toys


Real Steel – In toy form – Big Robots

Controlling robots directly with your own physical motions is something we see a lot in sci-fi. Films like Real Steal have battling bots tearing one another apart in the ring. As a kid I had a version of the battling robot boxing game. Rock ’em Sock Em was the main contender. It had mechanical bots on the end of some push rods. The robots were locked into the boxing ring. Thumb presses aimed to hit the other bot square on the chin lifting his head up for the win. My boxers were free moving versions, but looked like real people. The trolley wheels on the base of the 12 inch figures meant lots of positioning and jostling as you tried to free move and get those punches in. Of course all that went out of the window when the digital fighting games arrived and Street Fighter et. all blew away the physical fighting toys.
Now the bots are fighting back and @FamilyGamerTV has some coverage here of motion controlled free moving fighting bots that are soon to hit the shelves. The video explains it all, but it seems the motion is directional, hooks and upper cuts, not just the thumb pressing single motion of the old fashioned fighting bots.

Big Robots, as they are not so imaginatively called, add a little spice to the radio control market. Now if we could just make them a little bigger we would be ready to fight Godzilla when he walks out of the ocean Pacific Rim style.

It’s ok to revisit ideas with new technology – VR, 3D, VW

I think that along with the “that’s always the way we have done things” line that gets thrown about whenever anything new challenges the status quo, the live “but we tried that before and it did not work” is equally dangerous.
I do partially agree that if you keep doing the same thing and get the same outcome you should try something else. The adjustment to something else may be to revisit and gently tweak the approach. If you are through dice and trying to get a double six and failing, you just have to throw them in a different way until you get to the right result to win the game. (Of course chaos theory and dependence on initial start conditions in a feedback loop means you always are with every throw but that’s another story).
At the weekend we visited the Milestones Museum in Basingstoke. It is just around the corner but we had not been. It is a giant hangar with a huge recreation of 1900’s and 1930’s streets and then some 50’s,60’s,60’s and 80’s artefacts too.
One thing that stuck me in the camera shop exhibit was this.

It is two lenses looking at two similar photos that gives a great stereoscopic effect. Now 3d photography and the concept of a picture for each eye has been around for a very very long time. This is a plastic construction probably from the 60’s. As kids I know lots of us had the iconic View-master to view 3d content. I distinctly remember the Superman 12 page comic that I had. I can still picture the images in my head.

View-Master Model G.jpg
View-Master Model G” by ThePassengerOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

These devices let us see worlds, to engage with ideas albeit with an extra dollop of imagination.
These toys and tricks went out of favour and we headed into the digital age. We had a bit of a revisit of 3D with Tv’s and movies but they miss one crucial element. The old still 3d like View-master was like hint of reality, a story, a reading of a book. Films instead were a large amount of information, story and engagement. They were locked into the screen you were focussed on. It is an art form based on a framed window.
Video games started, and continue to occupy that framed space but in amongst the platformers and the puzzle games we have found 3d virtual worlds. Spaces that we decide how to navigate through, from gun toting first person shooters to free roaming driving simulators. Each of theses tends to have the activity, shooting, driving etc as one aspect to control and the camera or view as another. Some of these worlds thrive on users coming together in these worlds and building or working together. They connect us as humans, proxies by a digital environment over great distances. It is why Microsoft are looking to buy Mojang, the creators of Minecraft for $2 billion, the virtual world is of value, the interaction is of value.
Now, we did have a virtual reality revolution back in the 80’s and one before that, headsets feeding our eyes two distinct images of environments, once that we could control by turning out head and looking. What we did not have then is the lightweight high end screens (as we see in smartphones), heavily commercialised location and orientation based technology (again as we see in smart phones) and a population who understands and wants to navigate in 3d space and metaverses (most kids will have played Minecraft or seen Minecraft and wanted to play or similar). So it makes a great deal of sense for us to now have the rise of the headset and of Virtual Reality to blend into these other advances of technology. The Oculus Rift, Morpheus et al.
Yes they get in the way of interacting with the physical world, but they give huge advantages in the virtual world adding to the sense of presence.
So if people say look we did 3d or look we did VR and it didn’t work last time then they are missing the fact that we are not just rolling the dice differently. We have a new set of dice, this with a design, conceived and created in a virtual world and printed to perfection. We may not roll a double six straight away but when we do we win a much bigger game.
We may look on this period in time as a clunky use of tech, but we may also loo on this with a curious fondness and a charm that leads us on to better things.
This example being the laughing sailor, you put your money in and it laughs, puppetry and animatronics at a very basic level but something endearing about it?

Drones everywhere

The crazy summer sun meant we had to take a family trip to Basingstoke shopping mall to get out of the heat. There we found that Modelzone was having a closing down sale. Another casualty of the recession. It is a pity as it is a treasure trove of interesting things.
We already have a couple of RC cars including the Beast from Cool Stuff Collective series 1 but I couldn’t help getting a few new RC and IR vehicles for the family to play with in the new garden.
The first was a Nikko RC dirt bike. It is a funny little device as it needs to get up to speed usually by facing the wrong direction. Two stabilising wings near the ground then mean it has trouble on the rough stuff. I did a little vine of it working.

However I also bought a very much reduced Tamco Ev.03 RC helicopter slung with a small video camera and microsd slot.
Ev.03 micro copter and camera
Ev.03 micro copter and camera
They did try and get me to buy the full remote TV version of a copter. RC with a live video feed to the handset but I thought I might as well get a Parrot AR drone if I was going to do that. No the micro copter would do just fine.
It is surprisingly difficult to get to fly in the first place, in part that was because I was trying outdoors in the sunlight. Its small form means it is prone to wind shear and being an IR control the 31C sunlight was causing it some confusion. It manifests itself by rising up on throttle out of shadow to about 10 feet then deciding the sunlight is asking it for more power. So a few times we nearly lost it to the next door neighbours German Shepherds.
However tonight, it was still and stormy, the sun had set and I managed the longest non-crashing, non loss of control flight yet.

Bear in mind this is a simple £30 micro helicopter with a tiny camera on board. The quality I think is pretty amazing.
I don’t think all the apache gunships that fly over Basingstoke will be bothered but I amd now thinking I need a bigger and better RC helicopter/drone arrangement. one that works in sunlight. Also once with a nice API that I can get code doing interesting things or flying it in time with the kinect.
Next I need to work on exciting camera angles like those in the game replays 🙂