Previously, as part of an ad-hoc series looking at classic childhood hobbies, we’ve looked at modding Nerf guns or building things out of Lego. The schtick has generally been that we’re geeks and don’t really want to head outside and experience the British summertime first-hand; we’d rather stay in and play computer games.
Recently though, when we did get out to and about to see the Parrot AR.Drone - and we had a revelation. We realised that being outside isn’t actually so bad – as long as you’ve got something cool (and, ideally, potentially dangerous) to play with.
While most of us think of remote control (or, technically, radio controlled) vehicles are just for kids though, there’s much more to them than that. You might not think it at first, but RC devices are increasingly used for explorative purposes. As a species we’ve visited nearly every area of the planet that we can – so now we’re increasingly forced to rely on robotic assistance. Remotely piloted devices like the Biomimetic Underwater Robot, now in its third generation, can be used to explore areas humans can’t feasibly visit.
The vehicles once seen in the DARPA Challenge are technically autonomous, but showcase some similar concepts seen in high-end RC vehicles
The military is relying on RC technology too, with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) taking an increasingly important role in surveillance and assault operations. The technology is still prohibitively expensive, with individual units costing many millions to develop, but is seeing growing demand regardless.
High-level RC vehicles aren’t limited to just aquatic or aerial environments either – most bomb disposal squads already make use of robotic probes for approaching potential explosive devices. These probes don’t yet have the same flexibility and dexterity as human fingers, but enable experts to survey sites from a safe distance and perform most simple functions.
Meanwhile, at the consumer end of the market, things have come on comparable leaps and bounds. No longer are RC planes clunky, expensive toys that only stay aloft for five seconds – lightweight and easily controllable planes and helicopters for indoor use. The ability of the internet to allow otherwise disparate groups to share ideas and information easily has also helped change things, allowing enthusiasts to create really astonishing devices of their own.
Over the next few pages we’ve collected some of the coolest remote control devices we’ve seen together in one place, from all over the market. First though, flip the page for an interview with the designers of the AR.Drone, as we ask how such products are constructed in the first place.