Robots, Music, Home Farming: Our Tech Predictions for 2016

We've spent the week at CES in Las Vegas, talking with lots of folks about technology and where it's all headed. We find that we're in a good position to spot tech trends, since they tend to surface on Kickstarter first! So once again the Design and Tech Communities Team has rounded up some tech predictions for the year ahead, through the lens of the great projects and people we encountered in 2015. We had a harder time of it this year, given that many of the trends on last year's list are still very much with us. But a few strong candidates jumped out. Here are some ideas that keep popping up on Kickstarter and in our conversations with the creators who are building the future.

Useful robots for everyone. We’re not talking about BB-8-style roving companions. This is more about desktop robots that can handle precise and repetitive tasks, like Makerarm (above), Dobot, and OpenTrons. Humans can spend that time doing something less mechanical. Then they can challenge the robot to a quick game of chess, which they will probably lose.

New musical instruments. Musicians love messing with electronic sounds, but standard computer interfaces don't lend themselves to musical expression, and piano keyboards aren't for everyone. So creators are coming to Kickstarter with new ways to turn touch and motion into notes and sound. The Artiphon Instrument 1 (above), Owow, and Oval are instruments from the future, and Sensory Percussion uses vibration sensors to turn an acoustic drum kit into a sophisticated digital controller. We expect instruments to keep taking on freaky new physical forms, to the delight of adventurous musicians.

Living with VR. With the Rift and other advanced VR headsets hitting the market, people are going to be looking for things to do with them and ways to make them more fun to use. Watch for more VR-friendly furniture, like the swivel chair VRGO (above). And we hope to see more great VR projects that combine elements of film, games, and art, like CLOUDS and Blackout.

 Cheap, tiny computers. The Raspberry Pi kicked off a trend that just won’t slow down. In the past year we’ve seen C.H.I.P. (above), “the world’s first $9 computer," and Pine A64, which calls itself a $15 supercomputer. There will be more — and it will be interesting to see what happens when hardware developers leverage boards that pack a lot of power at a price that would be unthinkable a few years back.

Modular tech. We’ve seen a lot of experiments with modularity — breaking down the functions of a device into smart pieces that can be mixed and matched. The Blocks smartwatch (above), the Robo Wunderkind robot kit, and the Nexpaq phone case are all pushing in this direction.

Simpler, friendlier interfaces. Gadget makers are trying to cut through the clutter of buttons and knobs to give people more natural ways to get information from, and interact with, devices. Ulo (above) defies expectations about home-security systems with its cute little owl face. BeeLine, a bike navigation device, dispenses with turn-by-turn minutiae and just points in the direction of your destination. Nuimo lets you skip clunky apps and control your music and lights with a simple dial. Simple = good.

Indoor farming. There’s obviously plenty of interest these days in locally grown food. So why not take that to the extreme and grow it in your kitchen? That’s the idea behind Grove, a full-blown vegetable-growing, fish-sustaining ecosystem, and Livin, a multistory hotel for… protein-rich mealworms. There’s more to come as locavores look inward.

Compiled by the Design and Tech Communities Team: David Gallagher, John Dimatos, Zach Dunham, Nick Yulman, and Julio Terra.

The Most Innovative Kickstarter Projects

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.

Interactive Documentaries and Storytelling: Creator Hangout with Elaine McMillion Sheldon

During our last Creator Hangout, our documentary film lead Liz Cook chatted with Elaine McMillion Sheldon. Elaine is a multi-award winning documentary filmmaker and visual artist. In 2012, she used Kickstarter to help fund her Peabody award-winning interactive documentary, Hollow.

Watch the video from our Hangout to learn more about how Elaine:

  • Brought the story of “Hollow” front and center in her campaign messaging.
  • Kept backers engaged throughout all of the phases of her campaign.
  • Budgeted her time, especially when it came to rewards.
  • Thinks about the many mediums of storytelling.

Head here to find out who we’ll be talking to during our next Creator Hangout.

Design & Tech Roundup: Digital Artisans

Pixel Vision
Pixel Vision

Now that so many of us carry computers in our pockets and store our photos, documents, and more in the cloud, it's easy to think of technology as relatively formless — a series of black boxes and touchscreens that invisibly exchange data. In response to this misconception, some designers have embraced the opportunity to craft distinctive physical objects for our digital experiences. In this line of thinking, the projects below combine electronics with traditional craftsmanship to create devices that are as aesthetically pleasing as they are technologically impressive.

Read more

Shocking, Scientific, and Sutnar: November’s Creator Hangouts

During November’s Creator Hangouts, we got to chat with the Creative Director behind Nevermind, the Co-Founder of OpenROV, and the Editor-In-Chief of Designers & Books.

We talked about everything from our favorite horror flicks, to the promising movement of citizen science. And of course there were a few tips on running, managing, and fulfilling a successful campaign in the mix, too.

Erin Reynolds, the Creative Director of Nevermind 

Erin and Luke (Kickstarter’s Head of Games) had a frightening chat about biofeedback games and all things horror.

  • Some insight from Erin: 
    “It was this amazing validation that there might be something here with this project. People actually want to see it made.”
  • And a quote: 
    “The best kind of horror talks about the real world horrors of everyday life.”

David Lang, the Co-Founder of OpenROV

David and Aurora’s (Kickstarter's Science and Exploration Outreach Lead) chat about underwater exploration and citizen science was inspiring to say the least.

  • A tip from David:
    “Money is one thing, but it’s really about the people. Keep the focus on building the community and do it for the long term.”
  • And a quote:
    “This idea of citizen science, of engaging everyone with the process, holds a ton of potential for getting people involved.”

Steve Kroeter, Editor-in-Chief of Designers & Books 

Steve shared his facsimile reprint of “Ladislav Sutnar: Visual Design in Action” with us and talked about the difference between a crowd and a community.

  • Advice from Steve: 
    “Before something goes wrong, try to anticipate.”
  • And a quote:
    “Kickstarter is the salvation of niche publishing in the 21st century.”

Ready to join our next Hangout? Here’s everything you need to know:

Creator Hangouts are hosted every other Wednesday at 1pm EST (we’ll be trying out a later time soon, too) and you can check out who we’re talking to next right here. You can watch each conversation live through Google Hangouts or follow along as we live-tweet from @KickstarterTips, with the hashtag #CreatorHangouts. Everyone’s welcome to ask questions or add to the conversation! Missed a hangout? We post the recordings on YouTube so you can watch (and rewatch) whenever you’d like. In December, we’re planning to talk with Elaine McMillion Sheldon and more.

If you have questions or know someone you think would make a great guest on Creator Hangouts, talk to us over at @KickstarterTips. Hope to chat with you soon!

New from the Archives: November 2015

Another month, another set of amazing Archives projects...

The Lost Poems of Pablo Neruda

 project video thumbnail
Replay with sound
Play with

A set of lost poems from "the people's poet" Pablo Neruda. In 2014, archivists in Chile discovered a cache of previously unseen and unpublished poems written by Neruda. The collection — written in notebooks and on scraps of paper in the poet’s own handwriting — includes a sampling of the ardent love poems for which he is famous. Copper Canyon Press, in conjunction with Neruda's estate, are bringing these lost poems to a North American audience for the first time. 

The Lost Work Of Will Eisner

 project video thumbnail
Replay with sound
Play with

Recently acquired by a New Jersey-based antique collector, a set of 1930s-era cartoon printing plates were found to hold the earliest known work of one of the forefathers of modern cartooning: the iconic Will Eisner. These extremely rare strips from his teenage years show the artist's work in its formative stages and hint at what it would become. Locust Moon Press has set out to produce the definitive edition of this work.

The Atomic Brain

 project video thumbnail
Replay with sound
Play with

Ben Solovey returns to Kickstarter with his second film restoration project, The Atomic Brain. (The first was the recently released Manos: The Hands Of Fate.) This 1963 B-horroris the only feature directed by legendary cinematographer Joseph V. Mascelli. Long available in a muddy public domain format, Solovey has plans for a 4K restoration and Blu-Ray and DVD release of the film, along with the creation of a documentary on the filmmaker himself. 

Why We Film

 project video thumbnail
Replay with sound
Play with

A series of short documentaries created by the Association of Moving Image Archivists' Film Advocacy Task Force that explores why and how we engage with film as a physical object and experience: why we watch it, why we create with it, why we teach with it, why we preserve it.

The Embassy: Audio History & Multi-Media Archive

 project video thumbnail
Replay with sound
Play with

An online audio history and multi-media resource dedicated to preserving the history of the 1972 Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, Australia, one of the most important and crucial episodes of Aboriginal struggle in the twentieth century.

Reissuing Num Dia Azul by Minas

 project video thumbnail
Replay with sound
Play with

A limited-edition vinyl reissue of Num Dia Azul, the long-out-of-print debut album by Philadelphia-based bossa nova jazz band Minas.