Unique BladeStar Ups the Ante on Consumer RC

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FlyTech BladestarFlyTech BladestarThere have been a multitude of remote control flying toys of every description, but I’ve never seen one like the WowWee FlyTech BladeStar: basically a whirling rotor with no helicopter attached to it — the propeller is the flyer. Now, the question begs to be asked, is this just a gimmick or has WowWee hit on something pretty cool?

The BladeStar’s unique architecture presents some cool challenges. For instance, it has but a single IR receiver, so you have to be directing the controller at that side of the central core in order for it to respond. Once it starts spinning, however, the receiver can pick up any IR signal from the controller within ten feet regardless of direction — as long as you point the controller at the flyer! But that spin has some clear-cut benefits as well — to launch the bird, all you have to do is leave it on a smooth surface like a dining room table, and it will whirl like a top before launching on its own. Many times in the past I have bemoaned having to throw a flyer in the air while manipulating the controller with my other hand.

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In terms of maneuverability, the BladeStar hovers really, really well, but its lateral movement isn’t as dextrous as I would like. Basically, it has no flaps or ailerons, so it travels by adjusting the speed of the rotors, causing it to head in the direction you chose. If you desire, you can activate the autonomous flight function and literally navigate via waving your hands or a sheet of paper and triggering the BladeStar’s IR sensors, causing it to move away. (I breathlessly referred to this phenomenon as ‘gestural navigation’ in my preview earlier this year.) It also packs a very impressive fly time, claimed at up to 15 minutes.

The BladeStar instructions make it clear you are not to use this baby outside, ostensibly because it relies on walls and the ceiling for navigation while in autonomous mode. This is a nice way of saying that you can easily shoot the BladeStar beyond the range of the controller and cause it to crash. (The BladeStar shuts down if it stops getting a signal from the controller.) However, you know and I know you and Wowwee knows that you’ll be taking it outside regardless of warnings, and here’s why it’s OK to do: If you keep the BladeStar on manual control, or if you don’t rely on its ability to steer clear of a non-existent ceiling, outside is fine.

Personally, I found its indoor functionality rather limited due to my small and cramped house. Maybe WowWee’s engineers all live in McMansions with vaulted ceilings, but for me, the space between the ceiling fan and the dining room table is about three feet. Ostensibly the BladeStar’s IR sensors detect obstructions and steer around them, but I found that certain objects, like slatted chair-backs, fooled the BladeStar and it got tangled up and crashed.

Like other ultralight RC flyers I’ve played with, the BladeStar relies on lightness to save it from damage. The thing is tiny! About a foot in diameter and just a few inches high, it bounced lightly, undamaged, when it crashed. The propellers were the only parts that consistently broke. Of course it comes with extra props and wings, and chances are you’ll need them. Speaking of fragility, one great thought on WowWee’s part is to include a plastic carrying case with the flyer, allowing you to store it safely. Believe me, I have more than a couple foam RC airplanes at my house and there’s always the risk of damage even when they’re not in the air.

Another potentially fun feature is its "dogfight" capability. I was unable to test it due to only having one, but each controller comes with an attachment, basically a plastic tube that focuses the beam from the IR emitter more narrowly. If you blast the enemy BladeStar three times with this beam, it crashes.

The WowWee Bladestar packs some cool and innovative features that are sure to raise the bar for competitive products, while still being a lot of fun to fly around.

Here are a couple of BladeStar videos from CES, where it won an Editors Choice Award:

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