Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Puzzlebox Orbit Mobile Edition

Puzzlebox Orbit Mobile Edition

Spring 2013 Toys
Ages: 14 & Up
Price: $189.00

This toy consists of an RF helicopter in a cage, an RF dongle for connecting to a mobile device, and a NeuroSky headset, which connects via Bluetooth to a computer or mobile device. The headset measures brain waves to trigger the hover capabilities of the helicopter.

The price, $189, is inarguably steep; this is a toy for someone who has everything and can afford something more. Presumably someone who is willing to spend that much on a one-function gadget is also aware that this is cutting-edge technology and therefore will require more than the usual commitment from the user. Directions are provided on the company website, rather than included with the set, to allow for the likely frequent modifications to the technology and the software. (For example, at present, the Android app has seen an upgrade to include functionality still lacking from the iOS app; this review tested the iOS version.) The headset transmits via Bluetooth to a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet computer; the mobile device connects via headphone jack to a dongle; the dongle sends radio frequency (RF) waves to the helicopter. Obviously there are many opportunities for device failure and user error in here. One has to be willing to figure out often flaky bluetooth pairings, jack connections, and RF signals. Simply getting the headset to send any signal at all to the computer or phone is a literal headache; the headset presses into the forehead and clamps uncomfortably onto the ear, and both are inclined to slip, making the brain wave measurements inconsistent at best. (Adult testers were better able to tolerate the discomfort than children, though ultimately the middle school-aged testers had the same degree of success operating the device as the adults.) Once the helicopter crashes, it is sometimes necessary to power off and restart the toy to get it to receive signals from the mobile device again.

Once basic difficulties are overcome, learning to control the helicopter is its own problem. At first, the "attention" and "meditation" signal bars seem to be random. The NeuroSky transmitter comes with a few simple computer applications to train one's brain in these areas, with free mobile downloads available as well. The time allotted for review was not long enough to get good at such a new skill (as a TV program I once watched on brain-controlled devices noted, imagine suddenly trying to maneuver a new limb), but the potential is there for real control, and learning to focus one's mind in such a way would be worth the effort.

Finally, because this is so new, the company that creates it provides source codes and specifications to allow really dedicated and motivated users to make modifications. Exploring these possibilities was beyond the scope of this review, but parents of teens who are interested in programming and engineering might consider the purchase of the Puzzlebox Orbit an investment toward a new world of scientific discovery.

The Puzzlebox Orbit is expensive, difficult to use, and possibly only a one-hit wonder. But it is also genuinely unique (REALLY cool) and offers learning and design opportunities for older and more motivated users. This is not a toy for everyone, but for some it could be truly amazing.

Emily Crawford   ©2013 Parents' Choice
Emily holds a BSE in electrical engineering and computer science from Duke University and a Master's in computer engineering from Georgia Tech. She is a homeschooling parent and lives with her husband, three children, five cats, and thousands of LEGOs in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Look for this product at:
Puzzlebox Productions Ltd.

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