Five Wild Ideas That Just Got Funded: From an Automated Home Brewery to a Personal (Robot) Assistant

Two other quirky inventions teach music in novel ways

This personal robot can listen, talk, take photos and even feel temperature. (Kickstarter)
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There is such a focus today on building a smart, connected home, with new products managing lights, air conditioners and sprinkler systems. Yet thus far, one key part of the house has been left out: the fish tank.

If you've ever had a pet fish go belly up for no clear reason, and want to prevent that tragedy (and the tears it causes for young ones) from happening again, there's the FishBit. The new device monitors the quality of water in home aquariums by tracking key metrics including pH, salinity and temperature—seamlessly sending the data from the tank to a smart phone app, so that owners can address any issues. The invention is the first from Current Labs, a seven-person startup based at the Highway1 incubator in San Francisco. The company's recent Kickstarter campaign raised $11,745, more than doubling its $5,000 goal.

Here are five other quirky ideas that were funded this week:

Brewie Automated Home Brewery (Goal: $100,000 Raised: $223,878 on Indiegogo)

Craft beer has had a meteoric rise in popularity—and if that Budweiser Super Bowl ad was any indication, traditional beer brands view the movement as a major threat. But there’s something that could be even cooler than knowing the name of the latest microbrewery: becoming that microbrewery yourself.

Brewie takes the complexity out of making beer at home by enabling users to simply select their beverage of choice, buy the ingredients it needs (some combination of malt, hops and yeast) and place those in the machine where the drink will be made. The machine can handle up to 200 recipes; for each one, users can order a Brewie "pad," or brewing kit that includes grains, malt, hops, yeast and an RFID card with the recipe. After users put the ingredients in the machine and swipe the card, Brewie gets to work. The process ultimately takes 5 to 6 hours of cooking and then 5 to 14 days of fermenting, depending on the beer type.

The Hungarian team behind the product has been heralded for the device's sleek, easy-to-use design. The machine is obviously a coup for beginning brewers, but those who have a bit more expertise can tailor 23 parameters, including the amount of mashing and lautering as well as the temperature of the beverage.

PERI Duo Phone Case Speaker System (Goal: $100,000 Raised: $129,292 on Indiegogo)

The makers of the PERI duo promise “longer battery life and louder speakers" for iPhone users. The stylish hard-shelled phone case includes a 2500 milliampere-hour battery that provides an additional full charge for any iPhone as well as a high quality Bluetooth speaker system akin to a Jambox or iHome.

The case is WiFi-enabled, and beta tests of its sound capability at this year's Consumer Electronics Show indicate that it can confidently reach the volume needed to entertain and fill a room. For some serious sound, multiple cases can be paired together. Not to worry, Android users. Though current versions only work with iPhones, the Irvine, California-based team plans to update the product to accommodate all models.

Skoog Music Interface (Goal: $22,885, Raised: $66,080 on Indiegogo)

The Skoog is a musical instrument of the digital era. The dice-like device—a foam cube with a large, colorful button on each side—hooks up wirelessly to any tablet or computer, where it pairs directly with customized software that enables the cube to generate the sounds of any type of instrument the user desires.

For a little jazz, the Skoog, made by a group of developers in Scotland, can become a saxophone, with each side of the cube representing a different note. The amount of pressure the musician places on each button determines the volume and timbre of the sounds. Beyond the circular buttons, the Skoog has 17 playable areas—corners and other spots—that can be programmed and used to make music. 

The product looks and feels like a toy, which could make it appealing to kids and teachers. But the software, similar to GarageBand, also allows users to record and remix tracks, enabling advanced musicians to create something a little more sophisticated.

Pianu (Goal: $5,000 Raised: $59,070 on Kickstarter)

Pianu strives to combine the game-like aspect of Guitar Hero with actual piano lessons. The product, by a Minneapolis developer-designer duo, is a program that runs through internet browsers and can be used with any MIDI keyboard—like the nifty, roll-out piano keyboard in the Kickstarter—or even a normal computer keyboard. (It will sync different letters with notes.)

Once users hook keyboards to their computers, they can select from an array of songs to learn, including recent hits by John Legend and Idina Menzel. After a song is chosen, the bright interface walks the user through the song note by note, highlighting where the student should place his or her hands to play. The experience is very much like Dance Dance Revolution, except this time keeping up means pressing the right keys.

Personal Robot (Goal: $50,000 Raised: $161,537 on Kickstarter)

Move over, Siri. Maya is here. The new Personal Robot, from New York company Robotbase, has an oval screen for a head, complete with a cartoon visage. Buzzing around on a Roomba-like base, she gets things done.

As a personal assistant, Maya can monitor your sleep, wake you, schedule meetings, order food, communicate with smart home devices, take photographs and provide style advice on outfits you wear. This is some high-level artificial intelligence—she can even recognize people's faces and feel the temperature in a room. But parents, if you know what's best for your kids, please don't outsource the reading of bedtime stories to her, as the Kickstarter pitch suggests.

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