Toys for techies – part 1

The kinds of things you need, think you need or just really, really want.

Watch out behind!

Sick of missing out on the party while trying to record it for YouTube posterity? Fear not, Kogeto’s must-have new gadget, Dot, allows you to record up to three minutes of fully immersive, 360 degree video in real-time straight to your iPhone. (Err, well, after about seven minutes or so of in-phone processing!)

Dot is a snap-on lens that uses a free iPhone app called Looker to record 3D video. The lens is a simple device with no moving parts that uses two circular mirrors to reflect a 360 degree image to the iPhone camera.

Though a raft of slightly-miffed earlya-Dot-ters fl ooded the Kickstarter forum to complain that the videos were low quality, marred by glare and had a small field of view, the Dot is a vanguard in a field with few alternatives apart from the very expensive high-end panoramic video-cameras previously used by real estate agents and holiday operators to showcase home interiors.

Unlike most panorama-cams, Dot doesn’t require the user to stand in one place and can even record the fast-passing scenery on a highway road trip – though obviously the capture rate will reflect the speed of the Dot-hosting vehicle.

Buy it: shop.kogeto.com; US$49

Spy kids

Who doesn’t remember that childhood moment, envying the kid who got to wrest the remote control from his dad for just a few seconds of model airplane piloting bliss before the toy careened into the nearest pine tree? Well, the folks at Parrot have come up with the ultimate 2012 toy, one that combines that much-loved remote-controlled fl ying thingy of the past, with our smartphone-obsessed, need-for-control of the present.

Parrot’s AR.Drone Wi-Fi quadricopter is a battery-powered fl ying toy, with two onboard cameras (one front, one vertical) that send point-of-view images and video to a smartphone or tablet, which remotely controls the toy. Various sensors, including an ultrasound altimeter, help stabilise and fly the toy.

Images can also be saved to USB, and users are already extolling the virtues of the aerial photography possibilities from the drone, (though of course it opens up all sorts of privacy-invasion possibilities too).

You can choose between two external, different coloured ‘hulls,’ one with four protective loops for indoor play, and the other a lighter, aircraft-shaped hull allowing the toy to fly faster – up to a top speed of about 20 km/h.

The four-bladed helicopter has a range of around fifty metres and a battery life of around 15 minutes and can remain stable at heights of up to six metres. It’s powered by a lithium battery, which takes an hour and a half to recharge, though spares can be purchased.

Best of all, the toy generates its own Wi-Fi network, and several Drones can be engaged in airborne battle, which can even be recorded for a later debrief. What more could a boy want?!

Buy it: smartphocus.com; US$320

PowerPoint to go

Gone are the days when inflicting Death by PowerPoint on potential customers, staff and business acquaintances involved dragging around your laptop, various power cords, a digital pointy thing, an unwieldy ‘portable’ projector screen and worst of all, a behemothsized projector that cost a fortune, weighed more than your average State of Origin player and popped a (ridiculously expensive) light globe just at the wrong time.

Micro projectors are the new black. They’re coming down in price, down in size – and up in quality, and like most other gadgets developed in this Century of the iThing, many have become yet-another add-on to the iPhone 4 and above.

The Monolith iPhone Micro Projector is a clever little device that’s about the same dimensions as the average iPhone cover. It has a built-in rechargeable battery which gives about two and a half hours of projector time, includes internal speakers – and can even be used as a phone charger.

Though it weighs just over 100 grams, this little LED device can project up to 3 metres away, with a 640 x 360 resolution. With an ever-increasing range of presentation apps available to sales reps, sports coaches, would-be keynote speakers and evangelists, this little device will open up Death by PowerPoint-Like App to a whole new range of kill-me-now presenters.

Buy it: japantrendshop.com/monolith-iphone-44s-microprojector-p-1295.html; $350

Charge!

There’s not a public eating, drinking, travelling or resting place now that isn’t populated with people more engaged with the technology in their hand/lap/briefcase, than they are in the world around them.

And as those forced to spend any length of time in airports, conference venues, cafes and other such places will know, available powerpoints are a rare and usually occupied commodity.

When you carry with you a tablet, laptop, iPod or mp3 player and perhaps also a smartphone for any length of time, one or all are bound to need a recharge at some stage. Sanyo spotted the market opportunity for mobile power and last year launched its portable Eneloop mobile device power booster, which provides an immediate back-up power source while also recharging up to two devices via USB.

Weighing just 130 grams, and around 6x7cm (and a bit over 2 cm thick), the Eneloop’s tiny size belies its big power reserves. The gadget works by recycling or ‘looping’ energy through a rechargeable high-capacity Lithium-ion battery, providing the power equivalent of about four fully charged iPhones. Plug it in overnight and the Booster will fully recharge in seven hours.

Buy it: us.sanyo.com/Mobile-Booster; US$80

Hand set

Glove One is a bizarre yet strangely alluring prototype that has attracted so much attention in its nascent stage, it may well be destined to spark yet-another go-go gadget startup.

Part of the most recent art installation of Milwaukee techno-artist Bryan Cera (who works with video, light, robotics and digital fabrication), Glove One is a wearable mobile phone that covers most of the user’s hand with its plastic components.

Inspired by the ‘call me’ hand gesture of raised thumb and pinkie finger, the Glove One uses the thumb as speaker and pinky as microphone, while the three middle fingers are the phone keys.

It’s installation art, so of course there is a message in the product that goes a little deeper than ‘awesome!’ - the user has to sacrifi ce the use of their hand in order to use the mobile phone.

Cera says that he was drawn to the idea after hearing about a phenomenon called the ‘phantom limb’ phenomenon, something he often experienced himself, when MIT Professor Sherry Turkle described high school students who reported feeling the vibration of their mobile phone in their pockets, even at times when their phones had been left somewhere else.

“Emotional investment becomes physical, as the functionality of the device depends on the dysfunctionality of the wearer,” Cera writes. Whatever, dude, where can I buy one?

Buy it: bryancera.co.nr; prototype

'Print’ for real

If you’ve never heard of a Thing-O-Matic, fear not, there’s time yet to join the 3D printing revolution – and still be ahead of the game.

And what a revolution it is! On www.thingiverse.com, thousands of digital designs for DIY 3D printable objects are listed, veering wildly between useful, usable and a whole truckful of whacky created by a big community of keen thingiverse contributors.

The Replicator is the latest offering from the Brooklyn personal manufacturing facilitators MakerBot. It’s a two-colour (“dual extrusion”) device so you can manufacture your very own ‘things’ in two colours.

What on earth would any sane person need a 3D printer for? This is one of those cross-over moments, when industrial-strength devices become low-end enough for plebs like us to own. 3D printing involves building a three dimensional object from a CAD model, usually by extruding lots of layers of the ‘building material’. Generally, the objects are built from a plastic like ABS, as used in Lego, or polylactic acid (PLA), a clear material made from corn. One user even claims that objects can be 3D printed from chocolate. Wow!

3D printing may be slower and more expensive than the traditional injection moulding used in most factories these days, but for one-off personal creations of plastic thingys, it means you have a customisable manufacturing plant in your own home.

Buy it: store.makerbot.com/replicator-404.html; US$1749

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