I have been fascinated by robots since my childhood. It began when I saw the original Lost in Space robot, and was permanently cemented when C3PO and R2D2 were introduced in the original Star Wars. Ever since, I have been hoping that there would come a day when I would be able to command such a robot. Brookstone Innovation, a company that caters to high-tech toy lovers, has released their Rover 2.0 Wireless Spy Tank to people like me who crave to have their childhood dreams incarnated. Rover 2.0 is a remote control toy tank robot equipped with an infrared streaming wide angle webcam that is mounted on the front of the tank. The camera can move up and down (but not side-to-side, since you can use the robot's left and right movement for that purpose), and can stream video back to your iPad or Android device for secret spy missions or surveillance objectives. The two treads make the tank fairly easy to maneuver though the onscreen controls from the free iOS app takes a bit of patience to get comfortable with. The robot carries its own wireless access point and uses it to connect to the Rover 2.0 app. Unfortunately, that means while you're driving the tank, you have to be connected to the robot's access point and not your local WiFi access point. This means you will have to disconnect from the robot and reconnect to your network every time you want to connect your iPhone or iPad to the Internet via WiFi.
The iPad app can also be used to activate and capture still photos or moving video from Rover 2.0's on-board camera, steer the robot. The camera has infrared capabilities, allowing you to move the robot (as well as video record or snap photos) in complete darkness. Rover 2.0 can even broadcast two-way audio from the iPad to the Rover's built-in on-board speaker, allowing you to converse in a walkie-talkie mode with those nearby. If this sounds like a lot of fun, it is! Rover 2.0, as the numerical assignment suggests, is a second generation design improvement over the original Rover product. I never had the chance to review the original Rover, so I don't have a basis of comparison for those who may already own the first iteration. While the improvements made to the original design further refined the product, Rover 2.0 has some technical limitations that indicate further iterations to the hardware and software design may be in the works. Powered by 6 AA batteries, this thing eats batteries for breakfast. Even though the package includes 6 AA batteries to get started with, potential Rover 2.0 owners might consider swapping them out with rechargeable batteries instead. While adding its own rechargeable battery brick would no doubt increase the cost of Rover 2.0 by a significant factor, the fact that the Rover lasts a little more than an hour on a fresh set of batteries means that this robot won't be roaming your hallways all night long. What would have been really cool is for the Rover to have a Roomba-style ability to automatically dock with a charging station when its batteries run low. That way, Rover 2.0 could always be on call, ready for action. Oh well, perhaps Rover 3.0 will offer such a nifty autonomous feature.
One nice ability that has yet to be fully realized is the record path feature. This works by activating the recording on the Rover 2.0 app, then driving the robot as normal. Stopping the recording stores the movement instructions for later playback. Unfortunately, only one playback set can be saved at a time, and those instructions are erased when the Rover 2.0 is turned off. Rather than recording a real-time set of movement instructions, the Rover 2.0 iOS application could be enhanced to include a simple series of command execution blocks (ex: turn right, go straight for 10 feet, turn left, stop for 30 seconds, take picture, turn around, go straight for 10 feet, etc.). Multiple instruction sets could be saved and shared with other Rover 2.0 owners. Games could be played to see how quickly a robot could be programmed to run an obstacle course, or run through the layout of a house or building based on the level of the structure and instruction set being executed. Since this should be a simple matter of updating the Rover 2.0 software app, adding such capabilities shouldn't be too difficult. Perhaps we'll see such functionality in a future Rover model. Overalll, the Rover 2.0 Wireless Spy Tank is an initially exciting yet constrained toy that shows a lot of promise of what we might all have in our homes one day. While it might be an expensive glimpse into the future, it might also provide inspiration to a fortunate young person to enter the field of robotics and build a future Rover that elevates it from a toy to an every day household appliance. Product: Rover 2.0 Wireless Spy TankCompany: Brookstone InnovationPrice: $149.99Rating: 4 out of 5 stars