The week in gadgets: AI toy cars, motion-capture wearables and thermal vision microwave ovens


16 Feb 2015

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The MVN Biomech system

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This week in gadget happenings, Anki is rolling out the second-generation Anki Overdrive robotic racer, wearable tech captures motion, and the Heat Map Microwave helps take the guesswork out of heating meals.

Anki Overdrive

Remember Scalextric? The car racing toy set that pitted friends against one another in a battle of who could keep their car on the track for the longest? Well that looks like kids’ stuff compared to Anki’s second-generation robotic racer Anki Overdrive.

Billed as “part toy, part video game”, the first edition of the system, Anki Drive, allowed players to race against friends and even AI-controlled cars by steering the model vehicles through their smartphones. Now Anki is upgrading the system, with Overdrive giving players the option to build their own race courses by snapping pieces of the track together with magnetic connectors.

Anki Overdrive is scheduled to be released this September. Click below to watch a mostly animated preview.

Dell XPS 13

Dell is attempting to cut into the Apple Macbook’s customer base with its super-sleek XPS 13.

The smallest 13-inch laptop in the world, the device boasts an almost borderless infinity display, while Dell claims it features the longest battery life of a 13-inch notebook with up to 15 hours of run time on a single charge.

Weighing in at just under 1.36kg, the XPS will likely appeal to people who live their lives on the move, but the laptop’s display features 5.7m pixels, making it optimum for media streaming, too.

Pixie Points

You’ll never misplace your TV remote again with Pixie Points, which allows users to equip any item they like with internet of things (IoT) technology to provide a precise digital map of their valuables.

Each guitar pick-shaped tag features signaling technology that enables the ‘Pixies’ to communicate with the accompanying smartphone app and with each other.

So if you misplace, say, your wallet, the phone’s camera becomes a kind of tech treasure map, with ‘x’ marking the item’s location down to within inches.

Pixie Points come in packs of four, which are available to pre-order now for US$39.95 (though any number of tags can be used together). Click below to see the system in action.

MVN Biomech system

Dutch tech firm Xsens has brought hardware commonly used to bring animated characters to life in games and movies into a variety of other fields where human body movement needs to be analysed with high accuracy.

The company’s latest product is the MVN Biomech, which comes as either a full-body suit or a strap-based system equipped with 17 wireless motion trackers to ensure reliable and accurate human-motion measurements. These trackers are able to capture the smallest twitches of movement, while dedicated signal pipelines provide real-time data recording.

Xsens’ systems can be used by sports performance researchers, and scientists studying human machine interaction and ergonomics.

MVN Biomech is available now from Xsens and its international distribution partners, with prices starting from US$20,000.

Heat Map Microwave

While dedicated tech-savvy consumers will snap up the latest smartphone on a twice-yearly basis, their microwave ovens will usually remain undisturbed until they simply stop working.

That’s because, as inventor Mark Rober points out, there have been few advances in how our microwaves work since the product exploded onto the market in the 20th century and changed our in-home eating habits forever.

Rober, however, believes he has developed a new-age way of heating up your soup with the Heat Map Microwave. The appliance equips a regular microwave with thermal vision that displays a heat map of the food inside, meaning there’s no guess work when it comes to determining whether or not your meal is ready to eat.

In his demonstration video (below), Rober displays how the Heat Map Microwave can be set to turn off when the food inside reaches the right temperature. It can also send the images to your phone so you can monitor your meal’s progress, and you can even add additional time via the app.

The device is not yet on the market, and rather than going the crowdfunding route, Rober is gathering signatures for a petition that supports the project in the hope of attracting investors.