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Headphones to Help You Sleep, a Universal Stylus, and Blocks That Teach Electronics

Dan Tynan
Yahoo Tech

A lot of innovative tech products these days first become public on crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. You’re probably familiar with some of the most successful examples, like the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and the Pebble smartwatch. Hundreds of lesser-known gizmos have shown up on crowdfunding sites, too.

The three projects below are a small sample of the crowdfunding hopefuls that launched on Kickstarter over the past week. We got a chance to put our hands on them, and we think they stand apart from the crowd. At publication time, all of them had surpassed their funding goal; according to Kickstarter’s rules, that means they all get to keep the money they’ve raised so far. 

Related: 10 Things You Must Know Before You Invest in that Crazy Crowdfunding Scheme

Just remember: What you usually see on a crowdfunding site are prototypes, not finished products. Funding a project is no guarantee you’ll actually get your hands on one, and crowdfunding projects rarely appear in the time frame their creators promise. 

Kokoon EEG Headphones

Kickstarter goal: $100,000
Current funding: $182,000*
Campaign ends: July 10, 2015

Kokoon combines Onkyo-powered noise-cancelling headphones with brain wave technology to help you sleep. An EEG in the headband reads your brain waves and determines when you’re about to nod off; Kokoon’s mobile app then cranks down the volume, filters out higher frequencies, and switches to white noise when slumber is attained. In the morning, Kokoon will pick the optimal time to wake you up, based on your sleep state. The app also tracks your sleep patterns and offers advice on how to extend your slumber.  

Co-founders Tim Antos and Richard Hall say they put a lot of effort into making the headset comfortable enough to wear all night. Each ear cup features a flexible plastic shell that allows air to flow through to keep it cool; the cups are covered with the same gel packs and memory foam found in most comfort pillows.

We saw early prototypes of the headsets, which, after a few days of nonstop demos, were frankly falling apart. Still, the idea is promising. If you have trouble sleeping on airplanes, a spouse who snores, or are suffering from rugrat-induced sleep deprivation, Kokoon might be just what the sandman ordered. If all goes well, you can expect to see these available for sale next spring for prices from $219 to $319. Early Kickstarter pricing starts at $139.

MakerBloks

Kickstarter goal: $20,000
Current funding: $22,000*
Campaign ends: June 16, 2015

MakerBloks aims to offer a simple and safe way to teach the basics of electronics to budding engineers age 6 and up. There are 10 types of color-coded bloks: switches, timers, resistors, LEDs, speakers, power, and more. The domino-sized pieces connect magnetically; snap a power blok to a switch and an LED, press the button, and voilà — let there be light.

An iPad app offers puzzles that kids must solve in order to build different circuits; along the way, it teaches them about the properties of each. In the future, the app will uses the iPad’s camera to recognize which bloks your child is using, says CEO Frank Poirier; as the bloks connect in real life, they also connect onscreen.

During a demo at the Yahoo office, our 8-year-old games consultant (our editor’s son) quickly solved the puzzles and went on to build his own more elaborate circuits. When asked if he liked MakerBloks, he replied “No. … I love it.” You can’t ask for a better endorsement than that.

A 16-piece starter kit will run $45, and more advanced kits will retail for $85. Both are slated to be available this fall. Early Kickstarter funders will receive extra blocks and other perks.

OTM Technologies’ Phree Stylus

Kickstarter goal: $100,000
Current funding: $196,000*
Campaign ends: June 26, 2015

This is essentially a universal input device in the shape of a pen. Move the stylus over any surface — your desk, your leg, even in midair — and Phree will record your scrawls and transmit them to your phone, tablet, laptop, or smart TV.

It can also use your phone’s handwriting recognition software to translate your scribbles into digital text, says company co-founder Gilad Lederer. Need a reminder to buy milk on the way home? Just scrawl the word “milk” — a pop-up note will appear the next time you unlock your phone.

Unlike other digital pens that use cameras or paper embedded with a grid to record the pen’s location, Phree uses OTM Technologies’ patented laser interferometer technology to detect its motion in three-dimensional space.

We got a brief look at early versions of Phree in our offices and were favorably impressed. Using a wired connection, Lederer was able to successfully transmit handwritten notes and convert them into digital files. He says the shipping version, due out next March, will use Bluetooth and will feature a tiny LCD that can display your incoming text messages and let you respond via handwriting. The Phree will retail for just under $200; at press time, Kickstarter pricing started at $148.

* Approximate funding at publication time

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