Kickstarter Spotlight: A MicroSD drive, a game console, and a posture sensor

[Kickstarter is changing the way tech products get made, but it's hard to tell which projects are worth backing. For every sure-fire hit, there are dozens of flawed ideas and inexperienced teams. Our Kickstarter Spotlight series highlights a few projects worth checking out, and gives you an idea how they might turn out.]

In this installment of Kickstarter Spotlight, we take a look at a MicroSD card adapter for Apple laptops, a new video game console, and a wireless posture sensor.

The Nifty Minidrive and Minidrive Pro

If you’ve got a recent MacBook Pro, a 13-inch MacBook Air, or a recent iMac, you’ve got a build-in SD-card reader. But that card reader is mainly useful for, well, reading camera memory cards. Wouldn’t it be neat if you could instead use it to add more drive space to your computer—without having an SD card sticking out the side?

The folks behind the Nifty Minidrive adapter (funding through August 2) thought so. Take a MicroSD card of any capacity, slide it into the Nifty Minidrive, and then insert the Nifty Minidrive into your computer’s SD-card slot. The adapter slides all the way in, so it sits flush with the edge of your laptop or iMac, and provides access to the MicroSD card for storing files. The standard Minidrive is designed to work with the 13-inch MacBook Air, but it also fits the MacBook Pro and the iMac (just not perfectly); the Minidrive Pro works only with the MacBook Pro and iMac (and sits perfectly flush).

The outer piece of the Minidrive—the part that sits flush with your computer—will be machined from high grade aluminium; the “sled” portion will be made of plastic. For that external piece, buyers will be able to choose silver, pink, red, or blue aluminum color.

Confidence level

The Nifty Microdrive folks say they’ve finished the design and prototype phases and are just about to start production. With more than $225,000 already pledged as of Friday, they long ago met their goal of $11,000, so the Microdrive looks to be well on its way to becoming a real product.

It’s a great idea: With 64GB MicroSD cards currently available for $70 or less, this is a relatively inexpensive—and super-convenient—way to add storage, especially for a laptop. And it looks to be a solid solution for an always-connected backup. (A built-in Time Machine drive? I’ll take it.)—Dan Frakes

Ouya

Pronounced “OOO-yah”, this new video game console has taken Kickstarter by storm. The pedigree is right, with gaming industry vet Julie Uhrman as the core creator, and designer Yves Béhar (designer of many notable gizmos, such as the OLPC and Jambox) working on the hardware and software. In its first day, Ouya (funding through August 9) blew past its steep $950,000 goal and shattered Kickstarter’s “fastest to $1 million” record. The project is now just a few days into funding and has already raised nearly $4.5 million as of Friday.

So what’s the big deal? The point of Ouya is to upend the traditional console model by making it dramatically cheaper and more open. The system is based on a Tegra 3 with 1GB of RAM, Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11n Wi-Fi, and HDMI to hook up to your TV. That, and a wireless controller (the design of which the creators are exceedingly proud of) will set you back just $99. It’s based on Android, so it should be easy for developers to get up to speed with it, and they don’t need to buy or license expensive development kits. If you own an Ouya, you can download the SDK for free to make and publish your game. Want to make your own hardware accessories? Build what you like and connect via USB or Bluetooth. The case is closed with standard screws to encourage hardware hackers to open it up.

Games are required to have some sort of free component, but that’s essentially the only requirement. Games can be totally free, ad-supported, free with in-game purchases, a free demo mode before full purchase, or subscription-based with free trial. Other apps will be supported, too (Ouya promises TwitchTV at launch, and others to come).

Confidence Level

Apparently the idea of a cheap, open game console for the living room where every game is at least partially free has struck a chord with gamers, because it’s already grossly over-funded with several weeks to go.

The bigger issue is game support. Developers have flocked to mobile and web games, but the controller and big-screen TV experience is different. Games will need specific versions for Ouya. If Sony has a hard time convincing developers to support the PS Vita (which has sold millions), what chance does Ouya have? This startup needs to do much more than sell tens of thousands of consoles on Kickstarter; it needs to demonstrate that it can sell tens of millions in stores. It’s off to a great start, though.—Jason Cross

Lumoback

Technology can be about more than just fun or even work—it can help your health too. That’s the idea behind the Lumoback, wireless posture sensor combined with an iOS mobile app (support for Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone 7 is on the roadmap as well).

You strap the thin, flexible sensor around your waist, on top of your lower back, and the sensor vibrates whenever you slouch (when seated, standing, or even sleeping). The other portion is the app (currently for the iPhone 4S and third-generation iPad) that communicates with your iOS device using Bluetooth low energy (BLE) technology. It offers visual representations of your posture to alert you to any problems, and tracks posture over time. The designers say it sould last up to four days on a single charge.

Confidence Level

The three Stanford grads behind Lumoback have diverse backgrounds, and have spent a year and a half developing and coming up with a working prototype of the product. The funding goal has already been exceeded, and the product seems simple enough that delivering is more likely than not.—Jonathan Seff

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