Whatever you’re doing — whether it’s getting some business-related tasks done or trying to get the most out of your weekend or family trip — gear makers have developed some devices that will give you a helping hand in the office, at home, or on the road.
Technology is filtering into every part of our lives. Larger storage and powerful apps have converted our phones into a blend of game console, desktop computer, executive assistant, and travel concierge. Connected devices are opening up ways to interact with our environment we never imagined before.
We’ve gathered together a collection of some recent and upcoming gear that we think will capture your attention. They’re not just fun products — though there’s plenty of entertainment to be had in this list—but gadgets that will also help you be more productive and learn a few things.
1. Parrot Disco
Next-generation drone ($1299)
French manufacturer Parrot was one of the first companies to offer an affordable, consumer-oriented drone with its Augmented Reality drone, the AR.Drone quadcopter, which was introduced in 2010. Now the company is adding to its lineup with a fixed-wing drone that looks and moves more like a remote-controlled plane.
The Disco makes launching the device very easy: You pick it up and throw it into the air, at which point the drone climbs to 50 feet and circles there until you input different directions. From there, you pilot it with a smartphone/tablet app — or using the more advanced Skycontroller — and the built-in GPS enables tight navigational control of the drone for up to 45 minutes of flight, hitting speeds up to 50mph.
A stabilized HD camera in the nose provides a live video stream, so you’ll be able to see where it goes as if you were in the plane — there’s an option for more immersion if you use the Parrot Cockpitglasses and your smartphone for a first-person perspective. Use of such captured video will be helpful to consumers and businesses (especially now that commercial use of drones has been okayed in the U.S.). Landing the Disco is also automated, so you won’t have to fuss with getting it down safely.
2. Google Home
Smart digital assistant (Price and release date still tbd; product announced in May)
Amazon has essentially established the digital-assistant category with its Alexa/Echo products. However, lots of other companies are looking to catch up with their own Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) helpers. In May, Google announced its plans for Google Home, which will be built on its assistive technology foundation.
If you’ve used an Android phone in the last couple of years, you probably know that you can say “Okay, Google” and follow up with a question or instruction — such as set an alarm, ask for historical facts, start turn-by-turn navigation to a specific address or call/text someone in your contacts list, among many others. It appears that Google Home will springboard off that, but looks to add such elements as controlling devices in the home (turning lights on or off, for instance).
It also seems that you can chain some Home-connected speakers in other rooms and network them with your media devices, which enables you to play music in multiple rooms or request Home to stream media to a home television (presumably through Chromecast). If having multiple companies pushing the envelope on a specific technology rapidly drives advancement of what that tech can provide to end users, the future of digital assistants should be pretty bright for use in homes and offices.
3. GoPro Omni
3D camera bundle ($1500 for the rig with no cameras)
It wasn’t long ago that GoPro developed cameras that made it easy for anyone to record fast-paced sports or action videos and put them on YouTube for the world to see. Now the company has created a rig that holds six GoPro Hero cameras to capture the world around us in 3D.
The cameras attached to the small globe each capture a portion of the surroundings. When all of the recordings are run through the Omni’s special software, the videos are stitched together into a full panoramic view. Playing back a 360-degree video on YouTube, you can grab the screen and rotate the view in any direction; if you have a Virtual Reality (VR) headset, you’ll be able to simply turn your head in any direction to see the scene. It’s stunning tech that’ll revolutionize how people take action and vacation videos…and perhaps create a whole new industry showing people what they’ll find when they visit a vacation spot or other location.
4. Anki Cozmo
Personal, programmable robot ($179)
One of the big buzz terms in tech these days is “bot,” which can be anything from a speech-recognition assistant interpreting what you say and responding intelligently, to an A.I. chatbot that is conversational and useful for businesses looking to provide an automated customer-service agent on a 24/7 basis in Facebook Messenger or other chat platforms. You’ll be seeing an explosion of bots in the coming years as the technology evolves and is implemented by big companies, such as Amazon, Apple, Google, and IBM.
As the tech improves, we’ll probably also see a flood of personal robots with increased capabilities and uses. A good demonstration of that is Anki’s Cozmo, a tabletop robot that contains a lot of power in its little package — Anki refers to it as “a supercomputer on treads.”
It features facial recognition (so it “knows” you), is able to create a detailed map of its surroundings to better navigate your world, can provide facial expressions on its LED face/screen, plays numerous games (some unlocked the more you play with it), and is easily controlled from an app on an iOS or Android device. Anki also has a free beta SDK (software development kit) that’ll enable developers and consumers to create new uses for Cozmo — and reportedly operates under a simple programming language that users, especially kids, will be able to understand and employ to build on the robot’s capabilities.
Automobile-status monitor ($129)
Every day, we get in our cars to drive to and from work — or as part of our work — and we take for granted how the vehicle operates. In other cases, vehicles are a key element of our business, with employees getting around to meet customers, deliver goods, etc. A company called Automatic is seeking to offer more information on our vehicles and keep us better connected.
The company’s Automatic Pro plugs into the on-board diagnostic (OBD) port on a car, which connects it to the vehicle’s internal computer. From there, it monitors the car’s health and can offer information if the car’s Check Engine light comes on by deciphering the engine codes the computer spits out. Even in normal operation, the Pro can help you locate a vehicle in a parking lot or, if someone else is driving, where the car is traveling and its condition.
The Pro comes equipped with built-in 3G cell transmission (without any added subscription fees), so it monitors the vehicle’s stats and sends them to the cloud, where they can be remotely viewed in a phone app. The 3G connection is also the backbone of the device’s Crash Alert service, which can detect when the car has been in an accident and connect the occupants with trained responders who’ll contact family or emergency services for help. It’s a great way to keep track of a vehicle that’s being driven by a family member or employee, or to make sure you’re in touch with others should something happen.
6. QNAP TAS-168
Network-storage/personal-cloud device ($199)
We put a lot of faith in having a healthy hard drive, since we’re filling it with critical documents, images, e-mails, and more. Yet, IT people have a prescient saying: “It’s not if a hard drive will fail, but when.” Even in normal-use situations, we want to pull up a file on a different computer connected to the same network, but without sharing network resources (such as having to log all computers in the same Windows “workgroup”) or using a USB drive to move the files by “sneakernet.” This can create a challenge for even savvy computer users.
QNAP (which stands for “Quality Network Appliance Provider”) has some devices that can help. In particular, the TAS-168 provides separate network storage, much like a shared server, so files are available throughout a home or business. Additionally, even users not connected to the network can access the device’s contents remotely through a “personal cloud.” It can also be directly connected to a display through an HDMI cable to stream media, such as a presentation or a video file. And because it runs on the Android OS, it can run certain compatible apps, such as YouTube or other streaming services.
The device doesn’t come with a hard drive, but that enables you to add as much storage as you need, and its tool-less system gives you the ability to install a standard or solid-state drive in a snap without the help of an IT person.
Pocket-sized, digital-device charger ($59)
You only have to look around your local Starbucks to see how much people are relying on smartphones, tablets, and laptops for news, work, and general information gathering. The problem is, battery life hasn’t been radically improved, and if you use your devices heavily (and have a lot of resident apps running in the background), your remaining-battery percentage can really plummet quickly. The last thing you want when you have an important conference call or need to send a critical text is to have your device power down from a dead battery.
Anker’s PowerCore+ is a sleek, pocket-sized charger that has enough battery power to refill your smartphone’s battery up to seven times before it needs to be recharged itself. It’s equipped with two standard USB-A ports, which makes it compatible with most any digital device these days, but the PowerCore+ also has a port for the newer USB-C connector (which can be found on the latest MacBook, the latest Google Chromebook, and assorted tablets and smartphones). USB-C supports a “rapid charge” capability, which can refill compatible devices much more quickly than a standard USB-A port, and also enables faster recharge of the charger itself from a wall outlet or other USB-C device that’s plugged in.
8. Parrot Pot
Self-watering, plant-monitoring flower pot ($99)
Yes, we just talked about the Parrot Disco drone above, but the company isn’t only about drones. It’s seeking out innovative solutions for different kinds of needs. One innovative product is the Parrot Pot, which takes the pressure of caring for a plant off of you. You’re busy, so why not take advantage of a smart floral assistant?
To start, Parrot Pot’s accompanying app, called Flower Power, comes equipped with a database of 8000 plants, so it knows the specifics about caring for whatever you might put in the planter. The planter holds more than two quarts of water, and it knows just when to water and how much to use, which means you don’t have to put a lot of effort into maintaining your green thumb — it can take care of gardening duties for up to a month at a time. But it doesn’t just water. It monitors the amount of light, soil, PH level and temperature, among other stats, so it’ll make recommendations through the app for what you should do for optimum plant health.
Diminutive, personal urban transport ($999)
Fifteen years ago, Segway tried to revolutionize personal transport with an electric scooter of a sort. While it didn’t catch on for a number of reasons, the need for a good “vehicle” is still there. Xcooter might be a product to watch in this category.
Xcooter is a 40-pound scooter that can cruise up to a distance of 15 miles at up to 15mph, and can be fully charged in 3–4 hours to quickly get it back on the road. This makes it perfect for short commutes, for taking you between a train or bus and the office, or just for getting to some local errands or meetings. Best of all, it folds up to a size that fits under your desk or can be rolled into a train for the commute, but is sturdy enough to hold a maximum weight of 265 pounds.
Powerful, feature-filled earbuds ($149)
Everyone is active these days, which can require some audio entertainment during a noisy commute, for fitness or sports, or maybe in a high-energy job, where you’re often hoofing it up and down city sidewalks. No matter the situation, you want to enjoy some music from your smartphone or tablet, but you don’t want a bulky set of headphones or the hassle of wires between devices.
Bose has always been a big name in audio with its speakers and headphones, but now it also makes a great set of unobtrusive sports earbuds that are water- and sweat-proof, and lightweight so they get the job done without getting in your way. They can wirelessly connect to your digital device by Bluetooth or NFC (Near Field Communication), which means your other hardware can safely stay in your pocket, purse, or shoulder bag. Its battery serves up to six hours of audio, delivering you plenty of music between charges.
11. Mokacam 4K
Big camera in a tiny package ($279)
GoPro has faced many competitors in the 12 years since its first action camera came out. One of the newest is a super-small 4K-resolution unit called Mokacam, which raised more than a million dollars on its Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign earlier this year. The company has started shipping its campaign’s preorders, and is still offering the cams at a reduced price from what it plans to charge for them. It’s quite a bit cheaper than GoPro’s own 4K unit and comes with better specs as well, such as 25 frames-per-second, ultra-high definition video with a 16-megapixel sensor and a slightly smaller footprint (with a size smaller than two inches square and weighing in under three ounces).
Mokacam has a number of unique features that make it even more enticing. It has a rotatable screen for easy viewing no matter its orientation (and, well, for the requisite selfies you’ll be taking). Strong magnets not only hold the camera fast to metal surfaces, but also enable backup batteries to be used without having to open the camera or turn the camera off. And an accompanying app enables remote control of the camera from a smartphone or tablet, as well as easy sharing of content to your device or other online media service.
Affordable, smaller 3D camera ($499)
GoPro captured lightning in a bottle with its action cameras, enabling users to capture their ski runs, mountain-bike rides, cliff dives, and much more. Now companies are aiming for the same ubiquity with their 360-degree video cameras (including GoPro’s own Omni, listed above).
If you want to start smaller and cheaper, and still get great results, a fine option is the 360fly, which is only six ounces and about 2.5 inches in diameter (slightly bigger than a billiard ball and about the same weight), yet captures 2800 x 2800–resolution video at 50 frames per second. (If you don’t need 4K resolution or want to save a few bucks, there’s a $299.99 version that can capture 1504 x 1504-resolution video at up to 20fps). It can also switch between 360-degree video and 16:9 2D video with the touch of a button. The 360fly 4K works with powerful Android or iOS apps that’ll turn your digital device into a viewfinder, but which also enable on-device editing capabilities, so you can get your edited video up to YouTube or another media service right after you record it.
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