Since Kickstarter launched in 2009 it has transformed the way that new products are developed. The old method used to be that someone with an interesting idea would have to convince a bank or an investor to take a big risk on what could be a crazy idea, with no promise of returns in the future.
Now though thanks to the power of crowdfunding, innovative new products can find their customers before the production lines have whirred into action – potentially bringing bold, new ideas to market with relative ease.
But which Kickstarter campaigns have truly captured the imagination? Here’s our pick of the 20 most innovative.
Let’s start with one of the biggest early success stories on the Kickstarter platform: the Pebble smartwatch, pictured up top. The watch, which sports a monochrome LCD display, was the first to hook up to your phone via Bluetooth and deliver notifications directly to your wrist. Perhaps even more impressively, it worked across both Android and iPhone, and could even run Pebble native apps downloaded from its own app store, paving the way for the likes of the Apple Watch.
The Pebble watch is innovative because it got there first. It beat the big players to market, and managed to pack together all of the necessary components for a smartwatch, without breaking the bank.
It was wildly successful too. With 69,000 people raising over $10m (£6.5m), and the company has since smashed its record with the 2015 update. The colour-screened Pebble Time has – at the time of writing – raised over $20m (£13m) from over 78,000 people.
If you’ve ever tried to write something on a tablet longer than a tweet, you’ll know how difficult it can be. Every few seconds your computer will ping as an email hits your inbox, or someone likes your picture on Facebook – if only there was some way to drown all of that out.
Hemingwrite is a brilliant device because of what it doesn’t have: it is simply a keyboard and an e-ink display, and is designed to make you write without interruption. There’s no apps, no notifications… there isn’t even copy and paste, because if you’re going to crank out a first draft, those are just unnecessary distractions.
Helpfully, the device will still connect to your Wi-Fi and will sync documents with a number of services, including Google Drive and Dropbox, so you can write on the device, and then do something useful with it when you’re back on your computer.
It seems to have struck a nerve with people too – having raised over $300,000 (£195,000) with over 1,000 backers.
Sometimes it takes an outsider to re-think how we approach the most common every day objects. The RiutBag is a case in point, re-wiring the backpack for urban use with a user-centred design. For example, it hides away all of the zips, so pick-pockets can’t simply dive in and help themselves to your laptop; underneath the straps there’s a holder designed to fit train tickets. Brilliant.
While the bag is slightly wider than most bags, it also adds greater flexibility because the sides to fold in to provide space to securely hold a bottle.
After running a Kickstarter campaign last year, RiutBag raised £63,000 from over 1,000 people. They should be hitting the doorsteps of the first 500 backers this month.
We hear a lot these days about 3D printing, but what about 3D drawing? The 3Doodler, created by WobbleWorks, uses the same material used by 3D printers. The material is instead put into a pen that literally lets you draw in the air to create 3D structures.
There’s nothing else quite like it. It was so successful was it that the first iteration caught the imagination of artists everywhere, and managed to raise $2.3m (£1.5m) from 26,000 backers.
Sadly not all Kickstarter projects make it. One of the coolest we’ve seen cancelled its attempt at fundraising after a few weeks with only limited support. iTager is a laser-tag system for the 21st century which was designed to use Wi-Fi and mesh networks to communicate between guns, and it would even let you monitor the battlefield in real time on your phone.
The iTager unit itself comes in both internal and external models: internal being a toy gun with the laser-system inside it, and external being a small box that can be – terrifyingly – strapped to the side of a real firearm for full psychopath levels of realism.
While not using Kickstarter, last we heard was the team was planning to “restart the project” soon.
Who says that only the PS4 and Xbox One should have a monopoly on gaming on the TV? Ouya attempted to shake things up when it launched its tiny Android-powered console for the home. The console was innovative because it brought Android to the TV for the first time – ahead of the likes of Google’s Android TV and Amazon’s Fire TV – and it also was one of the first attempts at trying a Netflix-style a-la-carte service for games.
Sadly, despite raising $8.5m (£5.5m) from 63,000 the console when it was released was met only with lukewarm reviews, and since the developers have pivoted towards turning Ouya into a software platform to run on other manufacturers’ hardware, rather than its own. Perhaps it was too ahead of its time?
Kickstarter isn’t a licence to print money: you still need to convince people to buy your stuff, which is a lesson perhaps learnt by Roto VR. The product was pretty clever: a rotating base unit for a chair, in which to play virtual reality games. The idea was that by actually physically moving when you move in games, it eliminates the disorientation that VR can bring when the pictures move but your head knows that it is physically still.
While the Kickstarter didn’t work out, we hope that the idea does. It seems as though it could be the next step in making VR workable.
If you want to make your old car seem a little more futuristic, then OBD Link could let you monitor your car’s analytics, spot engine problems before they become even bigger trouble, and even start your car remotely.
In essence, the Link is a small dongle that plugs on to your car’s hidden diagnostic point, which will let you connect to it using your phone, enabling you to monitor the engine at your leisure.
Interestingly, the device is fairly open – with a number of apps supporting it – and will only set you back $79 (about £50). Unsurprisingly it has sold fast, with 7,500 backers raising over $640,000 (£415,000).
To Be Or Not To Be: That is The Adventure
Think that Shakespeare is a little old? Not any more, as Ryan North, who is perhaps better known as the creator Dinosaur Comics has created a version of Hamlet fit for, umm, the 1980s. Its Hamlet, but in the form of a Choose Your Own Adventure book.
Unsurprisingly, the internet loved the idea, with over half a million dollars being chucked at it in less than a week.
Amusingly, one of the potential rewards for backing the project was that North would create a replica of his own head and explode it.
Cards Against Humanity
Another early Kickstarter success story was Cards Against Humanity, which elevated card games from a hobby for old people into something that edgy, young people do too.
For those unfamiliar, the game presents you with a hand of white cards, and it is the players’ goal to pick which one goes best with a black card that may pose a question. For example, you may get asked “What’s that smell?” or “Why am I sticky?” with black answer cards ranging from the innocuous to the Not Safe For Work.
The game has since spawned several add-on packs and regional specific variations, including a British version that includes an “Ed Balls” card.
If you’re a commuter, then a bike can be a tempting alternative to cramming yourself on a packed train or sitting in a traffic jam. But the thought of having to go up all of those hills after a long day at work is enough to put anyone off. JIVR aims to solve this problem, claiming that it is the world’s first chain-free, electric-powered fold-up bike, which will give you that extra boost when you need it.
Though quite expensive, the bike did manage to find 204 backers to raise over £126,000.
A perennial problem with all of the audio-visual kit we have now is how remote controls are left hanging about. Isn’t there a way to make juggling between different HDMI inputs, and speaker systems easier? Can’t we just fire up a Blu-ray in a one-button press? NEEO aims to bridge this gap by providing a small “hub”, which supports everything from IR to bluetooth, Wi-Fi and home automation standards.
Using the NEEO app on your phone, you can configure macros to make all of your devices switch to the correct settings at once. For example, in a one-button press on the app you can switch on your TV, switch it to the HDMI output for your Blu-ray player, switch on your speaker system and press play.
NEEO also offers a remote of its own, which appears to run a version of Android and relies on a touchscreen, rather than being covered in a million buttons.
The company has already raised $1.5m (£973k) from 6,000 people and the first units shipped last month.
Pronounced “Battery” (geddit?), Better Re offers a chance to recycle your own phone battery, without having to throw it away with all of the negative environmental consequences, and without simply leaving it in a draw. Essentially it is a cradle that will fit a wide range of batteries and can then can then be charged up and used as a power pack for your current gadgets.
It is currently almost funded, with units set to ship in November.
Like the RiutBag’s improvements on the humble backpack, the KAZBrella offers a surprisingly simple take on the umbrella, which makes you want to scream “why didn’t anyone think of this before?!”.
Rather than leave the wet outside of the umbrella to drip all over your house when you get home, it instead folds the west bit inwards, leaving the dry side on the outside. The handle can then be twisted to tighten the closed umbrella so it doesn’t unfurl.
It is so mind-blowingly simple, it is astonishing no one has thought of it before; perhaps unsurprisingly it has already quadrupled its funding target, hitting £104,000 with just a few days to go.
USB Charge Doubler
We all experience battery anxiety with our smartphones, so unsurprisingly the USB Charge Doubler has already smashed its target many times over.
Its a deceptively simple idea: using a special dongle, it will enable you to charge your phone at twice the rate a normal USB cable would.
It's cheap too – at only €11 (about £8) – and could be a life-saver. With about three weeks left, the company has raised over €24,000 (£17,000) from over 1,500 people.
The Sandwich Knife
Now this is a knife. Amazingly this is a real Kickstarter, and it does indeed promise innovation. The Sandwich Knife is a bread knife with two blades for cutting slices of bread. Seriously.
The inventor claims that it improves the sandwich-making process by enabling you to saw slices of bread, while still leaving them attached at the bottom, which means that all of the filling won’t fall out of your sandwich while you eat it.
At the time of writing the Sandwich Knife has only raised $2,300 CAD (£1,200) of its $22,500 goal (£12k) – but there’s still time to get in there and back this game-changer!
CEL Robox 3D Printer
3D printers are becoming increasingly mainstream and one of the models leading the way is the Robox 3D printer.
The genius is in how easy it is to use. Unlike most 3D printers, which may require difficult configurations and a whole lot of faffing about, once you’ve gone through the simple setup on the Robox it is simply a case of dragging and dropping objects onto the virtual printer tray, and hitting print, as you would with a normal paper document. Give it a couple of hours and you’ll have your new toy waiting for you on the tray.
It launched in January this year after a Kickstarter campaign that raised £280,000.
Beam hit its funding goal last month for a projector that fits into a standard light fitting, raising almost $760,000 (£490k) in the process.
It’s a rather clever idea too: simply screw it into where your lightbulb would normally go and suddenly you can be the general surveying the big war map on the table… or you can just watch Netflix.
Beam runs Android so can run any Android app, but will project it on to floors or walls to do whatever you need it to. Intriguingly, it is also compatible with IFTTT, which means it can join up to other services. For example, you could conceivably make it project your incoming emails as they arrive, if you wanted to completely destroy your work-life balance.
If you’ve got a DSLR camera, Michron can make it much smarter - and enable you to capture timelapse images with ease.
A small box that plugs into the “external trigger” port on your camera, it will enable your phone to connect up to configure your photos. Then you can leave your camera snapping away and review its progress later.
The first units shipped last March, and Vivo Labs which makes it managed to raise over $230,000 (£149k).
And finally there’s Oculus Rift, which you may be surprised to learn started life as a Kickstarter project. Since raising over $2.4m (£1.6m), the VR headset has come to define an entire product category even while it isn’t officially available to the public yet. (You can only really get the ‘developer’ version).
While many of the major tech players including Samsung, HTC and Microsoft have all raced to catch up with Oculus’s technology, the company itself has been hard at work on refining the hardware for a consumer release, with the second version sporting higher-quality screens. So exciting is the company that in March last year it was bought by Facebook. So, as far as Oculus goes, the Kickstarter really was a kickstart towards much, much bigger things.
In partnership with Microsoft, powered by the HP Spectre x360