Crowdfunding is all the rage from publishing houses such as UnBound that solicit donations from potential readers to cover the costs of producing a book to the likes of ArtistShare (started in 2003, EquityNet (2005), Pledgie (2006),  IndieGoGo (2008),  Kickstarter (2009) and Fundageek (2011) and many others allowing inventors to seek investors. The term "crowdfunding" is thought to have been coined by  Michael Sullivan in 2006, although the concept is certainly older than the internet; The Statue of Liberty having been crowdfunded. And the idea is a global one almost as old as money itself. In a sense, taxation to pay for utilities and infrastructure is just a kind of obligatory (for some people) governmental crowdfunding, after all.

Technology has a lot to gain from crowdfunding and some of the brightest minds are inventing novel and interesting things many of which exploit advances in materials science, 3D printing and the like. Indeed, there are dozens of projects seeking crowdfunding support to build inexpensive consumer 3D printers themselves. But, it is applications of materials and 3D printing that are more intriguing. For instance, a Kickstarter project that caught my eye today is looking to fund the 3D printing of a set of Braille dice that would allow the unsighted to play role-playing board games from which they might otherwise be excluded. The use of 3D printing allows these objects to be fabricated cleanly as different polyhedral with game-pertinent characters and symbols on their faces readable through touch.

On IndieGoGo, Topaz claims to be the strongest 3D glass protector for your smart phone, specifically your iPhone 6S, using a protective nanotech layer. I couldn't find many details in their pitch about the nanoparticles being used. Whatever they are, the developers say that the nano layer prevents glass from degrading and becoming increasingly fragile over time. Interesting idea, although I wasn't aware that glass could become any more fragile than it is by "absorbing dirt and dust". It has several backers and several months to go, so we'll see.

RocketHub has a whole section of science projects, as does Pledgie and others. One of the RocketHub projects hopes to take a university trip to the moon, another is developing a solar-powered boat. There is also a peculiar new design of screw with a conical thread that gets around several of the problems of conventional screws such as having a stronger grip through 100% surface contact, rather than 30-35%. Meanwhile, there is a portable, air quality monitor up for grabs for investors that will give the user a measure of air quality rank wherever they are based on carbon monoxide levels, whether there are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air you are breathing, as well as measures of humidity and temperature.

There many worthy causes out there, all clamoring for attention and crowdfunder funds with greater or lesser degrees of success. One rather successful project which raised more than 30 times its target ($3,126,114 pledged with a mere $100,000 goal) offers a way to save an important material, water. The project, the Nebia shower, will apparently use 70 percent less water than a conventional shower to get you washed and scrubbed.

There are a lot of crowdfunding sites out there, some are obviously more well known than others and so have greater reach and better opportunities for any runaway project to go viral on social media. There are, however, endless appeals for one's hard-earned cash in exchange for becoming a recipient of the product or service offered with various tiers associated with more or less benefits. But, from a cursory scan through the various categories on several sites it does look as if the vast majority of proposals get no money at all and many fall short when their fundraising deadline passes so some neat inventions never make it to development or manufacturing. Just as happens in the "real world" of venture capitalists and patent attorneys.

Nevertheless, there are many successes too it seems. There are even wannabe rock stars crowdfunding for studio time to get their first album recorded…admittedly that has nothing to do with 3D printing nor materials and, no, in case you were wondering it's not me!

David Bradley blogs at Sciencebase Science Blog and tweets @sciencebase, he is author of the bestselling science book "Deceived Wisdom".