I’m a sucker for remote controlled helicopters. They’re a blast whether you use them indoors to terrorize your colleagues or outdoors to terrorize your neighbours. But as cool as remote helis are, they don’t hold a candle to remote quadrocopters, or quad-rotors as they’re sometimes called.
Especially when said quadrocopters are remotely controlled by a computer to execute a complex yet beautiful set of manoeuvres. Did I mention there’s also music involved?
Check out this amazing video that demonstrates the potential of these tiny machines. The performance was created by Vijay Kumar and his team at the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Lab at the University of Pennsylvania and presented as part of Kumar’s TED2012 talk. This group of engineers studies how swarms of robots such as these quadricopters can work together – sensing each other in real time and reacting appropriately.
I’m not the first person to make the connection between this performance and the zany musical exploits of perennial YouTube favourites OK Go, and for good reason: each takes music performance to a whole new level.
If you’re curious, do a few searches for quad-copter or quad-rotors on YouTube – you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find. These four-rotor machines are supremely maneuverable and can hover in one spot with a greater precision than a single-rotor craft.
When we attended CES 2012 earlier this year, we had a chance to see the latest version of the Parrot AR.Drone, a quadrocopter with some unique features and a price tag that is within reach of most hobbyists: Approx. $300 USD. While not quite as powerful or precise as the models being flown by the team from GRASP, the AR.Drone is still a fantastic piece of robotic tech.
Let’s just hope we never anger the computers controlling these flying machines, or we might be the next to be terrorized!
Update, Monday February 27: RIM and/or the NHLPA appear to have fixed the problem described in this post and all of their videos now look as good as the ones included at the bottom of the article. Thanks to reader Kyleigh for pointing this out!
This is PlayBook 2.0 week, the week when everyone who owns a PlayBook gets the opportunity to upgrade their OS to a version that finally brings the 7″ tablet up to snuff with the other tablets on the market. High-fives all around right? Well, yes – and no.
Given the celebrations, it would definitely seem to be the right time to get the word out about the PlayBook with a marketing effort that speaks directly to consumers. And if it could highlight one of the great features of the PlayBook – like the fact it can shoot 1080p HD video from both the front and the rear cameras – something which it’s biggest competitor, the iPad 2, still can’t do -so much the better.
It was with this goal presumably in mind that RIM launched its partnership with the NHLPA – the folks who represent the professional hockey players of the NHL. The partnership has led to a new website where fans of the game can come to watch up close and personal videos of their favourite players, all shot using the PlayBook.
But this is where things take a nasty turn. The videos are horrible.
I’m not referring to the content. I daresay that NHL fans would happily watch any video that gave them a glimpse inside the private lives of their hockey heroes which the short video clips certainly deliver.
I’m talking about the actual video quality. They look like they were shot using a VGA-quality webcam and then streamed over Skype using a heavily throttled connection. The frame-rate appears incredibly low – I’d guess somewhere around 15FPS (video needs to be at least 24FPS in order to look smooth) and in many places the audio goes out of sync with the video.
In one of the videos, New York Rangers goalie Martin Biron shows off his new mask. He dons the mask and proceeds to shake his head vigorously side-to-side to demonstrate how well it fits. At least, we assume that’s what he’s doing. But if it wasn’t for the shaking sound produced by the neck-guard rattling, it would be impossible to tell: his masked face simply blurs a little -it’s like watching a high-speed train pass one foot in fr0nt of your face.
When you consider that the PlayBook is actually capable of some fairly decent video capture, it’s hard to imagine how these videos ended up looking so bad.
If I didn’t already know better through using a PlayBook to shoot video, watching these clips would not convince me to buy. In fact quite the opposite. Which is really a shame because OS 2.0 really is an amazing upgrade. From the new Mail, Contacts and Calendar apps which are all now native to the OS, to the clever social integration which lets you compile a contact’s professional, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn info all in one handy location – this update finally delivers on many of the promises the platform made when it debuted last year.
A part of me actually wonders if this ultra-low-fi video was intentionally created. Each clip starts with a very jerky animation of the NHLPA’s logo followed by a BlackBerry PlayBook. Unlike the videos that follow, you can tell this was a stylistic choice and not some limitation on the part of the designer. But why? Why create a series of videos that make your product’s capabilities look so inferior? For despite the PlayBook’s advantage in the resolution of its twin cameras, many viewers will wonder if the iPad 2 produces a better result.
I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the intent was not to focus on the PlayBook’s video quality but just to generally get people talking about how cool the tablet is. But in the campaign’s inaugural week, the video is the only feature we’re given to discuss.
Or perhaps this is merely another indicator that RIM still needs to work as much on its marketing activities as it does on its products.
Check out some of these YouTube videos that have been shot with the PlayBook and decide for yourself if the NHLPA’s behind-the-scenes footage is a good testament to the device’s capabilities.
In this week’s Sync Up segment, we try to define what a “superphone” is and why you should care. We also review Pick & Zip, a new tool that lets you download entire photo albums from Facebook directly to your PC. Finally we discuss an app launching later this month called “SceneTap” that promises to give bar-goers the inside-track on which establishments have the male-to-female ratio that they’re looking for.
Here’s the latest Sync Up segment from CTV News Channel. In this week’s show, Marcia Macmillan and I chat about Canada Post’s ePost.ca which might just be the only way to guarantee you’ll receive your credit card statement while the strike/lockout drags on. We also get into the minor tempest that is the Ontario Privacy Commissioner’s stern warning to Staples over the fact that some re-sold computers contained confidential personal information on them despite having been supposedly “wiped” – I offer some tips on what to do if you’re passing along your old gear or returning it to a store. And we take a look at decide.com, a brand new U.S. site that aims to help people understand when it’s the right time to buy different tech gadgets.
I know this not really a gadgets story, but something this cool just has to be shared. NASA’s SDO spacecraft, designed to take extremely high-resolution images of our sun recently captured this incredible footage of a very large solar flare. Here’s the description from NASA:
When a rather large-sized (M 3.6 class) flare occurred near the edge of the Sun, it blew out a gorgeous, waving mass of erupting plasma that swirled and twisted over a 90-minute period (Feb. 24, 2011). This event was captured in extreme ultraviolet light by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft . Some of the material blew out into space and other portions fell back to the surface. Because SDO images are super-HD, we can zoom in on the action and still see exquisite details. And using a cadence of a frame taken every 24 seconds, the sense of motion is, by all appearances, seamless. Sit back and enjoy the jaw-dropping solar show.
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Thanks to Gizmodo for turning us on to it.
The inconvenient truth of living in this wonderful digital age is that most of us split our time between multiple gadgets, be they computer-centric like a laptop or phone-centric like a BlackBerry. So why should we be without our precious files – spreadsheets, photos, songs etc. – just because we’re not in front of the device that we used to create them? And while there are a number of companies out there trying to help us with this problem – you’re probably familiar with dropbox, Mesh, Windows SkyDrive etc. – none of them solve it as elegantly as SugarSync. The company’s service is much more than a virtual file folder in the cloud – it’s a truly cross-platform file management, sharing, versioning and back-up system all rolled into one and accessible from a dizzying array of devices. SugarSync may not offer the most free storage (their free packages tops out at 5GB) but they definitely win first place for features and flexibility. Oh, and they took me indoor skydiving while we were at CES. Not that this influenced this post. At all. I promise.
The future is here and it has a name: the Thing-O-Matic. The truth is, of course, once you get over how cool it is to be able to print real-world objects in three dimensions using little more than a PC, some inexpensive raw plastic and what looks like a dialysis machine made from Tinkertoy, you quickly realize you have no real need to ever print real-world objects in three dimensions. But the fact that MakerBot Industries has taken a process that used to require a machine worth $10,000 or more and put it within reach of mere mortals for the paltry sum of $1,225 USD, is nonetheless remarkable and could have a profound effect on the next generation of engineers who – no longer limited by parts they buy from retailers – can pretty much build anything they can dream up inside a CAD program. So long as they can limit their dreams to 996mm x 108mm x 115 mm – that being the width, length and height maximums of the Thing-o-Matic’s build area. I say let the printing begin, and if anyone can fashion me a new rotor for my Air Hogs Sky Patrol, I would be grateful.
Android! iPad! PlayBook! These are the buzzwords being shouted this year and they were especially loud at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show. There’s good reason for this. Tablets, in case you’ve been sitting under the proverbial rock, are hot, and everyone’s looking to get in on the action. But in all the excitement, more than a few people are asking a very good question: Can I really stop using my laptop or desktop and migrate all of my computing tasks to a tablet? The answer for now at least, is no – not completely. The tablet form factor itself lacks a built-in keyboard which many consider a deal-breaker in terms of doing “real work”, while the operating systems being used (Android, iOS, QNX) aren’t compatible with any of your existing Windows or Mac OS software or peripherals.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. The tablet category, while not technically new, is still very much in its infancy and it will be a few more years before people can give up their existing computers in favour of these lighter gadgets. But for those who are determined to take advantage of the increased portability and touch-screen UI of a tablet without sacrificing full PC functionality, Samsung may have the answer. Their 7-series Sliding PC is a Windows 7 netbook that has all of the typical netbook specs, but when you tuck the sliding keyboard behind the screen, the device becomes a somewhat heavy but nonetheless quite usable tablet.
Personally, I think people should probably skip this device, assuming it ever hits store shelves. In trying to be all things to all people, it ends up being neither. If you want a tablet, this machine is heavy and laden with an OS that is not designed from the ground-up as mobile computing platform. If you want a netbook, this machine offers a few nice perks such as micro-HDMI and 3G, but you can expect it to cost a lot more that the average $300 netbook. Although Samsung wouldn’t give us a date or a price at the show, Engadget was able to squeeze it out of them.
3D permeated every inch of the Consumer Electronics Show this year – even more so than the two previous years. And while most manufacturers concentrated on showing off the 3D tech that consumers could expect to see at retailers this year, a few were demo’ing future technologies that aren’t quite ready for the market. The most widely anticipated of these was glassless 3D – typically achieved with lenticular screens that produced a focused 3D effect within a very narrow field of view and distance from the screen. Sony had some very good examples of that technology. But more impressive from my point of view was a headset-gadget that Sony doesn’t even have a name for yet – although I’ve found at least one journalist referring to it as the “Headman” (terrible name). It’s white, looks like something out of the movie TRON: Legacy and provides the most convincing 3D I’ve ever seen.
The apparatus contains two OLED displays, which are mounted on adjustable sliders so they can be correctly positioned for the width between your pupils. There are also stereo headphones located in the ear-cup area. Sony was running some 3D loops from PS3 games such as GT5 and it was mesmerizing. Unlike any other 3D display I’ve seen so far, the effect was perfect – I felt as though I was standing at the edge of the racetrack with the cars whipping by just a few feet away.
However given the lacklustre consumer response to other head-mounted viewing systems like Vuzix, I’m not sure that even if Sony launched this product tomorrow it would find a wide audience. The device will appeal mostly to hardcore gamers – those who spend a lot of money building a PC rig that gives them every advantage during online gameplay. I suspect casual gamers and 3D movie fans will avoid it in favour of big-screen systems that let them share the experience with others in the room.
Readers, what do you think – does a highly personalized 3D system like this interest you?