The year is only half over, but if you ask me, it’s already one for the record books as far as shocking and ridiculous crowdfunding goes. Not that previous years have seen a shortage of terrible tech that found funding anyway. Just that there have been some especially bad ones this year that have done especially well raking in the dough.
This list, of course, is one man’s opinion. Given the amount of backing most of these projects received, many clearly disagree with my skepticism. Chances are many of you will, too, and I’m looking forward to reading about it in the comments.
Outright scams and low-effort projects or “concepts” were eliminated, because they’re so common they’re boring. Other than that, my pool was only limited by Kickstarter and Indiegogo’s advanced search functions, which provided me with a few hundred to choose from. If I missed the one you thought was the stupidest, let me know. Or write your own damn list.
For the lazy hipster who has everything but his own microbrew, here’s a machine that gives you all of the expense of homebrewing without any of the craft, skill, or spouse-angering potential.
If beer were hard to find out in the world and we had to resort to making our own, I’d definitely go for something like the iGulu. Homebrewing has always looked like a fun hobby that requires way too much focus for my fickle attention span. If I was stuck between a brewing contraption like this and no beer at all, my choice would be as clear as a glass of Bud Light.
But this is not the world we live in. Beer is plentiful, and even the most hipstery of microbrews costs less by the sixpack than the ingredients for brewing your own. This machine gives you all the expense of homebrewing without the hours of tinkering and the satisfaction they bring. It’s like an aspiring artist using a paint-by-numbers kit. Except no paint-by-numbers company ever had a $700k crowdfunding campaign, to my recollection.
OK, I’ll admit I’m a little intrigued by this one. The idea of “3D audio” seems…dumb…but the number of startups and established companies entering the space and the amount of attention they’re getting from audiophiles has me “interested”.
Here is the concept: normal headphones sound like they’re speakers right outside your ears (cuz they are); “3D headphones” make it seem like the audio is coming from a live broadcast point in an architectural space; you sound like you’re immersed in a sound-filled space instead of just…listening to headphones; you turn your head, and the headphones’ output subtly changes to reflect your new position relative to the sound’s “source.”
Here are my questions: “how” (if the sound isn’t recorded in full stereo surround, the playback will never be able to mimic that feeling, so at best it will sound like you’re listening to a live broadcast from your laptop); “why” (do enough people really feel like a good set of headphones can’t provide a “full” sound? does anyone really want the sound changing every time they look away from their laptop?).
This one particular annoys me because it claims advanced “anatomy calibration” to your head and torso without explaining what the fuck that means, and because it generally sounds like pseudoscience. And because it hit nearly $3 million on Kickstarter.
Flatev: The Artisan Tortilla Maker
There isn’t a whole lot to say about this $136k-crowdfunded kitchen device. It does exactly—and only—what you’d expect from the title. And it doesn’t do it cost-effectively or efficiently.
Taking a page out of Keurig’s book, Flatev‘s business model is baked into ongoing sales of its dough pods. One pod yields one tortilla; load the pod in and press the button, and a few minutes later Flatev spits out one hand-sized tortilla. Repeat as often as you need, and reorder from Flatev to keep your pod supply full.
It makes perfect sense from Flatev’s perspective. Subscription sales are the shit when it comes to boosting revenue and profit margins. For consumers? It’s a giant one-task gadget that doesn’t really produce homemade tortillas, but still takes plenty of time to operate, and costs at least as much as store-bought tortillas. I’ll be saving my pesos on this one.
Rinsekit: The Revolutionary Portable Shower
It holds two gallons of water, maintaining roughly the same pressure as the standard garden hose you use to fill it—yes, this portable shower system has to be pre-filled from a pressurized system if you want any water pressure when you get where you’re going. If you want that water heated, you’ll need to pre-charge the battery before you leave, too.
Then you get to carry your powered-up box of water wherever you go for an “easy” portable shower.
Two US gallons of water weighs 16.7 pounds. Two gallons is also slightly less than the 2.1 gallons used each minute in the typical shower. The Rinsekit’s maker says it can last for up to five minutes, so you’re either cutting your flow or your water pressure significantly to make that happen.
Buy two gallons of water. Leave them in the sun in the back of your car while you hike around or play frisbee or go nude bird watching or whatever. Then dump the water on your head. Bam, warm shower. And no need to pledge nearly $400k for the privilege. (Also, if you’re interested in this kind of product, check out Hotaru.)
Heated Sleeping Bag by Ravean
This one is annoying for a few reasons. First, the company has already successfully crowdfunded and shipped their battery-powered heated jacket; this technology is exactly the same. They’re essentially crowdfunding a new sewing pattern.
Second, there’s the big “Sleep Naked Camping” banner at the top of their page. Yeah, the idea is clear: you’ll be warm enough to sleep as God made ya. But anyone who’s ever been in a serious sleeping bag—especially one actually rated for the current temperature—knows that has never been a problem in the first place. It’s getting out of the sleeping bag at the cold slap of dawn and having your Hodor turn into a Theon Greyjoy.
If you know what I mean.
The company acknowledges this problem in their video, and one of their lining types (these are sleeping bag linings by the way, not sleeping bags like the title implies) can actually be worn as a jacket as you walk around your campsite. Of course, as mentioned above, they already sell a battery-powered heated jacket, so…
Third, it’s a heated lining run by batteries that you put inside your tight, enclosed, insulated, flammable sleeping bag. While you sleep. Inside a tent that is also likely flammable. I don’t care how safe they say it is, it’s never going to be as safe as NOT shoving a live battery-powered electric blanket inside a heat envelope.
But mostly, it’s the $164k in funding for designing a longer jacket that has me miffed at this money grab.
You know those pesky situations where your loud and dangerous job requires you to wear earplugs, but you also want the distraction provided by your favorite music? Plugfones is here to answer the call!
Started by a guy working in a glass factory and tired of getting “lost in his thoughts” with his earplugs in, Plugfones puts a whole new layer of auditory interference between your ears and, “Hey, lookout! There’s a giant sheet of glass heading your way!”
To be fair, I can think of a few places/situations where these might be useful. On a long bus or plane ride, or when you’re sitting in a crowd and want to fully retreat into your head. But more often than not, this (like earbuds themselves) are a bad idea. Many states already prohibit wearing any kind of headphones while driving or biking; earbuds already kind of work as earplugs in addition to being speakers, and can be even more dangerous than your run-of-the-mill on-ear headphones (over-the-ear headphones can also block out plenty of outside noise, too). It isn’t just driving that’s more dangerous: walking down the street, working around heavy equipment, being anywhere where something big and powerful might damage you…
We developed decent hearing for a reason. Giving it up isn’t the greatest idea, evolutionarily speaking. With over $400k in crowd backing, maybe people are just investing in creative self-selection?
What Do You Meme?
A basic rip-off of Reddit-famous Cards Against Humanity, this card game from Instagram celebrity Fuckjerry is less dank and more stank. Yet nearly 3,000 backers pledged over $100,000 to bring this exercise in assholery to fruition. We can only hope that OP never delivers, giving his fans precisely what they deserve and ultimately earning Fuckjerry the same: a one-way ticket back to obscurity.
The Pocket Sock
What do you get when an NBA star reportedly worth eight figures joins a sock company whose only innovation is adding a pocket to the second-sweatiest garment you’re likely to wear? A Kickstarter campaign funded at $52,447, that’s what!
I’m at a loss. I wish there was more to say about this, but there really isn’t. These folks slapped Nate Robinson’s name on the Kickstarter (presumably with the baller’s permission) and gathered tens of thousands of dollars for a product that is literally nothing more than a standard sock with a pocket on the side.
I’d rather wear a fanny pack. It would be just as fashionable, and unless I screwed up and slung it right underneath my scrotum, it would keep my “belongings” a lot drier.
Spin: The Gyroscopic Spintop
Again, there just isn’t a whole lot to say about this $150k-crowdfunded toy that’s set to retail for $125. It’s a top. A heavy, cast-aluminum top, but a top nonetheless. It spins. It works like a gyroscope. It doesn’t defy the laws of physics like its designers claim, but rather upholds them like every other top ever made. Including the many other solid-metal tops you can buy right now, without waiting for a crowdfunded project to get its wheels spinning.
This, more than anything else on the list, has convinced me that people are running out of crap to throw their money at. I love a good top, and in a certain mood, under the influence of certain substances, I could watch a good top spin for hours. But I’m not going to spend $125 retail for one, and I’m certainly not going to gamble $65+ on a Kickstarter campaign for a toy that has existed for literally thousands of years. I guess I just don’t have the startup spirit.
(ForeverSpin, said to have the potential to ” increase creativity, enhance your thought process, educate you, and even make you feel at peace and relax”, also raised over $630K on its Indeigogo campaign.)
Daniel A. Guttenberg is an Atlanta-based writer who fell into the startup world by accident and has been gleefully treading water ever since. He will be survived by his beard and his legacy of procrastination.
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