At virtually no point in my life was I ever into R.C. vehicles of any kind. I had a few when I was younger, but they usually came as cheap presents from non-immediate relatives for Christmas or a birthday. The “cheap” part isn’t a knock, because they were all cheap then. At that point, nobody could predict the onslaught of remote-controlled spherically covered crash-protected helicopters hitting toy shelves, least of all ones that could be flown using cell phone apps.
And now the company Puzzlebox has gone and made toys all brainy. Admittedly, their Orbit helicopter products have been used for educational use for the last two years, but thanks to excellent feedback and a highly successful Kickstarter fund, the company is looking to bring the toys to store shelves and online vendors. Their interest isn’t just making a quick buck, however; they want you to learn how the toy works.
Here is the longest explanation I will ever use to describe “playing.” The NeuroSky MindWave Mobile EEG headset detects levels of attention and meditation by measuring brainwaves. This data is sent via Bluetooth to either a smartphone/tablet, or to the Puzzlebot Pyramid, a dedicated home base with micro-controller, via USB. According to how the owner has programmed the device, his or her brainwaves will guide the helicopter around the room. Stimulated excitement means a rise is movement and height, while dismissive boredom may slow the toy down and cause it to descend. It has an eight-minute battery life that works on a 30-minute charge.
Steve Castellotti, Puzzlebox’s CTO, says they “don’t want to be the holiday toy that gets played with for ten minutes then sits forever in the corner on a shelf.” Taking cues from things like Legos and hackers, Puzzlebox is doing what few others have done before them. They’re telling you how to build the toy yourself and releasing the open source code for all Linux, Mac, PC, and mobile software for the toy, as well as hardware schematics, and will encourage users to adapt the technology to fit their lifestyles. If you have a new-fangled microwave, you might be able to rig it so that all you have to do is concentrate, and it’ll start popping popcorn. Of course, you’ll have to actually get up and put popcorn in the microwave to begin with. Maybe you’d be better off just changing TV channels with it.
Aside from external uses, the goal is also to experiment with biofeedback. Feeling stressed? Learn how to better calm yourself by studying your own brainwave activity. Lacking concentration? Do the same thing.
The Kickstarter fund, currently five times the initial goal, stops on December 8th, at which point the backers will receive their gifts and the Puzzlebox team will ensure that all the documentation and instructions are online and ready to go. They hope for a full-scale launch in the first quarter of 2013. Current retail prices are $89 for the helicopter itself, with an additional fee for the Pyramid. I assume this style of toy technology will be adapted by others should Puzzlebox be as successful as is expected.
The precursor to this, obviously, was the see-through phone from the ’90s. I made one once. No, I didn’t. That’s just my jealousy of Puzzlebox talking.