LAS VEGAS - A crowd gathered around a remote-control toy car and helicopter here at Sunday’s opening press reception for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) — probably drawn more than anything by the notion of something playful instead of another hardware utility.
Neither toy was exactly a novelty on first glance, however.
“We’ve always been in the R/C business,” said Ian Chisholm, marketing director for the company, Interactive Toy. “And we’ve always done very well with that.”
But the sex appeal of the new products is summed up in the name: “Wi-Spi Video Surveillance Vehicles.” Who wouldn’t get excited by that?
Going on sale this fall, in time for Christmas, the $120 helicopter and $100 “Intruder” car each feature a low-resolution video camera. Instead of standard R/C frequencies, they use Wi-Fi to take commands from and beam video to apps running on Apple or Android phones or tablets. Virtual pilots and drivers can watch the video streaming live and also record it for upload to YouTube and other sites.
Creepy for some, but now brand new.
It’s the same idea behind the Parrot AR Done -- a four-propeller toy helicopter that debuted at CES two years ago. Parrot brought out a 2.0 version last night that mainly improves the video performance – upgrading from a camera that shoots VGA video (roughly that of a standard-definition TV) to a 720p high-definition model. Parrott also introduced “ AR.Drone Academy,” a site on which flyers can post their best videos and compare their flights.
Why the fascination with spy craft? Toys, for kids and grownups, often take their cue from military tech — from toy soldiers to semiautomatic paintball guns. Chisholm characterized customers as “mature wallet, immature mentality.” Today’s military is becoming more remote-controlled, with virtual pilots flying drone aircraft from computer screens rather than cockpits. Toys like the Wi-Spi and AR Drone helicopters offer the novelty of multimillion-dollar technology in a little battery-powered package.
Their missions will likely be a commensurately less serious. Chisholm theorized that people might use them to spy on people in the neighboring cubicles at work.