Streaming high with the new Parrot Bebop Drone

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American citrus farmers are flying drones over their crops in order to check harvests for ripeness. Estate agents are taking enticing air videos to show to would-be customers. Roof inspections can be carried out by drones, saving time, money and dispelling danger to workers. The commercial possibilities of drones are vast, so much so they’re now available to the Wi-Fi-obsessed masses, in the guise of the Bebop Drone.

The new Bebop Drone from the French company Parrot is a flying video camera. With a 14 megapixel “fisheye lens”, the front-facing HD camera on board the Bebop is capable of taking quality high definition aerial footage easily and inexpensively. This nifty little flying camera can reach heights of 1000 feet. It can fly for twelve minutes on one charge. It even creates its own Wi-Fi hotspot and streams live. In ideal conditions the Bebop Drone has a range of 2 kilometres plus embedded GPS and 3-axis stabilisation. You can link it up to your smartphone or tablet and monitor the action as you film it.

Skycontroller

Parrot has also announced the new Skycontroller. This additional device extends the range of the Drone up to two kilometres. The Skycontroller enables users to connect First Person View (FPV) glasses via the HDMI plug. With a mere tilt of your head you can then position the camera of the Drone.

Naturally the announcement of such a fun photographic device, which required the skills of 50 engineers, aeronautics, Wi-Fi radio and industrial designers to work on its development and has such huge potential and possibilities, is being lapped up by the tech-loving media.

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Ultra-smooth flying experience

Engadget were quick to give the Bebop a hands-on review. Engadget were particularly impressed with the Bebop’s ultra-smooth flying experience, even in windy conditions. Referring to Parrot’s quadricopter as “one of the most stable drone flights we’re ever seen in action,” the Engadget reviewer was thrilled by the prospect that you can fly the Bebop outside without worrying that a strong breeze will throw it onto your neighbour’s roof.

It can do amazing things”

The gang at Time were equally impressed. With a headline stating the new Bebop Drone can “do amazing things”, Time dubs Parrot as being the most important company in the world of consumer drones – quite an accolade for the French!

Check out the official video:

Not everyone is as quick to endorse the playful merits of the Bebop. Jack Nicas of the Wall Street Journal is quick to highlight the dangers of such ‘toys’. The Wall Street Journal reported how a near-collision between a drone and a commercial jet over Florida has added to the urgency and efforts made by regulators to impose new rules on the proliferation of unmanned aircraft.

“Pilots of these drones are defying seven-year-old restrictions on commercial unmanned aircraft by the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration], which has said the curbs are needed for public safety. But limited resources and legal complications have led to scattershot enforcement by the agency, emboldening even more drone operators,” writes the Wall Street Journal.

It doesn’t seem so long ago when sultry rock stars hired helicopters and camera men at fantastic expense in order to get those vital ‘zoom in and out’ shots from the sky. Such adroit camera work would help sell their records and propel them up the charts. Now, thanks to the likes of Parrot, any garage band of school kids can make an aerial video without even having to leave ‘terra firma.’

If you are keen to get your hands on the Bebop Drone you’ll have to wait. Parrot plan to release the Drone in the last quarter of the year. The exact price has yet to be announced but it has been estimated the Bebop will be in the range of $300 – $400 (Approx. £177 – £237).

Afterguard, the world’s first heads-up display for sailors

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Sailing has always been about cutting edge precision – from carefully plotted maps, to handcrafted compasses and sextants. And now they have the latest and greatest in instant data – a Heads Up Display, popularised by the Terminator in the saw way that Minority Report made developers fall in love with gesture-based interfaces.

Wearables are very much the new battleground for innovative technology – although it remains to be seen whether they end up triumphing like tablets or crashing and burning like netbooks. You might be familiarwith the Recon Jet – a HUD for general sports performance. The Jet pairs with a smartphone and provides all sorts of useful performance metrics – speed, distance, elevation and more and connects with heart rate monitors, cadence sensors and all sorts. The Afterguard HUD is a stock Recon Jet with custom sailing software designed by Afterguard.

The Afterguard HUD is definitely not a fashion item but it helps that it doesn’t look quite as ridiculous as Google Glass. The system does seem a little bit bulky but needs to be robust for intense performance sport conditions. However, weighing in at only 60 grams they aren’t particularly heavy. They also promise 4-6 hours of battery life and the ability to swap batteries, so it’s a durable system, with the challenges of intense competition very much foregrounded in their design.

The units feature polarised lenses, a high resolution display (with IR gaze detection), an HD camera with microphone and speaker and an optical touchpad that works in rain, snow, sleet and sun, with or without gloves. The dual core CPU packs bluetooth, Wifi, ANT+ and GPO with an onboard gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, altimeter and thermometers. That’s a pretty serious amount of tech to ram into some eyewear.

I’m not a sailor, but even I know that racing on the high seas is insanely technical, and that competitions can be won or lost similar on who had the best data, quickest and can react to it fastest – much like market trading. And Afterguard take competition serious – the tech inside the HUD was last seen in the America’s Cup, where the cream of the sailing world battle it out.

Ross Macdonald, two time Olympic medallist in sailing said: “Heads-up Displays have only ever been seen before on-board America’s Cup boats. So often, the cutting-edge technology on these boats hasn’t made it to other race classes. The Afterguard system is one of those rare occasions when it has.”

The Afterguard has a Central Communications Unit that syncs with your boat’s onboard instruments and wirelessly streams that data to the crew’s HUDs (and it claims to work with any system on any boat, needing nothing more than a screwdriver to mount). This data is then enhanced by the onboard sensors, giving each crew member at-a-glance information for snap judgements.

Check out the video here:

The Afterguard displays a range of metrics to the crew, such as speed, wind angle, heel, depth and polar targets. And the system is smart enough to know which crew member needs to know what, and when – helping you sail as one.

But it’s not just raw performance data – there’s also sound tactical advice. Virtual Tactician tracks the direction you are looking in and helps when you are trying to clear a boat – way more advanced than using lines marked on a deck or a compass. You can tell at a glance if you competition is ahead and if there is room to cross.

The full Afterguard system is available for $1899 for the month of April before increasing to $2499.

5 great gadgets for Mother’s Day 2014

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This Sunday it’s Mother’s Day, so we thought we would recommend a selection of some interesting gadgets that you could give your mum to make her feel special!

Headonizm Head Massager

Perfect for: Stressed out mums

It’s stressful being a mum, so if you can’t promise to stop being the main cause of this stress you can at least provide her with something to ease the pain. The Headonizm Head Massager is designed to massage your scalp, sending “a sensual feeling across your head, down your spine and through your body”. It helps to release feel good endorphins and create a sense of calm that can’t be achieved purely by a bubble-bath and some scented candles, though it might not hurt to double-up with these as well, just to be on the safe side.

Available for £6.49 from IWOOT

Luminara Flickering Flame Candles

Perfect for: Mums who love a bit of ambience

Artificial candles are all the rage, and modern designs do an excellent job of recreating the real thing without the fuss of cleaning up after. Red5 claims that these are “the most realistic we have ever seen”, being coated with real wax and shaped to mimic a partially burnt candle for added authenticity. You will have to replace the batteries every now and then, but that’s a small price to pay for a gadget that your mum might actually use.

Available at varying prices from Red5

Baseball bat rolling pin

Perfect for: Mums who like sports (and baking)

If you’re lucky enough to have a mum that loves sports and cooking, you can marry the two together quite nicely with the novelty Baseball Bat Rolling Pin. Perhaps not the most thoughtful of gifts (with a clear implication of “bake me some cookies”), it should at least raise a smile, if for no other reason than providing good old mum with another object to threaten a misbehaving child with.

Available for £12.95 from Genie Gadgets

Koubachi Wi-Fi Plant Sensor

Perfect for: Connected mums

For mums with green fingers who have also mastered the Smartphone we give you the Koubachi Wi-Fi Plant Sensor, a device designed to allow up to 27 house plants (there is an outdoor version available as well) to communicate via an app that summarises exactly what they need in terms of plant care. With regular reports on light intensity, temperature and moisture, wilting leaves and dead branches will become a thing of the past, though she may not appreciate having even more opportunities to be nagged for attention.

Available from £79.99 from Amazon

Glo to Sleep – Sleep Therapy Mask

For: Worried mums

Mum may never have truly recovered from those sleepless nights that were a by product of raising a child to an age where it’s reasonable to kick them out of the house. For those with a penchant for burning the midnight oil, the Sleep Therapy Mask aims to slow down brain activity to the “alpha wave state”, where mind and body are relaxed, eliminating those worrying thoughts that can keep poor old mum awake long into the night, or raise her from a slumber at the crack of dawn.

Available for £29 from WeLoveSleep

 

Image courtesy of Shardayyy / Flickr

Oculus Rift “Crystal Cove”: What the critics are saying

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“Of all the exciting, innovative products we’ve seen at CES this year, the Oculus Rift “Crystal Cove” prototype is unquestionably the best of the best,” Engadget, January 2014.

When you consider the international CES is the biggest annual consumer electronics and technology trade show, where more than 3,000 exhibitors showcase their most innovative products, Engadget’s Crystal Cove complement is really quite an accolade.

So what exactly is all the fuss about the Oculus Rift ‘Crystal Cove’ and should we believe the hype?

In the world of Virtual Reality, Oculus Rift has been dubbed as being the “next big thing.” Crystal Cove is the latest prototype in the Oculus Rift line up. This wearable gaming headset combines an ultra-wide field of vision with accurate 3D and, as Digital Spy is quick to point out, “unnervingly accurate motion tracking.”

The buzz surrounding the Crystal Cove stems from the fact that after twenty years or so of VR non-starters, Rift’s prototype looks to change everything, opening, as Edge Magazine states, “the door to a world of new design challenges.”

“Tickling our rods and cones,” last year’s CES “absolute highlight” was getting a first glimpse at an Oculus Rift prototype, proclaim Tech Report with similar excitement as a seven-year-old opening an Xbox 360 on their birthday. Naturally, being so ecstatic about the Oculus Rift VR headset prototype update at CES 2013, Tech Report was keen to try out the 2014 version.

Tech Report’s Scott Wasson acknowledged that Oculus thoroughly deserved their Best in Show for CES 2014 award, an acknowledgement based on what he’d seen through the goggles.

In an informative hands on review, Tech Report inform that Oculus’ first generation VR hardware came with a 720p LCD screen inside, which was the one on display at CES 2013. Later in the year, Oculus upgraded to a higher-resolution 1080p LCD, with the Crystal Cove making important inroads to its ascendants. The Crystal Cove is designed to overcome Oculus’ biggest challenge, to work well for everyone. Wasson continues that people can develop nausea, fatigue and vertigo after using a Rift prototype, a problem which is apparently caused by a disconnection between what your senses expect to see in response to the head motions and what is actually on display. The Oculus team have been working hard to “squeeze any latency it can out of the sensor-to-display loop”. Hence the Crystal Cove contains a 1080p AMOLED display, which, by delivering much faster pixel-switching time, can help quash the sensor-to-display interval.

A “spaceflight” experience

PC World was equally as impressed, noting the Cove’s rudimentary position tracking, which is implemented by way of an external camera and some fancy dots on the headset. Quick to belittle Microsoft’s “enormous motion-tracking Kinect”, PC World focuses on the Cove’s tiny camera, which is just a few inches long.

Sitting in a suite at CES 2014 rented out by CCP Games, creators of EVE Online, PC World’s veteran gamer, Hayden Dingman, endured his third iteration of EVE: Valkyrie, CCP Game’s dogfighting space shooter game. Operating from a room hired from CCP Games, it comes as little surprise EVE: Valkyrie was an exclusive Rift launch title at CES. Alongside Rift, the game has “grown up” says Dingman.

“The art assets and the Rift itself have upgraded since the last time I saw the game, making Valkyrie even more impressive. It provides an experience that’s closer than I’d ever imagined to my longtime dream of spaceflight,” continued the PC World contributor.

Oculus Rift may have bowled over the techies, journalists and editors at this year’s CES, it’s tactic as giving them as promo items was a shrewd move, but the company’s biggest challenge still lies ahead – getting the Rift into the hands of consumers. Oculus remains hush-hush about the Crystal Cove’s release date. One thing Oculus does state with diligence is “2014 is going to be a big year for VR.” With the Oculus Crystal Cove winning the Best of CES Award 2014, VR’s year has certainly got off to a flying start.

Check out this ‘hands on’ from the folks at Tested:

Scalextric RCS – there’s an app for that…

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Surely one of the defining toys of its generation, Scalextric has modernised itself for the smartphone age with the new Scalextric RCS set, the first slot car Race Control System that allows you to wirelessly manage races through an app installed on your smartphone or tablet. With remote control over everything from race type, driver names and laps to fuel, tyre wear and in-race damage, it’s the most realistic revision of the hobbyists classic to date, and even allows you to post race stats to Facebook or Twitter to compare results with friends.

The basic units, which consist of hand throttles and a Powerbase, will be fine to use provided you have a dusty old collection of cars and track pieces in an attic somewhere. These come in three guises – the entry-level RCS One, which retails for £40 and features wired controls for up to two cars at a time, the RCS Air, which costs £60 and drops the cables for full wireless action, and the top-of-the-line digital RCS Pro, which allows up to six cars racing at once and lane changing, though will set you back £100 and since it’s digital, will need digital cars or at least digital chips fitted to them. Complete sets are also available at £100 for the RCS One, rising to a whopping £500 for the six-car Pro. There are also varying differences in app functionality between the three models, particularly so with the RCS One, so it would be wise to check the link above before you buy.

Screenshot of the RCS app
Screenshot of the RCS app

A couple of tech sites have gone hands-on with the RCS already, so let’s take a look at how it fares. Pocket Lint has its own video review direct from the London Toy Fair 2014 where it lauds the wide degree of control and fine-tuning available through the app, but does admit that at around £100, it’s an expensive piece of kit that may be restricted to purists. Gizmag is similarly impressed by the race management features, which it admits “makes it feel more like playing a console racing game than a basic slot car offering”. It also praises the user-friendly manner in which smartphone integration adds to the experience, and calls the RCS a “massive step forward for the slot car racing game”.

Check out the video below to see the Scalextric RCS in action, which will have to keep you going until it’s released in Q3 2014, with plenty of new exciting features promised for future updates.

Onewheel, the self-balancing electric skateboard

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There were, by all accounts, plenty of innovative and interesting toys on display at this year’s CES. As attending technology journalists were busy scribbling down the wondrous worthies of the best innovations, one of the most saturated desks had to be that displaying the Onewheel – even the non-technological, mainstream press have cottoned on to this one.

This self-balancing, single-wheeled electric skateboard uses gyros, accelerometers, proprietary algorithms and a single rubber tyre to give passengers a smooth, self-balancing ride, which apparently mimics snowboarding or surfing on dry land. It has to be said, the Onewheel has certainly got editors’ radar buds raving as there is literally a myriad of reports and videos surfacing on the web dedicated to the fun you can have with the Onewheel.

“It’s hard not to do a double-take when first laying eyes on the Onewheel,” writes Engadget. In fact it was Engadget which was responsible for the Onewheel being displayed at this year’s CES. As the report proudly states, the device’s creator, Kyle Doerksen, brought a prototype by the Engadget trailer to CES. With its metal frame, wooden deck and chunky go-cart wheel, aesthetically, Engadget were not balled over by this heavy-duty (25 pounds) machine. In terms of speed, the Onewheel can go as fast as 12mph, although acceleration is software-limited to allow for better balancing. On a lithium battery this dryland skateboard-esque device can go from four to six miles on a single charge or for 20 minutes with an “ultra” charger. Unfortunately, writes Engadget, the machine only has approx. 20 minutes worth of ride in its battery, which varies depending on the terrain and personal driving style.

The BBC was quick to try out the Onewheel. BBC Click’s Spencer Kelly took a ride on the ‘half-skateboard-half-unicycle’ at the CES. We have to admit, Kelly’s video, which can be viewed here, isn’t too inspiring, and merely involves the BBC reporter travelling, albeit slowly, down a street in Las Vegas on what essentially resembles a skateboard before stopping a several metres down the road.

The Onewheel, close up
The Onewheel, close up

Big kids the Daily Mail didn’t want to miss the opportunity to try out the latest transport toy. With a headline stating a device that makes you feel like you’re flying, the Daily Mail are certainly excited by the single air-filled tyre taken from a go-kart, which can reach speeds of up to 12mph and turn 360 degrees within the length of the board. The Daily Mail also points out that all this happens while the board balances itself using the same motion sensing technology found in a smartphone. Seemingly obsessed by the Onewheel’s flying merits, the Daily Mail quotes the company behind the device, Future Motion, saying it “Lets you fly over pavement on only a single wheel.”

Veteran skateboarder Sam Sheffer of The Verge, who apparently rides a skateboard every day to work and back, was naturally eager to give the Onewheel a whirl. Admitting he was soon easily cruising around the Las Vegas Convention Center parking lot, Sheffer says that despite its bulky and unwieldiness, the Onewheel, alongside the E-Go Cruiser are the closest he’s come to his ideal of an electrical skateboard. We have to admit, The Verge’s video of a trial ride on the Onewheel is a lot more exciting, speedy and ‘pro’ than the BBC’s version.

To try out the Onewheel for yourself, you’ll probably have to buy one, which will unfortunately set you back $1,300. Would it be worth it? Naw.

Video: Parrot unveil the MiniDrone at CES 2014

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Hovering gracefully in the air and undeterred by the throngs of journalists, the new MiniDrone from the folks at Parrot certainly stood out at the various evening shows at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The MiniDrone works on the principle that it can “fly and roll from floor to ceiling” which is achieved thanks to the ability to attach two ultra-light wheels.

To control the drone, you simply connect to it using low energy Bluetooth Smart and then use the company’s app. The MiniDrone contains multiple sensors as well as “autopilot capabilities’ which make it incredibly easy to fly as well as very stable.

Check out our short video below of the MiniDrone in action, including a close scrape with a fellow tech reporter!

The MiniDrone’s specs are also still be finalising but at the time of writing we’re told that the device weighs 80 grams and the battery should last for around 7 minutes. According to this article on Mashable the drone contains a “500 MHz processor and a gigabyte of RAM”. Details of pricing and availability are difficult to come by at the moment, with the company themselves simply stating “TBA”.

Video: Orbotix announce Sphero 2B at CES 2014

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Whilst wondering around this year’s packed CES Unveiled, it was hard not to notice/trip-over the new Sphero 2B from the folks at Orbotix. The 2B is the latest addition to the company’s portfolio of connected, app-controlled, toys. Taking on a new tubular form factor compared with the original Sphero, the 2B comes with interchangeable parts, such as different ‘tyres’ and hubcaps. “Sphero has been ‘round for a couple years now and we wanted to take the fun experience of driving Sphero, redesign it, flip it around, speed it up, and give fans something completely new,” says cofounder Adam Wilson.

We filmed the Sphero 2B in action and got the lowdown from one of their team, check out the video below:

The Sphero 2B, which is made of polycarbonate, will be available in either black or white and can reach speeds of up to 14 ft/s. Users control the 2B via the iOS or Android app over Bluetooth LE which provides a range of around 30m. The device will be available worldwide in Autumn 2014 for “under $100”. You can reserve yourself one, as well as find out more info, by going to GoSphero.com/2B