Dronemaker DJI has used the last few years to run a massive robotics competition in China called RoboMasters, where students build and encode robots that fight in a literal arena. Now, DJI wants to sell a more approximate version of that idea to children in the US, Europe and Japan, with an educational toy robot named RoboMaster S1.
The RoboMaster S1 is a sub camera equipped remote controlled car, some educational platform, and some DJI bend their fully mature hardware and software muscles. Available from Wednesday for $ 499, S1 can be run using a mobile app, or tagged to move on its own. It is equipped with 31
Like DJI's newest drones, S1 can recognize and respond to movements and sounds or track objects, all using data vision. (It is equipped with a camera that has a f2.4 aperture and a wide 120 degree field of view that extends the view of Wi-Fi to the mobile app.) But unlike DJI's drones, S1 can shoot projectiles in shape of small gel beads. These beads come in super small shape but puff up once immersed in water for a few hours; They are non-toxic, but will require some cleanup after use.
The RoboMaster S1 can also be run with controls, but it will be sold separately in an additional package containing an additional battery and several gel beads that will be available later.
S1 was impressive during a short press release. It reacts to controls with almost imperceptible delay, both in how it crosses the floor and in how the head responds to sight commands. The DJI made us run through a number of different uses, including a race where we not only had to beat our opponents, but were required to scan a series of images along the way to win.
We also tested S1 robots in a "combat mode" where we drove them around a provisional arena. The one who scored the most points won (made by shooting opponents in the S1's LED sensitive areas, just like in the real RoboMasters, although this can be done with gel beads or lasers), and along the way there were chances to retrieve health and get special abilities by scanning special images set up around the arena.
DJI believes the value of S1, but that it will give children outside China a taste of what it is to be part of the RoboMasters competition. As such, the S1 is highly customizable and designed to be tinkered with. It comes disassembled so the kids have to put almost every piece together to get started. They can write Scratch 3.0 or the Python code to control things like granules as the wheel's torque, so they can program S1 to do all sorts of things, such as pulling out elusive combat maneuvers (another echo of the competition).
DJI has developed a series of video tutorials and guides to help users learn to do all this, even if they have never coded before. "The hope is that the robotics will be a great sport, such as football, basketball. That is our vision for this product," Shuo Yang, head of the S1 project told Bloomberg .
The S1 announcement comes at a somewhat uncertain time, for some reasons. For one, the United States is currently locked in a trade war with China, while accusing one of its largest private companies (Huawei) for spying on behalf of the Chinese government.
This combination of powers has increased the hackles so high that the US government is looking elsewhere on Chinese companies that can pose a national security risk. Just last month, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning about Chinese-made drones that could potentially capture and transfer sensitive data back to the Chinese government. With the DJI accounting for almost 80 percent of drones in North America, it was seen as a shot over the drone maker's bow.
The RoboMaster S1 is clearly far more limited where it can travel, but it has a high resolution camera on board. It may argue other concerns, as consumers (and even some in the government) have become more sensitive to allowing home cameras.
DJI also presents S1 in some militaristic language, which can not only congratulate some consumers on present tensions between the United States and China, but also because last week marked the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, where a man was standing in front (and stopped) Chinese military tanks.