Scalextric RCS – there’s an app for that…

scalextric-rcs

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.

Sphero: Roll with IT

Sphero-indoors

Among Michael Bay’s many crimes, first and foremost in my mind is “making robots boring”. Even when I learned as a child that robots existed and mostly put together cars, there was still a fascination with them until Bay managed to make “giant robots fighting” into an epic three-part snoozefest. If only someone could make robots fun again.

Enter Sphero, a delighful app-powered robot for nerds, kids and normal folk (but mostly nerds). Sphero is a robotic ball gaming system that crams a ridiculous amount of technology into one of the simplest toys we have – the ball.

At first glance Sphero is simply a ball and the urge to bounce is hard to resist. Although obviously Sphero is bringing a lot more to the table. How much more? Well that’s actually one of the many interesting things about the device. Sphero is app-controlled and is more of a platform than a singular experience. There are a number of Sphero-related apps in the app store and a small community of nerds tweaking and building more all the time. So there are a whole host of things you could find yourself doing with it. It’s more than just a ball.

Sphero-iPhone

It is also a ball however and one of the simple pleasures of Sphero is hooking it up to your iPhone/Android via Bluetooth and using the accelerometer or on-screen controls to manipulate Sphero across the floor. It took me a while to “master” the control system but it’s pretty enjoyable zipping along between the discarded USB keys and iPhone cases that litter my floor. He also swims although I didn’t fancy running a bath to test this out.

Sphero-Colour

You can also make Sphero change colour and controlling a robotic glowing ball of light darting about my carpet is not how I envisaged spending my evenings.

The open-ended nature of Sphero means it can be played with in various ways. There’s a macro app that enables you to create little subroutines and execute them on the spot. If you’re a bit more hardcore you can download the SDK and make a full blown app. One of the more interesting uses I found was using it as a controller to navigate an R-Type style shooter that was similar to playing with a Wii. I also tried out a fun little augmented reality app that utilised my iPad’s camera. Everyone I showed Sphero too was amazed but a little disappointed that you couldn’t have an onboard camera rolling around – even though I have no idea how this would work in practice.

Sphero-Park

Sphero was fun to play with in short burst and I really got into making little subroutines for it to interact with. It’s somewhere between toy and enthusiasts hobby kit although the price – £99.99 – should warn you that this is a lot more involved than your average app-cessory.

Sphero has just hit these shores and is available from stores such as MenKind and online from Amazon Firebox and Goshpero.com

Why was the chicken thrown across the office? Red5’s Chuckimal

It’s pretty hard to get my attention when I’m in the office. As someone who gets hundreds of emails (all trying to sell me things, I’m not popular) and lots of tweets, texts and actually work screaming for my time someone actually in the room with me often misses out. Even worse I often have earphones buried deep within my ears blaring bass heavy rap classics in stereo. I’m pretty sure any one who’s every shared an office with me has thought, “if only I could hurl a soft toy in his face… but one with a four second message recorded inside.”

Chuckimal

Bizarrely enough, those people’s dreams have been have been fulfilled (while my prayers for app that tells me where all the good chips shops in London are go strangely unanswered) by the good people of Red5.co.uk who have added the Chuckimal to its range of weird and wonderful ways to spend your money.

Ostensibly a big fluffy chicken (yes that is a great way to start a sentence) the Chuckimal literally has a hidden egg that stores short messages. You simply record your piece with the Chuckimal and he’ll repeat it back the moment he hits or is caught by the person you’re chucking him at. If you can find someone one playing Angry Birds, record “Stop Playing Angry Birds” and manage to hit them on the head with it, you may be in danger of dying from high 5s.

Available in two different birdie designs, blue and yellow, Chuckimals are very simple to use, just press his wing, say something in 4 seconds or less, then hurl with gay abandon.

Out now for £12 from Red5.co.uk

Best toy helicopters: Our pick of the bunch

Helicopters are awesome. Unfortunately, most people can’t afford to buy one, and if they could, wouldn’t know how to fly it. Toy manufacturers noticed this injustice and have been hard at work creating simple, cheap models for us to pilot. At this year’s London Toy Festival, we looked at hundreds of helicopters with innovative features, cool aesthetics and unique control styles – here’s our pick of the bunch.

skybots

1. The Flying Skybot

Bring aerial death from above for up to eight minutes with the Gyro Flying Skybot from Terox Toys. It’s got two rotors on the top, and a tiny tail rotor on the rear for increased stability. It’ll charge in 20-30 minutes and can be controlled up to 10 metres away. Did we mention it’s in the shape of a Transformer?

2. iPhone Controlled Helicopter

Also from Terox Toys, the iPhone ‘copter costs £49.99 and comes with an IR unit to plug into the iPhone. From there, download the app and you’ll be able to fly your helicopter straight from your mobile. It comes with a remote, too, but that’s mainly for squares. Six – eight minutes in the air off a 20 – 30 minute charge.

3. Airhogs HawkEye

The ever first indoor helicopter with a built-in video camera has landed. It can take five minutes of footage at 320×240, or hundreds of photos at a resolution of 640×480. And you needn’t worry about voyeurs, either – there’s a big red light to indicate when filming has started.

Once you’re done, plug the helicopter into the remote, then the remote into your computers USB and drag and drop your files – no special software, no system compatibility issues. A nice touch: the ‘copter will charge while you upload.

When you buy the HawkEye, you also gain access to the company’s online editing software. Mass-up videos, change the length, and add images and sounds until you’ve got a complete story. Then post to YouTube and Facebook. Their web site is at www.airhogs.com

4. Airhogs Sharpshooter

For every creative-type, there’s someone equally as destructive. Those people are covered by the Sharpshooter. The Sharpshooter can carry two rockets, perfect for shooting at the HawkEye and annoying a budding director. Or, send it across the office and spill someone’s tea. You needn’t worry about losing a rocket, either – six are included.

5. The Halo Flying Hornet

We know we’re suckers for liking a shameless cash-in, but the Flying Hornet from IMC Toys looks pretty awesome – even if you’re not a Halo fan. The extra plastic bits don’t do anything, but they sure look cool.

What’s new in the DraganFlyer X6 helicopter?

DraganFlyer

We originally covered the DraganFlyer back in February. That unmanned airborne vehicle (UAV) was the X4 and cost £12,000. Ten months on and the new DraganFlyer X6 model is out, with two more X’s and £10,000 on to the price tag. So what does the X6 add that makes it soar above its predecessor and rivals?

Aside from a longer flight time and the ability to carry a heavier load, the new incarnation of the remote control helicopter features one big upgrade: the spring centred throttle. When the pilot lets go of the throttle, the UAV will no longer plummet to the ground, shattering a £20k investment. Instead, it’ll return to a central position and maintain its height through “altitude hold”. It also comes with a new automatic take-off procedure, so the pilot can set the vehicle up, slide the throttle up and watch it take off to around one metre off the ground. The pilot can then fly it in any direction, or ascend higher into the skies.

Check some sample footage out here:

This means it’s easier than ever to keep a stable picture, so photos of videos taken from the X6 will be better than ever. It also means the chance of crashing is greatly reduced – especially as the device floats out of sight. If you do lose it, or somehow manage to fly out of range, the DraganFlyer’s self-preservation training kicks in, initiating an automatic landing sequence and continuing its onboard flight recorder.

The battery gives about 15 minutes of flight time, which is monitored through the control unit. Other information wirelessly sent back include a video feed, the device’s orientation and motion (with onboard GPS), data from three accelerometers, three gyros and barometric pressure sensor to judge the altitude and positioning adjustments.

You’ll also be able to remotely control the onboard camera’s zoom, tilt and shutter. Quick-release landing gear and camera equipment make for easy transportation in your backpack once grounded.