The week in gadgets: HTC Desire 820, robot couch, and an army laser cannon

8 Sep 2014

The Withing Home baby monitor is arguably more a home security system.

A look at gadget happenings, as HTC shows off its mid-price phone, a student makes a moving robot couch, and the US army develops a fog-proof laser cannon.

Phew. While Monday had football enthusiasts tuning in that night for the annual ‘Transfer Deadline Day’ to catch the latest transfer signings, those in the technology world had its own scrambling to announce done deals.

With this year’s IFA being held in Berlin last weekend, Sony, Samsung and HTC were busy announcing their new range of phones and devices while Motorola back in the US was also announcing its latest range to marginally less fanfare.

HTC Desire 820

HTC’s mid-range phone has returned again and while it has showcased a whole new range of pretty colours for its casing, the real improvements are to be found in its newly-capable 64-bit octa-core Snapdragon 615 processor for making it easier to integrate with Android L once it is released.

Selfie lovers will certainly be happy with the 8MP front-facing camera with a range of different editing features including the ability to merge people’s faces into one image.

Other than that, it’s not much different from its predecessor, the 816, but will also include its own version of the dot-matrix case and in terms of availability, will be available by the end of this month with it being touted at a price of €329 off-contract.

The HTC Desire 820 is a colourful machine

Robot couch

We’ve all been in the situation where new-found levels of laziness know no bounds and you struggle to find reason to get off the couch to grab a beer.

Well now a pair of engineering students have created the ‘robocouch’ which runs on a set of individually controllable wheels to bring you to wherever you want.

Steph McArthur and Will Andrew with their ‘robocouch’

Created by computer engineering student Steph McArthur and electrical engineering student Will Andrew, the pair used the power of the multi-purpose Raspberry Pi computer to control the chair’s systems which using a gaming controller to control where it goes.

Speaking to the University of New South Wales website, McArthur said the idea was developed as a fun way to see what they could do: “It started as a joke between friends. We’d been using a particular type of wheel in our robotics programme for a few years, and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if they were on a couch?'”

High-powered air-sniffing baby camera

Gone are the days when a simple audio baby monitor would suffice. Now with the advent of the internet and the amount of tech we can pack into a small device.

A company called Withings has released a baby monitor called Home that doesn’t just let the parent listen to what their baby is up to, but can also watch it with its 5MP camera with 135 degrees of vision that also has night-vision and motion detecting to double up as a security camera.

It also sniffs out dangerous toxins known as volatile organic compounds (VOC) within the air and no, this does not mean a stinky nappy.

Did we forget to mention that the Home doesn’t just listen to the baby, but lets you talk back. Try not to abuse this when you’ve been woken up three times during the night and have a hankering for revenge.

Expected to launch soon, the Home is definitely in the upper-range of baby monitors retailing at €199.

Boeing laser cannon

The idea of powering a vehicle calling itself a ‘high energy laser mobile’ is enough to get the heart racing of any sci-fi addict, but now there really is such a vehicle being developed by none other than the US Army with help from aerospace giants, Boeing.

Officially designated the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD), the US$36m project currently uses a 10kW laser which will be upgraded to potentially 60kW when put into production for more stopping power.

Even through fog, the laser can blow up an airborne target.

Thankfully, it’s not designed to be fired from rifles or at people, but is rather intended to blow up aerial targets such as drones or missiles.

It’s also designed to be operated in almost all conditions, so heavy bouts of fog, rain or snow would not affect its performance on the battlefield.

In what could either be awesome or scary, the on-board system is being designed to be used with an Xbox controller to make some gamer with too much time on their hands incredibly excited to blow up something ‘IRL’ (in real life for those not familiar with online lingo).


This Kickstarter project has gotten us all excited here in the office. This new phone promises to be completely resistant to damage, has infinite battery life and will never need an upgrade.

Cool, right? Well, not really, as the NoPhone is a satirical take on modern smartphone addiction that lets you have the feel of a smartphone in your hand without it actually doing anything.

Notice the lack of screen or any actual functionality on the NoPhone.

Or, as its Dutch creators say: “Phone addiction is real. And it’s everywhere. It’s ruining your dates. It’s distracting you at concerts. It’s disrupting you in movie theaters. It’s clogging up sidewalks. Now, there is a real solution.”

If you feel particularly generous, donating €5,000 will get you a hand delivered ‘phone’ by one of the team.

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic