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    Quick Look at the Shaper Origin Handheld CNC!

    We have the new Shaper Origin CNC machine in our workshop! This is a handheld CNC that uses computer vision to align itself to the material you're routing, like plywood or MDF. We take it for a spin with a simple test project to show you the basics of how it works and the quirks of its operation.

    Testing: Fat Shark 101 Drone Training System

    Flying First Person View (FPV) racers isn't easy. Weaving through the small gates that define a FPV race course demands confidence and skills that must be earned. Those first baby steps of becoming an FPV pilot can be rough for some. While there is no single training path that is guaranteed to work for everyone, there are definitely high-yield, low-risk methods to becoming a competent pilot.

    Fat Shark recently announced a setup that combines several popular training tools into one box. Called "Fat Shark 101" ($250), this package includes simulator training as well as a flight-ready multi-rotor and goggles. The goal is to elevate you out of noob status and get you on the race course without leaving a trail of expletives and broken parts.

    About Fat Shark 101

    The 101 package is all-inclusive. I didn't have to add a thing to get it going. Even AA batteries for the transmitter are included. The core of the 101 set is a 105mm quadcopter. This quad uses brushed motors and is powered by a 2-cell 260mAh LiPo battery. Two batteries are provided in the kit, along with a USB charger for them.

    No assembly is required for the quad. You can decide for yourself whether the shark-like profile is cool. I happen to like it. From a practicality standpoint, the tail really improves in-flight orientation when flying by line-of-sight.

    The Fat Shark 101 kit is intended to provide all of the necessary tools to get rookie drone pilots race-ready.

    I've always preached about the practicality of using small, indoor-capable quads as training tools. The prime drawback with that approach is that most of the smaller, beginner-oriented quads include an undersized control transmitter. Some are ridiculously small. You are often forced to readjust to the feel of the control sticks when you transition to a full-size transmitter.

    Testing: Prusa i3 Multi-Material 3D Printing

    Most FDM 3D printers can print in one color at a time, and just a few can use two filaments at once. But the newest upgrade to the Prusa i3 printer gives us the ability to print with four colors! Jeremy and Sean test this upgrade and explain how multi-material printing works, along with its potential and pitfalls.

    Testing: Kyosho Ultima RB6.6 RC Off-Road Racer

    Not long ago, I reviewed Kyosho's re-release of the Optima 4-wheel-drive off-road RC racer. I was pretty excited to do that review because I had always pined for an Optima as a kid. This time around, I'll be looking at another off-roader from Kyosho: the 2-wheel-drive Ultima RB6.6. I'm feeling a little nostalgic here as well because an Ultima was the car that I did get as a kid.

    The RB6.6 is not a re-release of the vintage Ultima. Rather, this is the latest iteration in a long line of variants dating back to 1987. The design has evolved to stay competitive while keeping pace with ever-changing technology and racing trends. A cursory glance reveals that this car shares only its name with my former Ultima.

    About the Ultima RB6.6

    Kyosho offers the latest Ultima in two forms. The kit version ($400) is intended for hard-core racers, while the Readyset ($250) is better-suited for beginning racers and backyard bashers. This review covers the Readyset variant.

    The core design of both cars is the same. The kit version includes higher-end racing hardware such as aluminum-bodied shocks, a ball differential, and even several different transmission configurations. You must assemble the kit (not a bad thing) and provide all of the electronics. One advantage of the Readyset option is that it includes a 2.4GHz radio system and the onboard electronics. The only things you have to add are a battery, charger, and four AA cells for the transmitter.

    The Readyset arrives factory-assembled. You could literally open the box and be driving the Ultima a few minutes later. A positive aspect of this situation is that rookie RC mechanics need not worry about knowing the correct way to install a given component--it's already done. The flip side is that they will eventually need these skills. Maintenance and repair is an important aspect of owning an RC car. Thankfully, the hefty manual dedicates many pages to proper maintenance steps.

    Testing: SmartPlane Pro FPV Fixed-Wing RC

    The thrill of First Person View (FPV) flying is a big draw for many aspiring RC hobbyists. Everybody wants to experience the sensation of flying from their model's perspective. While there are lots of beginner-oriented FPV multi-rotors on the market, there are very few fixed-wing options. A new entry in the fixed-wing column is the SmartPlane Pro FPV from TobyRich ($300).

    I'll be honest. I didn't expect much from this model. The marketing material made it seem like something you might find in a Sky Mall catalog…plenty of cool factor, but no real substance. I've tested enough of those types of products to know that I shouldn't get my hopes up.

    You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that the SmartPlane Pro FPV (SPPF) is actually a great-flying little airplane. In fact, the entire package works much better than I expected. I've really been enjoying it. Keep reading to find out what makes the SPPF stand out. I'll also share some things that could use improvement.

    Quick Look at LG's 43-Inch 4K Monitor

    How big is too big for a desktop computer monitor? Norm lives with LG's 43-inch 4K monitor for a month, and shares his experience using it for daily web browsing, photo editing, and gaming. The extra screen real estate of the 43UD79-B takes getting used to, but there are some tradeoffs.

    Machination Studio's Mechanized Armored Walker!

    We're huge fans of Michael Sng, a toy designer who successfully launched his first mechanized scale model on Kickstarter a year ago. Michael visits our studio to show off his newest creation: the Schnauzer Armored Walker prototype that he hopes to bring to collectors. Its movement, detail, and paint finish are most impressive!

    A New Battery Option for RC Cars

    My inbox is often filled with press releases about the latest RC hobby products. I try to focus my attention on the truly unique and innovative stuff. That's why the ARRMA Granite Voltage ($140) caught my eye. On the surface, it appears to be a run-of-the-mill 1/10-scale monster truck. But this is no ordinary backyard basher. The Granite Voltage is equipped to use a power source that I've never before seen in an RC truck, cylindrical Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) batteries. I'm a battery nerd, so I had to take a closer look.

    The 18650-sized (18mm diameter, 65mm long) Li-Ion batteries used by the Granite Voltage are not new. Derivatives of these cells have been around for more than 20 years. They've always been a popular choice for small electronic devices because of their high energy density, convenient size, and robust housing. However, these cells never really captured the interest of RC hobbyists. The issue was that Li-Ion cells couldn't discharge rapidly enough to meet the high-current demands of most RC vehicles. Simply put, Li-Ion batteries were great at storing energy, but not so great at expending that energy quickly. Most hobbyists adopted a different flavor of Lithium-Ion technology with more favorable discharge characteristics, the soft, flat Lithium-Polymer (LiPo) cells that now dominate RC applications.

    Recent developments with cylindrical Li-Ion batteries have finally made them contenders for hobbyists. The latest generation of 18650 cells have high discharge capabilities, giving backyard drivers another battery option. I also found it interesting that Tesla and the vaping community have also embraced the allure of modern 18650 Li-Ion batteries.

    Quick Look at the Razer Phone

    We go hands-on with the brand new Razer Phone, the first smartphone from laptop and gaming accesory maker Razer. This monolithic Android phone stands out with a 120Hz screen--the first for a phone. We show how smooth and responsive this display is compared to other flagship hardware with our high-speed camera, but you can even see the differences in real-time.

    Hobby RC: Testing the VIFLY R130 Racing Quad

    How much smaller can racing multi-rotors get? When I built my first racer a couple of years ago, I thought it was difficult to cram all of the necessary components into a 250mm frame. Now many quads are half that size or less. Maybe that's why there is also a rising trend in prebuilt racing quads. Sure, there is plenty of benefit to the DIY approach. But when space is this tight, some people can save their sanity by letting the factory fit all of those parts into the right places.

    The VIFLY R130 is one of these newer, factory-built racing quads. VIFLY offers the R130 in a bind-n-fly package ($170) that includes pretty much everything you need except a radio transmitter, flight battery, and FPV goggles. You can choose from versions that are compatible with either Spektrum, FrSky, or FlySky transmitters. I tested the Spektrum variant. There is also a ready-to-fly version of the quad that includes a RadioLink 8-channel transmitter ($230).

    About the R130

    As the name suggests. The R130 has a 130mm frame. It actually measures 134mm between diagonal motors. But let's not nitpick. This is a small quad no matter how you look at it. The main structural components are made of carbon fiber. Most of the electronics are hidden within the double-decker main frame. In fact, the upper deck is a circuit board containing several integrated components.

    The R130 uses a 4-in-1 Electronic Speed Control (ESC) rather than four individual units. This approach conserves precious real estate within the quad's small footprint. The only downside is that you have to replace the entire board ($40) if one ESC goes south. VIFLY sells the ESC and other replacement parts on their website.

    These miniature brushless motors really sing. The R130 darts around like a hummingbird.

    The ESCs are linked to tiny brushless motors spinning 3-inch-diameter (76mm) 3-blade propellers. In some places, the gap between the propeller arc and a part of the frame is just a few millimeters. Like I said…space is tight. Two of the motors use reverse-thread nuts to secure the props. This helps them to stay tight during flight.

    A 700-line FPV camera is mounted on a swivel at the front of the quad. It appears to be well-protected from crash damage. You physically tilt the camera to your desired angle before taking off. I was concerned that the camera angle might drift during flight, but it has not been a problem. The R130 does not include any provision for mounting an action camera to record onboard video. I'm sure it would be a simple matter to whip up a simple mount, but I have not yet done so.

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 27: Windlands 2, Space Junkies Hands-On

    Jeremy and Norm go hands-on with upcoming VR games Windlands 2 and Space Junkies, interview the developers of these games, and share their impressions. We're impressed by the polished and fluid movement mechanic Windlands 2, and are intrigued by the combat and weapon design of Space Junkies.

    Test Driving a Retro RC Racer: The Kyosho Optima

    The Kyosho Optima is one of several classic RC cars that have recently been put back into production. These reboots give you the nostalgia of owning an 80s-era racer, but without the cobwebs or impossible-to-find spare parts. In my previous article, I covered the process of building the Optima into a functional vehicle. This time around, I'll take it out for a spin and see how this baby performs!

    Finding New Shoes

    My plan was to test the Optima in different driving conditions. I took it to a track designed specifically for off-road cars. I also let it loose at a park in my neighborhood. But before hitting the ground with my new retro racer, I figured that it would be prudent to analyze the tire situation. Having the right tires for specific conditions can make all the difference in how a car performs.

    A significant aspect of the Optima's enduring image is its set of 5-spoke "twisted star" wheels wrapped with fat, studded tires. While Kyosho's re-issued rollers definitely resemble the original parts, they are actually quite different. First of all, the wheels are now a 1-piece design. The legacy wheels consisted of inner and outer halves that were screwed together to pinch the tire in place. Going with the 1-piece approach produces lighter, stronger parts, but the tires must be glued to the wheel--not a big deal.

    The Optima's wheels and tires look like the legacy units, but they have been updated.

    The primary change to the tires is that they are now made of a softer rubber. In fact, the tires are so soft that they require foam inserts to help them hold their shape. Tire inserts are common nowadays, but I don't recall them ever being used when I was an active RC racer in the early 90s. The benefit of soft tires is better traction. One of the fundamental tradeoffs is durability. Simply put, softer tires wear out faster. That's not usually a concern for racers. Traction trumps longevity every time.

    Just as off-road RC cars have evolved over the years, so have the tracks they race on. In the 80s and 90s, it was common for off-road tracks to have a layer of relatively loose dirt on the top surface. That's why the Optima's tires (and many others) featured prominent spikes. They could really dig into the fluff and get moving. Modern tracks are typically made of very smooth and hard-packed dirt. Some even use carpet or astroturf. Many racers use tires that look more like drag-racing slicks than traditional studded off-road tires. It was obvious that even with softer rubber, the Optima's prickly paws weren't going to cut it on a modern RC track.

    Testing: PowerUp Dart RC Paper Airplane

    PowerUp Toys has been developing modules that clip on to paper airplanes to give them power and control. Yes, remote control paper airplanes. The Dart is their third variation on the theme. This latest model is intended to bring aerobatic capabilities to the wildly-popular PowerUp fleet.

    As I write this, we are two weeks into the Dart's 30-day Kickstarter campaign. The project quickly met its $25,000 funding goal and additional support keeps coming in. That the campaign has already exceeded the initial target by more than $800,000 is a clear indication that people are excited about the Dart.

    I received a pre-production sample of the Dart for review. I'll reveal some of the technical details of this unit. Of course, I'll also tell you how it flies!

    Dart Overview

    PowerUp's previous model, the PowerUp FPV, utilizes two tiny electric motors and has an integrated camera for first-person-view flying. The Dart is considerably different. It more closely resembles the company's first RC offering, the PowerUp 3.0. That model has just one motor and no camera. The Dart and PowerUp 3.0 appear very similar, but there are a few significant differences that make the Dart a sportier flyer. Think of the Dart as the PowerUp 3.0 "Turbo".

    The PowerUp Dart is the third in a series of popular remote-controlled paper airplanes.

    The overall concept of the Dart is rather simple, even if the technology within is somewhat complex. The front of the clip-on module has a circuit board and tiny LiPo battery housed within a plastic case. At the rear, you will find a small electric motor with a propeller. There is also a plastic rudder that is driven by a magnetic actuator. The front and rear components are rigidly linked with a square carbon fiber tube.

    Tested: E-flite X-Vert VTOL RC Airplane

    Aircraft designers have long recognized the benefits of an airplane than can take off vertically like a helicopter and then transition to speedy forward flight. The only problem is that Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) performance is a tough nut to crack. There are lots of engineering challenges and tradeoffs standing in the way. Airplanes like the Convair XFY Pogo and Hawker Harrier helped set the stage for more modern VTOL-capable ships like the V-22 Osprey and F-35B. But VTOL remains a rare and very expensive capability.

    The high power-to-weight ratio of most RC models makes achieving VTOL a little easier. Yet, there are still countless challenges to building a practical VTOL machine. For example, I owned a simple foam model of the Pogo about 10 years ago. It was a great performer in forward flight, but a real bear to control during those vertical takeoffs and landings. Crashes were common. Any landing where the model remained upright was cause for celebration.

    X-Vert Overview

    The X-Vert from E-flite is a new model that provides a unique solution to the challenges of VTOL flight. The airframe is a simple flying wing with twin brushless motors for propulsion. All of the magic comes from the onboard electronics. A single circuit board on the model combines a radio receiver, two brushless motor controllers, and a flight controller with stabilization features. It is the flight controller with its integrated gyros that allows the X-Vert to take off vertically from the ground and then automatically transition to forward flight.

    The X-Vert comes factory-assembled with just a few final steps to complete.

    There are two versions of the X-Vert. A Ready-To-Fly (RTF) version ($200) comes with everything you need to get the model in the air. This includes the pre-built model, Spektrum transmitter, 2S-800mAh LiPo battery, and charger. If you already have a 6+-channel DSMX-compatible transmitter and a LiPo charger, you can save a few bucks by going with the Bind-N-Fly variant ($150). It omits the transmitter, battery, and charger. Batteries are available separately for $17. You'll probably want to grab a few spare batteries with either kit option.

    Tested: Lulzbot TAZ 6 3D Printer

    Sean and Norm review the Lulzbot TAZ 6, a 3D printer with a pretty massize print bed size. We talk about how it works out of the box, features like the self-leveling PEI bed, and the benefits of it being an open-sourced design. But the printer does come at a premium price.

    Testing the Immersion RC Vortex 150, Part 2

    In a previous article, I examined the features and assembly process of the Vortex 150 race quad. This time around, I'll get this little beast in the air and see how it performs.

    Flight Modes

    The Vortex's flight controller has three default flight modes: Angle, Acro, and Horiz. You can select any of these modes during flight with a 3-position switch on your transmitter. Angle mode limits the quad's maximum pitch and roll angles and provides self-leveling when the controls are neutralized. While this is the easiest and most forgiving flight mode, the angle limits rule out any aerobatics.

    Acro mode is the same thing that many flyers call Rate mode. It provides no self-leveling features or angle limits. Acro is definitely the most challenging mode to fly. Yet, it also provides the most precise control of the quad. It's like the difference between driving a car with an automatic transmission (Angle mode) and one with a manual transmission (Acro mode). It takes practice to get the feel of it, but the results are worth it.

    The Vortex 150's flight controller is preprogramed with three flight modes. The Acro (rate) mode is especially smooth.

    Horiz mode is a hybrid of Angle and Acro modes. During normal flying, it behaves like Angle mode. When you input large control movements, however, the bank limits disappear and it responds as if in Acro mode. You get the safety net of self-leveling, along with the ability to perform flips and other aerobatics. If you intend to eventually master Acro mode, Horiz is a great way to transition away from Angle mode.

    Testing the Immersion RC Vortex 150 Racing Quadcopter, Part 1

    Multi-rotors that are designed for First Person View (FPV) racing and sport flying continue to evolve. The Immersion RC Vortex 150 is a new machine that reflects many of the latest trends in the hobby. First of all, it's small. It measures just 156mm between diagonal motor shafts. This gives the quad a significantly smaller footprint than the 250mm-class ships that used to dominate quad racing. Yet, as you will see, the Vortex 150's bantam size does not make it any slower or less nimble.

    The Vortex 150 is considerably smaller than the 250-class machines that used to be the norm for quad racing.

    Another innovative aspect of the Vortex 150 is that it is mostly prebuilt. A fair amount of building, soldering, and programming used to be required when setting up a racing quad. While those are all useful skills to have, they are no longer a prerequisite. You can learn as you go.

    Vortex 150 Overview

    The 150 is currently available as an Almost Ready-To-Fly (ARF) package ($300). It includes most of the components that would normally be purchased separately (carbon-fiber frame, brushless motors, propellers, electronic speed controls, flight controller, FPV camera, video transmitter). The only things left to add are a radio system with a micro-receiver, a 5.8Ghz video receiver (goggles or a monitor), and flight batteries.

    The brushless motors may be tiny, but they provide a lot of power for the Vortex.

    Like the frame itself, all of the onboard components are similarly downsized. The tiny brushless motors are only 17mm in diameter and spin 76mm-diameter (3") 3-blade propellers. The flight battery is small too. You can fly with 3-cell or 4-cell packs with a capacity of about 500mAh. I've flown the Vortex 150 with a few different batteries, but my primary power sources have been Lumenier 4S-460mAh 45C batteries. This battery and the power lead on the quad come equipped with XT30 connectors.

    One of my biggest challenges when building a racing quad is keeping all of the wiring neat and tidy. Space is always at a premium. And it's not just a matter of vanity. A stray wire can foul a prop or become damaged during a routine landing. None of that is a concern with the Vortex 150. Other than the receiver antennas and the power lead, all of the wiring is housed internally.