Robotic gadgets often work best when they prevent us having to do tiring and repetitive physical work, and that’s certainly an apt description for cleaning a barbeque grill. Enter the Grillbot: a gadget that looks and works a lot like the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner but for your grill.
As with the Roomba, the Grillbot uses sensors to control speed and direction, making sure it take the most efficient route around your grill while still getting everything clean. The big difference is that instead of nylon brushes for picking up dust, the Grillbot has three replaceable brushes with tough metal bristles for scraping the gunk and fat from your grill in exactly the same way as using a wire brush by hand. The three brushes are removable for washing and you can even chuck them in the dishwasher.
The basic principle is certainly simple: in fact inventor Ethan Woods developed the idea by attaching a wire brush to a power drill! As with many gadgets — the works of James Dyson come to mind — the tricky part was making it work smoothly and reliably, particularly given that that grills are anything but the type of solid, flat surface robots prefer.
One of the most impressive features is that, because Grillbot uses wire brushes, it’s able to get to work even while a grill is still hot. Normally when we barbeque, by the time a grill has cooled down completely it’s got dark, we’ve had a few drinks, and we have neither the willpower nor the ability to clean properly, leaving us with the heartsinking sight of a dirty grill the next morning. With the Grillbot, you can set it to work as soon as you’ve put out any flames and you’ll have a great talking point among your more gadget-oriented guests.
The standard version is powered by six D-cell batteries (the chunky sort often used in torches.) A premium edition model uses a rechargeable battery with mains adaptor for charging. With the premium model you can also use a timer to automatically set the Grillbot to shut down after a set period of cleaning.
For those of us in the UK who’ve learned to distrust the phrase “barbeque summer”, it’s possible not everyone will need to use the Grillbot enough to make it a worthwhile investment to the same extent as our American cousins. It really comes down to how often you barbeque and how much you detest cleaning. That said, for anyone who operates commercial grills or runs a campsite or holiday park, this could be a significant time saver.
The Grillbot will be available from mid-2013 with the standard version costing $69.95 and the premium edition $99.95. The manufacturers plan on a UK release at some point, but you can pre-order from grillbot.com for international delivery as the charger is compatible with 240 volts power.
If you want to get away from it all, take yourself off in a tent (or a camper or caravan if you prefer).
Whether you’re off with the kids, heading to a music festival or just looking for the cheapest holiday option, there are a few new gadgets designed to make your camping adventure that wee bit more civilized.
First off, to get you to your chosen destination, TomTom has launched the GO LIVE Camper and Caravan sat nav. This nifty introduction offers routes tailored for your vehicle and includes pre-installed points of interest so that you can stop off and find suitable sites and services easily. The software also adjusts routes and arrival times depending on our vehicle’s weight, size and maximum speed. It also includes maps of 45 countries in Europe and a year’s free Live services.
If you’re taking your precious iPad away with you, you won’t want it to get wet will you? And while the sun has managed to break out in the past few days, the sad truth is that you are likely to encounter some water at some stage if you’re camping in the UK, so it’s best to be prepared. The waterproof iPad case has been developed by marine electronics specialist Scanstrut (it was launched at the London Boat show this year, so is really made to keep the water away from our precious device). The iPad case is IP66/IP67 waterproof and shockproof, with models available to fit both the iPad 1 and iPad 2 in a range of bright colours. Full touch screen usability is available at all times, as are volume, on/off and home buttons, and both front and rear camera functionality is provided for the iPad 2.
Once you get on site, if you like your home comforts, how about a tent with built-in power?
Camping specialist Eureka! has launched its N!ergy collection of tents, which have their own in-built power. The N!ergy Grand is top of the range but all the tents come with three easy-to-find outlets that glow blue when powered ON – they can even double as night lights.
The living area has seven ‘Clearvu’ windows, and a recreational zone offers enough space for a camping table with chairs and a kitchen area. The tent sleeps four in two rooms, and can be extended to sleep six people in three rooms. It packs into one bag, weighs 28kg, and the makers claim it can be erected in 10 to 15 minutes.
If little pests spoil your camping trip – and I’m not talking about other people’s children, but midges and mossies – Craghoppers may have the answer. The outdoor clothing specialists have come up with what they say is the world’s only permanent insect repellant clothing, which it claims give 90% protection against bites from ticks, midges, mosquitoes and so on. The Craghoppers NosiLife leisure suit is designed for men and women and can be used for lounging or as pyjamas. The top is £25 and the bottoms £35, which might seem pricey for a pair PJs, but if you react badly to insect bites we reckon it’s a price worth paying.
Fed up with carting our camping chair about at festivals, outdoor concerts and picnics? Here’s a chair that folds up to the size of a shoe and weighs just 2lbs (about the same as a bag of sugar).
Dac, the makers of the Helinox Chair, claim it can hold up to 160 times its weight and is the world’s most compact folding chair. It should be a good choice for walkers and cyclists, as it can fit in a rucksack.
Dac are one the leading manufacturers of tent poles.
If you’re brave enough to face the elements, you might want a little extra protection from Vaude, who have the extremely tough yet lightweight Gravit jacket. The wrinkle-proof jacket has a dense fabric construction, which makes it 80% wind proof, breathable and water resistant. It also comes in a range of nice, bright colours and is in Vaude’s Green Shape clothing range so it’s enviromentally friendly to boot.
If you’re off to a festival, you might want to pack one of Rohan’s Canopy Capes – this cape doubles up as a pitch-able canopy. It is mud, rain and wind resistant (useful for an English summer) and also doubles up as a shelter! It’s useful for walkers as well as festival goers if they get caught out when camping or walking in the wet weather.
In a classic dark green colour, the cape includes adjustable drawstrings, poppers which can be fastened as much or as little as required, and a hood complete with visor for rain or sun protection.
It may be frosty out there (and those further north may already have their snow shovels out) but keen gardeners will always be happy to receive something for the outdoors, whatever the weather.
So here’s a few gift ideas for the garden…
The RainPerfect solar-powered water pump
We know it’s hard to think about solar-powered anything when the skies are grey, but thinking ahead to the summer, this solar-powered water pump from Rule Innovation could be a godsend.
We’re all keen on recycling nowadays, and anyone who collects rainwater in a water butt will know how tough it can be to get it out of the water butt and onto the garden. Filling up endless watering cans can be a bit of a pain. That’s where the pump comes in.
It is powered by a 3.5 watt solar panel and generates sufficient pressure to power a water hose or garden sprinklers in order to recycle the water harvested in water butts.
It’s a win-win situation – recycling rainwater and saving on energy costs! The perfect green gadget
Still on the subject of water, Rain Garden Kits collect the rainwater from your roof and puts it to good use. Company owner Chris Killingbeck says: “The soft rain water is simply ideal for growing orchids, rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias, and kids will love creating their own wild wetland centre brimming with nature.”
Rain gardens are nothing new. In the Mediterranean, sun-kissed gardeners have been building sinks to store rain water for hundreds of years. These offer an affordable and easy-to-build way of brightening up any garden in an environmentally-friendly fashion. Customers don’t even need to have a huge garden since the mini soakaway kit is perfect for growing wetland plants in a small, city garden.
Chris explains: “Installing a water butt is a great way to start, but once it is full the water reverts to the sewers. A rain garden takes the overflow from the water butt to fill or top-up a pond and even a soakaway unit in which you can grow vegetables or marsh plants. Plants for ponds and soakaways are included in our kits.”
If you’re not a gardener, this may sound a very unthrilling sort of present, but believe us when we say that for anyone who is serious about their growing, this new Propagator from Stewart would be a great thing to find in a stocking on Christmas morning!
The 52cm propagator will help them to grow winter vegetables, so will be greatly appreciated at a time of year when there’s not much to be getting on with in the garden.
Heated propagators are also essential if you want to grow some of the more exotic kinds of plants such as proteas from Australia and South Africa.
Stewart, one of the biggest names in the propagators market, has also recently launched a range of Premium Thermostatic Control Electric Propagators, available in 38cm and 52cm sizes.
Great for this time of year (but equally enchanting for summer parties) are the Fairy Berries from Firebox.
These delightful little orbs light up and genetly glow, creating the illusion of flickering lights (a bit like little fireflies dotted all about your garden).
Because there are no wires involved, they can be placed wherever you like – they’ll even float on a pond to turn it into a magical water feature if you so wish.
We’ve tried them out and absolutely love the effect they create – the only thing is that you only get 10 in a box, so if you want to create a garden-wide effect it’s going to cost you! But fantastic for use indoors and out.
You get 20 hours use from each ball (it is possible to turn them off by removing one of the batteries). Should you wish to hang them up, so they appear to be floating in mid-air, attach them to a tree or internal fitting using fishing line fixed to the small recessed hook.
I won’t start with a coffee pun as they’ve all bean done – especially at comedy roasts (sorry) but I do love my coffee. In fact judging by the number of coffee shops around me pretty much everyone in Central London loves the stuff. But what if you’re out and about and dying for a quality cup? Well like I just said there are coffee in pretty much any direction I can throw a rock at the moment, but that may not always be the case. Fortunately as long as I have boiling hot water, freshly ground coffee is not too far away, thanks to Grower’s Cup.
Grower’s Cup is a simply but cool new gadget for coffee lovers everywhere – literally. Grower’s Cup is a durable lightweight bag filled with some high quality coffee with each bag providing three cups of delicious, freshly ground coffee. All coffees are single estate or from named cooperatives. The berries are hand-picked and hand-sorted and then slow-roasted by Grower’s Cup in small portions on their Micro-roastery, which enhances the coffees’ unique character. Free-dried instant coffee this ain’t. The three step instructions on the back pretty much say it all – pour in hot water, wait and enjoy.
In essence a disposable French press, each Grower’s cup pouch contains a filter with 24g of freshly ground, speciality coffee. To brew three cups of coffee, all you need to do is open the bag, pour in half a litre of hot water and brew for five-eight minutes.
Waiting for the science bit? Here it is: the unique brewing system preserves the coffee’s natural oils, enhancing the coffee’s delicate flavours and finer aromas that can only be achieved by using a French press. However, unlike the French Press, on pouring the first one-and-a-half cups the brewing process stops so the remaining coffee won’t go bitter.
At £2.50, each bag is about the same as a latte in a regular store so these light-weight pouches are probably set to be a fun addition to any outgoing coffee lover’s backpack.
Compact, digital cameras seem to be fixated on delivering more sophisticated and proficient lenses in recent months, a focus, which I believe, is well overdue. The latest camera to be promoting its assets predominantly on its lens is Samsung’s new WB750, which, in featuring the longest ever zoom in the company’s compact camera portfolio, “takes you further and faster than ever before”.
Asides from its 18x Optical Zoom, 24x Smart-Zoom and 24mm Ultra Wide Angle Lens, meaning users can actually manipulate an image to their likening prior to taking the shot, the WB750 does seem to be bulging with innovative goodies. Topping its internal ‘goodie’ list must be the camera’s 12.5 megapixel BSI CMOS sensor. This is the first time, we are told, that Samsung has introduced its pioneering BSI CMOS technology to its compact camera range, which is designed to reduce distortion and replace it with clear, precise images and videos, even in low-lit conditions, whilst reducing image noise. This, alongside a high speed continuous still shot of 10fps and a movie recording speed of up to 1000 fps, means the WB750 delivers impeccable quality in real-time.
Also ranking high in its internal goodie bag is the camera’s Creative Movie Maker function. This creative feature means users can create a fun and shareable slide show in four easy steps. Impressive effects and music can be added to a movie on the camera itself without having to load it to a PC.
Panoramic shots are heavily focused on with Samsung’s latest toy. In featuring Live Panorama, 3D Panorama or Action Panorama, users have the option of capturing those unforgettable sights and memories with a depth and clarity usually lost in the less refined of digital cameras.
This dedication to producing images that standout brings me swiftly on to the WB750’s HDR – High Dynamic Range. Not just realistic, but, Samsung assure us, ‘hyper-realistic’ images can be achieved with the HDR function, as it opens up the colour spectrum for the ‘most vibrant results’.
Long gone are the days when a stubborn subject – namely a child or a dog – refuses to keep still while having their photo taken and the net result being an unrecognisable and completely hopeless photo with a blurred subject! As in containing an Intelligent Object Tracking feature, the camera automatically focuses on an object even whilst in motion – Could be a great choice for any budding wildlife photographers out there, whereby getting a shot of a wild animal in frame is often nigh impossible!
When I headed off to Suffolk to test out Vango’s Airbeam tent, I also took a few little extra goodies to try out.
We’re quite keen on recycling in this house, so I always like to take a look at anything that suggests it is ‘eco’. The Eco-Can is an amusing little number. Not only does it look like the sort of can fizzy drinks come in, but it’s actually a useful drinks holder. You screw off the top to hold the liquid – it holds about the same as a can, so won’t last you all day but is handy for a trip out in the car. You drink though a ‘ringpull’ that actually pushes down and then clicks up to seal. (This managed to hold the drink in despite a lot of shaking, and proved a hit with the five-year-old, who isn’t allowed fizzy drinks so enjoyed the novelty of being allowed to have drink out of a ‘can’).
The Eco Can is made from PLA (a kind of corn starch), is BPA-free and non-toxic. Its makers also claim it creates 40% less carbon emissions than its petroleum-based counterparts. It costs £13.99, which is pricey compared with the kind of metal water bottles with the plastic sports tops, but then you are doing your bit for the environment. Plus, if you have a ‘chewer’ for a child, let me tell you, it is really hard to make a dent in!
Another drinks container that found favour with us on holiday was the Brugo. This is a really good-looking version of the ‘travel’ mug that you see so many commuters carrying on the train in the morning. The Brugo not only comes in some fantastic colours (I had to forego the fabulously pink one as I was outvoted by the men in my household!) but also has a little secret.
The top section of the cup is separate – it allows you to tip up your hot drink, have it at a drinkable temperature as you sip, while ensuring the rest of the drink stays hot.
This proved invaluable to us. Our five year old loves hot chocolate, which is always too hot if we buy it when we’re out. He also usually runs out of steam halfway through, especially as hot chocolates only seem to come in ‘massive’ size, and then I have to drink the rest. I’m not a fan of lukewarm ‘hot’ chocolate so the Brugo is the ideal solution for us.
It should also go down well with commuters who like to make their coffee last all the way from home to the office! It holds 350ml and costs £13.99 – see www.brugomug.co.uk for more.
Next up was the Proporta TurboCharger 5000 . We’re very much back-to-basic campers – we don’t do electric hookups or anything, so we always have a bit of an issue when it comes to keeping our phones charged. So this speedy charger was the perfect solution for us – we also managed to use it to get some juice in a DS Lite, which proved vital when small boy found a friend with a DS and they wanted to team up and play together. Bear in mind that if your device has a mini or micro USB port for both charging and data connections, the Proporta cable can only be used for charging input only. It’s a nicely made piece of kit, which comes in a little drawstring bag and with a selection of charging connections. An LED systems shows you how much charge is left. Now, I guess the question is, why would you carry around a second device rather than a spare battery – the answer is that because it can charge a number of devices, you don’t have to include a spare battery for every device you carry. Nor do you have to turn your phone off to change the battery – which can be an issue on some mobiles.
Handy if you’re away for a day or two without any mains access – but whether you want to pay £42.95 for it will be a matter down to your wallet.
Now, normally when we go camping, the heavens open, which is why I took the Proporta BeachBuoy Waterproof Case to try out. As it happened, we were very lucky and barely saw a drop of rain, but I still got to test out the case on the beach and at a theme park on the log flume.
Before you entrust your precious electricals to the case, read the instructions as it tells you to use tissue paper to ensure the seals are watertight. You can then entrust your phone or ‘very’ compact camera to its two seals.
There’s not much to say about a waterproof case, as long as it proves waterproof – it feels like it is really well made, and solid, which is comforting when you’re putting several hundreds of pounds’ worth of gadget inside. The top seals don’t open terribly wide, so make sure your camera fits before buying, but if all is well you’ll be able to operate it through the see-through section of the case.
The case is waterproof up to 16ft (5m) and is just £9.95 – a small price to pay to keep expensive pieces of kit dry.
Last but not least, if like us you take a trailer when you go camping, you should bear in mind that “trailer sway” – a phenomenon where the trailer swings from side to side and compromises vehicle control – can be a cause of accidents for vehicles which are towing. Trailer sway can quickly escalate and can be difficult to counter, potentially leading to serious accidents. (The wheel fell off our trailer on the way home, but that’s another matter!)
Trailer Sway Control continuously monitors the yaw rate of the vehicle and compares this to the steering angle. If swaying is detected without the driver making the necessary adjustments, the vehicle is designed to react accordingly to correct any instability.
Ford this summer announced that the Trailer Sway Control technology that debuted on the Kuga will now be featured on new Focus, C-MAX and Grand C-MAX models, as well as the Ranger pick-up late this year and next-generation Kuga in 2012.
“An inflatable tent? You’re taking an inflatable tent?”
“What if it blows away?”
“It might spring a leak!”
Just some of the comments I got when I planned to head off to Suffolk with Vango’s latest innovation, the Airbeam tent. Yes, you do get a pump, and yes you do blow it up – but it’s only the ‘airbeams’, which take the place of your usual poles in your average tent.
If you are at all familiar with the ways of those who enjoy holidays under canvas, you will be aware that Vango is one of the top names in outdoors equipment, and true to form, the Airbeam Velocity Tent lived up to the high expectations I had for it.
Exceptionally well made, with extras such as plenty of pockets on the inners, colour coded tabs for fitting the inner ‘bedrooms’, several ‘windows’ and ready to accept tent extensions to increase your space, the tent itself did not disappoint.
The makers claim you can get the tent (even the largest eight-man version) pitched in five minutes. It did take a little longer than that, but nevertheless, I managed to use the included hand pump to pump the beams in 10 minutes and we had the tent pitched in about another 15 minutes. With practice, I reckon you could do it in Vango’s ‘record’ time.
The beams are really solid once pumped, and are made of a really sturdy rubberised material that feels very stable. I had images of the beams getting punctured by a flying toy car or similar, but they are far too well made for that. The other benefit is that it is actually possible to easily put up this tent on your own – a bonus for single parents – or anyone who is taking the kids away on their own. I’ve spoken to several people who would love to take the kids away camping on their own, but are scared that they’ll never manage to get their temporary home pitched – this would take away all the worry.
It’s equally easy to strike camp – simply unscrew the plugs and the air is quickly released. The tent is easily packed away in its own holdall on wheels, and while it’s not exactly lightweight, the fact that you don’t have to include a bag of poles means it does seem less weighty than your average tent – again useful if you’re coping with the tent on your own, or are worried about the extra weight in your car.
We were exceptionally lucky with the weather – I could hardly believe we were in England! So apart from a little light rain I didn’t get a chance to discover how it would perform in howling winds or torrential downpours, but feeling how sturdy it was I have no reason to think it would be any less reliable than any other tent.
The only downside is that the new innovation comes at a price – you’re looking at nearly twice the price of Vango’s ‘traditional’ tents. However, if ease and convenience is worth its weight in gold, it’s probably a price worth paying.
The Vango Airbeam Velocity costs from £230 (for a two-man tent) to £760 for the eight-man version. Tent extensions and inner groundsheets are available separately.
We’ve got not one, not two but three camping trips planned over the summer holidays – and while I keep frantically checking up on the weather, muttering about how wet it’s been recently so surely it’s going to be fine when we’re away, and making sacrifices to the great sun god at the bottom of the garden, the sensible thing would be to be prepared for the heavens to open on us.
And whether you’re planning a camping trip, because you like camping, want a cut-price holiday, or are heading off to a festival this summer, if you’re taking any gizmos or gadgets with you, you really should plan to keep them dry.
Waterproof gear – whether it’s clothes, bags or gadget packs – is not the cheapest, but when you add up how much it would cost you to replace your gadgetry, it’s probably worth spending a bit to keep it safe – a kind of insurance policy if you will
So bearing that in mind, the good-looking backpacks from Overboard don’t seem quite so pricey. The company claims its Pro-Sports Waterproof Backpack is 100 per cent waterproof thanks to (and I quote) “its high frequency electronic construction”. It also has padded shoulder straps lumbar support and a waist strap if you want it – expect to pay £47.50 for the blue or yellow packs and £57.49 for the black or red. They all carry 20l.
Dry Tube Bags from the same company are also waterproof, being made from tarpaulin, and as well as providing waterproof storage, they can be used as an ice bucket, drinks cooler or even as a pillow – a great bit of multitatasking. Prices start at £10.99 for a 5l bag.
Overboard has also come up with a number of custom-designed waterproof packs that allow you to keep your gadgets dry, and still use them at the same time – look out for the iPhone case and waterproof Camera Case at £15.99. a zoom lens camera case at £19.99 and SLR camera bag (£22.49).