DJI Multirotor Copters at The Gadget Show

Quadcopters and multi-rotor copters were very much in evidence at the Gadget Show, from the Parrot AR.Drone to tiny nano quadcopters. DJI had one of the most impressive ranges at the show, along with a flight demonstration area on the stand.

The newly launched Phantom 2 Vision+ is a quadcopter with a digital video camera payload and the capabilities are impressive. It can stream video from the camera to your smartphone while in flight using wi-fi, record 1080p HD video to a microSD card, hold position above the ground in winds up to 25 mph and fly for around 25 minutes. The batteries can easily be swapped, so a spare battery will get the quadcopter flying again immediately. The remote control unit lets you clip your smartphone to the handset so you easily see what the camera is recording while flying the aircraft. What you get for your money is incredible – an entry level model is GB£349 and the Vision+ is £915.

DJI Phantom

Four rotors not enough? DJI has six and eight rotor variants for professional users.

Six Rotor Copter

Eight Rotor Copter

Andy takes me through the features of the new Phantom 2 Vision+ at the Gadget Show. I want one!

Syma S107G Helicopter Review

According to the packaging, the Syma S107G is an “alloy infrared remote control helicopter ” with “3.5 channel gyro system” but all you need to know is that it’s an easy-to-fly toy helicopter, tremendous fun and very inexpensive. Anything else is superfluous.

In the box, there’s a helicopter, a remote control unit, a USB charging cable and few spare blades to help with the odd accident or two. The ‘copter measures about 22 cm from nose to tail, with a similar rotor diameter. If you haven’t seen these toys before, they have contra-rotating main blades which keeps the helicopter stable in the air and the rear rotor controls forwards and backwards, rather than rotation. There’s no cyclic pitch here, fortunately.

Syma S107G

The remote control unit is designed to be used with both hands. The throttle lies under the left thumb and directional control is looked after by the right, with action for forwards, backwards, rotate left and rotate right. A knurled knob in the middle of the unit adjusts the rotational trim. Six AA batteries power the handset which may seem like overkill but a small cable stored in the unit can be used to recharge the helicopter’s battery. The S107G’s battery can also be recharged via a supplied USB cable and recharging typically takes around 40 minutes.

Remote Control Unit

The helicopter itself is largely of metal construction, with a plastic nose-cone. After surviving a number of horrific crashes, my opinion is that the S107G is pretty sturdy, especially for the price, but it is eventually going to break. Spare rotor blades are provided in the box but as yet I’ve not had to use any of them and the included instructions suggest that a range of spares can be ordered too. A slider switch turns the ‘copter on and off, and a small charging port takes the recharging cable.

Flying the helicopter is easy as long as you have some level of sensitivity and hand-eye co-ordination. With a little throttle, the helicopter will take-off and hover. Too much throttle and you’ll be hitting the ceiling. Just take it gently. Once the up-and-down has been mastered, rotating left and right will turn the helicopter on the spot. Finally forwards and backwards completes the range of motions but it’s a little trickier to master. Providing you have a sufficient space, you’ll be flying figure 8s in no time.

The S107G is definitely an indoor toy as the helicopter is light and any wind will overpower it. My attempts to fly the S107G outside usually ended up with the chopper in the hedge. Even within a room, flying close to walls and ceilings will affect the flight from reflected air currents, making it much more challenging to fly. Overall the ‘copter is very easy to fly and control, especially in a larger room and in terms of flight time, you’ll get a little over five minutes of flying before a recharge is needed.

S107G Blades Whirring

But this is all irrelevant. All you need to know is that flying the S107G is easy and enormous fun. My daughter and I had a great time with my helicopter chasing her remote control car round a room, or rescuing Lego people from an imaginary disaster.

The S107G is available in three colours from Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com for just £13.50 / $20 which is a ridiculously cheap price when you consider the technology inside these devices. Indulge your inner Airwolf.

(Disclosure – the Syma S107G was a personal purchase.)

Parrot AR.Drone 2.0

Parrot AR.DroneRemote control vehicles are fun and remote control aircraft doubly so. Imagine then how much fun a remote control quadricopter is, especially when it’s controlled by wifi from your smartphone. Todd takes flying lessons from Parrot’s Julian.

The Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 is an update of the original AR.Drone, with the main difference being an HD camera on the drone which streams video footage of the flight back to the device so the operator can see what the Drone is seeing. The AR.Drone 2.0 is controlled via wifi from either an Apple or Android  tablet/smartphone.

There’s some pretty sophisticated technology in the AR.Drone. For example, it has a downward-facing camera that the Drone uses to track motion over the ground. On a windy day, the Drone can hold position over a spot by using this camera to detect wind-blown motion and then compensate for it. Very clever and cool.

The AR.Drone is pricey enough but not unaffordable at $299. Available now from good retailers worldwide.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Daniel Lewis of The Audacity Podcast for the TechPodcast Network.

The Joystick all-in-one remote control and hotspot

One of the cool devices that GNC found at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was the Joystick from Noitavonne. This device is kind of a one-stop-shop for many cool features.

It acts as a remote control for your devices, like an Android  phone or tablet or a Windows 8 device. When paired with your TV, it turns your big screen into an Android device and if your phone rings you can answer it through Joystick’s built-in speaker. It even has a full QWERTY keyboard to add to the functionality. The keyboard is hidden beneath a small flip-up 1080p screen.

The product is expected to be released in the spring of this year with a price point of “between $249 and $349″.

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Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor.

Control your home theater with Zmart Remote for iOS, Android

There have been several hardware solutions over the past couple of years that turn your smartphone into a universal remote. I have previously looked at RedEye, which seems to no longer be available, but a new solution was announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week — the Zmart Remote from Viatek.

This one involves a small device that you will need to plug into the micro-USB port on your phone. It works with both iPhone and Android. The company claims that “The setup takes less than a minute. Whether you are trying to choose which tv show to watch, need to pause the movie to pop some popcorn or even skip to your favorite song on a CD, now you can do all of this with just your smart phone.”

Setup of the RedEye was clunky and almost felt as if it required a computer science degree. Hopefully the newer technology will improve this process. The company claims it is capable of controlling 200,000 devices and 95 percent of those on the market. The ones it can’t control it can learn.

The package, including the app, will retail for $19.99 and can be purchased now.

Siri Hack Can Start Your Car, Adjust Your Thermostat

Siri Hack

Siri Hack

Well, that is if you have a car with a Viper remote start system. Developer Brandon Fiquette has written a PHP script that would send notification to the remote start service and ultimately, start your car.

The hack was made possible by the Siri Proxy Server. The proxy server allows the custom creation of handlers – such as the included plugin, which allows you to adjust my thermostat at home.

With this software, you can create other handlers that could turn Siri into a full remote control. Of course, you need devices that would be remote controlled or internet accessible.

Control Your DirecTV DVR From an Android Device

Recently I wrote an opinion piece wondering if Smartphones would soon replace universal remotes like Harmony.  For a while now, I have been using myRemote on my Droid X to control my Windows 7 Media Center-based HTPC.  Recently I have also been trying out DirecTV Remote Pro to control my DirecTV HD DVR.  Unfortunately, there is no official DirecTV Remote Control app for Android – or iOS, webOS, Windows Phone, or any other devices.  Their official app is great for browsing shows and setting your DVR to record something when you are away from home, but it’s not something you can use to control the box from your sofa.

That’s where DirecTV Remote Pro comes in (there’s a free version too, but functionality is severely limited).  The app is priced at $4.99, but right now they are offering it for $1.98 for a “limited time”.  As for the nitty-gritty statistical information, here it is.  The app has an overall four and a half star rating from 327 reviews, the current version is 2.2.3, the latest version was released July 11, 2011, and it requires Android 2.1 or better.  Your DVR needs to be connected to your home network – there is an ethernet port on the back.  You also must have WiFi enabled on your phone.

Once you have the app installed on your Android device you can start it up and it should find your DVR and prompt you to name it.  If you have more than one in your house then you will name each and be able to switch between them.  Click the “Menu” button on your phone and the choose “Select Receiver”.

DirecTV Remote Pro menu

Once clicked, you will get a list of the DirecTV boxes that are currently connected to your home network.  Click the one you wish to use and the app will take control of that device.

DirecTV Remote Pro Select Receiver

Now, we get to the remote control itself.  It is layed out exactly as the peanut-shaped DirecTV one is.  The top half contains the Stop, Pause, Play, FF, Rew, and other buttons.  In addition, there are three icons across the very top – the remote control (home), a star (to mark a show as a favorite, and the menu (which takes you to a list of your recorded shows).

DirecTV Remote top

It also contain a key feature that DirecTV’s physical remote can’t replicate – the channel, time, show, and episode name that is currently playing.  Click the “current show”and you will be presented with more detailed information, such as ratings, genre and overview.

DirecTV Remote current show info

Once you drop below the top, the remote becomes almost an exact replica of it’s physical brethren.  You will find the Up, Down, Left, Right, Select, 4 colored buttons, and all of the rest in the middle.

DirecTV Remote middle

The bottom also contains the expected – Previous, Change, and keypad.

DirecTV Remote bottom

The Bottom Line

While it’s a shame that DirecTV has not done this themselves, I have to say that I doubt they could have done it any better.  The only possible thing they could have brought to the table is integration with there official app.  I found no functionality lacking and it is every bit as fast and responsive as the physical remote.  If you are a DirecTV subscriber, and an Android user, then this is a must-have app.  It takes the actual remote and adds an extra dimension.

Control Sphero From Your Smartphone

Scott gets a demo of Orbotix‘s Sphero from Adam, one of the company’s founders. At first glance, Sphero is a robotic ball remotely controlled from a smartphone or tablet. Yes, I was kind of underwhelmed too, but fortunately, it’s a bit more than that. To start with, Sphero is as much a game development platform as it is a product and second, while you can move the ball as you’d expect, you can also get information back from the ball.

The example given in the video is that two Spheros can recognise when they’re close or touch each other, so tag or sumo games become a possibility. Taking it further, there could be augmented reality games where you move Sphero into objects only seen on screen.

On launch, Sphero will work with iOS and Android devices with ports to other smartphone platforms in the future. Available for the 2011 holiday season for under $100. If you are interested, you can make a reservation for your own Sphero or two.

Interview by Scott Elliot for the Tech Podcast Network.

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HippoRemote Pro

A mouse that I use with one of my computers died and I decided to try the Hippo Remote Pro as a replacement. As a mouse replacement it has both its strength and weaknesses. However if you have a computer set up to play media, it works great.

HippoRemote Pro can be downloaded from Itunes, for $4.99, you can get Hippo Remote Lite for free, too try out the basic functions. You can set up the remote to be use either with Windows, Mac or even Linux. There are easy to follow setup directions for each, on line and also on the application itself. HippoRemote Pro, can be used as a simply desktop remote, but its real power is within the different profiles that are available. Different applications and website have their own profile which are created to get the best out of that application. There are about twenty profiles that come with the remote and there are also user created remotes that are available for downloads. If you want to make a profile, there are instructions available on the website.

As might be expected the remote works best with those websites and applications that you would normally use a stand alone remote with, such as YouTube, Pandora, Hulu, among others. It works less intuitively with applications like Google Chrome or Gmail, and takes sometime to get use. There are macros that come with each profile to add to there ease of use. For example there is a Gmail profile and it has macros that include, go to inbox, go to task, and go to starred. If you want to go to your starred emails for example, you simply hit the “go to starred macro” and you are there. HippoRemote does have a keyboard, which is available at the touch of a key to be used when it’s appropriate. It is strictly for entering in a small amount of texts and should not be seen as a replacement for a full size keyboard, at least not the Iphone version. The Ipad version maybe a different story, I am not sure since I don’t have one.

I would love to have the opportunity to try the Hippo Remote Pro on the Ipad, on the Iphone it feels cramped at times. Even with this complaint, it is great to be able to sit back in a chair and play some Youtube videos. Then when I am tired of them, I can go to Hulu and choose which video I want to play, hit the play button all without leaving the HippoRemote. If you are looking for a good remote control on either the Iphone or Ipad I highly recommend the HippoRemote Pro, it is easy to use and can be customized to your needs.