2011 has been a tremendous year for tech — Amazon launched a $ 200 Android tablet, AT&T and Verizon continued their LTE expansion, Apple killed off the Mac mini’s SuperDrive and Samsung introduced a well-received killer 5.3-inch smartphone. But tiny tech startups made their mark as well, proving that you don't need an enormous R&D budget to spur innovation. Still, development isn't free, and unless your social circle includes eager investors, seed money has been traditionally hard to come by.
For many of this year’s indie devs, crowdfunding sites have been the answer, with Kickstarter leading the pack. We’ve seen an enormous variety of projects — including a deluge of duds and plenty more semi-redundant iPhone accessories — but a few treasures soared above the swill to be featured in our Insert Coin series, with many of those meeting their funding goals and even making their way into the hands of consumers. Now, as 2011 draws to a close, we’ve gone through this past year’s projects to single out our top ten, and they’re waiting for your consideration just past the break.
Our inaugural featured product was also the first to ship, making its way to early adopters around the same time it hit our reviews queue in July. This tiny combo optic is a solid option for smartphone photogs looking to bring a bit of originality to their on-the-go art without a generic single-tap filter app. Kickstarter contributors got to take one home for $ 45, but if you didn’t pre-order months ago, $ 70 will net you a three-in-one Olloclip, in black or red.
Sure, they look innocent enough, but these thick-framed black specs have a tech-enabled secret lurking just beside the lens. Upon close inspection, you’ll notice a tiny 720p video cam, with a rechargeable battery, WiFi and Bluetooth modules, and other electronics tucked away inside the arm. No word on when they’ll ship, but the design team is working around the clock to prepare a production-ready sample.
Remote DSLR shutter releases have been around for years, but Trigger Trap is nothing like the rest. This open source device leaves the configuring up to you, bringing with it an infinite number of possibilities for snapping some frames. With a bit of additional hardware and programming, you can fire the shutter with a hand clap, or a laser pointer, or even a cell phone call. And if all else fails, there’s a timer mode too.
So what’s gadgety about a human eye? Well, that’s not what you’re looking at — not in the traditional sense, at least. Tanya Vlach lost one of her eyes in an accident, and is hoping to embed a 720p camera in an ocular prosthesis, letting her snap stills with a blink, or stream video through a connected app. Generous donors helped her raise the funds necessary to commission an engineer, and we hope to hear more soon.
It’s not the first Braille labeler, but 6dot includes a built-in Braille keyboard for those familiar with the language, along with the ability to connect a standard QWERTY keyboard so the rest of us can print Braille as well. A final version has yet to ship, but if you didn’t commit during the Kickstarter promo, you can add your name and email address to join the pre-order queue.
We’re no strangers to the world of Arduino, but as simple as the gadget may appear, you’ll need to know your way around a soldering iron and have a bit of coding experience to take full advantage. With Teagueduino, a set of snap-in I/O terminals stands in for the solder, while drop-down menus help simplify things on the programming end.
How do you make a smartphone even more mobile? Well, you give it wheels. Meet Romo, the smartphone robot. This compact four-wheeled contraption responds to frequency triggers controlled by an Android or iOS app and sent through your device’s headphone jack. Three apps will ship at launch, including RomoRemote, which uses your handset’s hardware for remote live view and public address. $ 99 gets you a Romo when it ships in February.
Employing a concept similar to the Trigger Trap above, Twine uses a variety of self-contained sensors to send a notification, rather than fire a camera shutter. A built-in WiFi module transmits parameters to Spool, a web-based control app, which then fires off an email or text when triggered. Dryer stopped vibrating? Laundry’s done! Too cold in the nursery? Mom gets a text to turn up the heat.
Sure, they’re thinner and sleeker than ever, but our keyboards and mice have remained fundamentally unchanged since inception. This combo sets to shake things up, displaying characters projected from LEDs on a pane of glass above, with a camera standing by to recognize keystrokes. What it lacks in tactile feedback it gains in allure. $ 350 locks in your order for the set, with an estimated April ship date.
We’ve seen an abundance of Apple accessories this year, from major manufacturers and on Kickstarter alike. Still, the ODDIO1′s sleek design and $ 35 pre-order price tag have us intrigued, and if you’re looking for a simple all-in-one listening solution for jogs or trips to the gym, $ 84 isn’t a bad deal — especially when you consider that a $ 49 iPod shuffle is included.
Jon Turi contributed to this report.