celebrating.

      Here's an update on shipping from the Planetary Society, which is a small nonprofit organization: And we talk quite directly about failed campaigns in the context of this fulfillment report: