With the holiday buying season just around the corner, we're starting to hear and see evidence of some fun iOS-related accessories to pick up this year. Brookstone has started off by supplying us with a Rover 2.0 App-Controlled Spy Tank (US$149.99) to test. Come along for a ride!
The Rover 2.0 is a futuristic little streamlined tank powered by two treads, one on either side. A small WiFi antenna screws into the top, and six AA batteries are loaded into the bottom. Flip on the power switch and the Rover sets up its own WiFi network. It seems to take about a minute for a little blinking green LED to appear atop the tank, signifying that the network is up and running.
Next, you pop into Settings and change your WiFi network over to the Rover's network, which is immediately recognizable by the word "Rover" in the SSID. Go to the App Store and download the free Rover 2.0 app. Once it's installed on your favorite iOS device, launch it and immediately you'll see a full control panel for the tank, dominated by the video feed from the Rover.
There are two ways to operate the tank. First, you have controls for the right and left treads that you can work in tandem. Sliding both controls forward moves the tank forward, sliding both backwards moves the tank to the rear, and turning is accomplished by moving one slider forward and the other to the rear. There's also a G-Drive mode available that uses the accelerometers in your iOS device to help you steer. I found G-Drive to be much easier to use for driving the tank, although your mileage may vary.
Along the bottom of the control panel is a line of buttons. On the far left is a "Stealth" button that turns off the green LED and cranks on an infrared headlight, supposedly to allow you to sneak up on your cat or roommate. However, that's only going to work well if your cat is deaf or your roommate can sleep through hurricanes -- the motors on the tank aren't exactly quiet.
Next is a Camera button -- tap it to display a slider to tilt the camera up or down. The Path Record button tracks and records a trip with the tank, while the Path Play button is used to repeat that trip with a tap. A Talk button is used like a push-to-talk button on a walkie-talkie, blasting your voice out of the speaker on the Rover. Volume lets you adjust the volume of the sound feed coming in from the Rover's microphone, and Brights turns on a set of four green lights around the perimeter of the Rover.
On the bottom of the video image are buttons for Photo and Video, capturing still images and video to store in your Photo Library. Still quality seems pretty good -- the camera captures images at 320 x 240 pixels, and low-light sensitivity is great, even without the infrared light. Video streams at 25 fps, and can be quite blurry when the tank is turning.
But enough of the specs and how this thing works. Is it fun? Heck, yeah! I enjoyed running the Rover around my office, into our master bedroom, and amusing the cat (she was more curious than afraid of the Rover). Like any good treaded tank or personnel carrier, the Rover has no problem going right over small obstacles. Check out the video below for an unedited silent view from the Rover -- in case you're wondering, that structure in the one room is a kitty condo...
The range of the built-in WiFi network is about 200 feet in an unobstructed area (outside, for example) and 100 feet in the average house. I didn't test the range, although everything worked nicely at about 50 feet when I was operating the tank from upstairs while the tank was on the lower floor of the house.
Any negatives? Yeah, the battery life doesn't seem to be anywhere close to the 2.5 hours advertised by Brookstone, and chewing up AA batteries six at a time is not only expensive, but irresponsible. I'd recommend getting some rechargeables, although I don't know how long they'd last in the Rover. Brookstone could also make some extra bucks by selling a rechargeable pack for the Rover (hint, hint).
In conclusion, anyone who has ever wanted to drive a remotely piloted camera vehicle of some sort now has a reasonably affordable solution from Brookstone. The fact that it's a lot of fun to drive? That's just icing on the cake.