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While some recoil at the thought, bugs and insects are just plain interesting—there’s something undeniably cool about our more-than-four-legged friends. And while you may not readily admit to owning a Starship Troopers DVD (or its priced-to-own sequels), maybe your ears always perked up
a bit when the subject of insects came about in high school biology class.
So you might be tempted by the i-Robot Beetle, a small, detailed, cockroach-like robot (complete with antennae) that can be readily controlled from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Similar to assorted robot kits that you might find on the market, the Beetle moves about on six thin, plastic legs, can be recharged via a USB port, and features a nifty LED-lit, glowing abdomen that activates when turned on.
The Beetle, once deployed, can move forward, backward, left, and right, as well as repeat recent motions and vary its speeds as desired. A transmitter attaches to the audio jack on your iOS device and emits shrill squeaking sounds as the Beetle scuttles around. You control it with the free i-Robot app, which is simple to figure out: just press the directional buttons or tilt your device in the direction you want the bug to go.
While it’s fun to surprise friends by sending the Beetle scurrying toward them across the table (your coworkers will love being surprised by a robotic cockroach as they’re relaxing in the break room eating chicken Caesar wraps), there’s limited appeal. The Beetle proves fun for about 20 minutes, but it quickly gets old, since it can only move in a few directions, gets stuck on any surface higher than a few centimeters, and can’t right itself when it becomes inverted. The Beetle feels cheaply built and it shows. One of the left legs on ours got stuck, and so it was unable to travel forward without veering to the left (although it could back up perfectly). Plus, we wish it used Bluetooth to connect, instead of the awkward 4-inch dongle.
The bottom line. At $39.95, i-Robot is asking a lot of its potential customer base. The Beetle’s lack of fine motor control plus a dearth of additional software or games makes this a hard sell. Maybe the Beetle will improve, maybe its iOS app can offer more to do with the toy, but until then, this is a bug worth avoiding.
iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 5.1 or later
Nifty cockroach design. Makes squeaky sounds. Guaranteed to surprise and/or disgust friends, family, and coworkers.
Limited function and appeal. Becomes boring after a short period of time. Poorly made. Huge dongle is awkward.