Tag: design

Adobe’s ‘Cloak’ experiment is a content-aware eraser for video

Glamorous show-reels from shows like Game of Thrones get all the fame, but a lot of VFX work is mundane stuff like removing cars, power lines and people from shots. Adobe's research team is working on making all of that easier for anyone, regardless of budget, thanks to a project called "Cloak." It's much the same as "content-aware fill" for Photoshop, letting you select and then delete unwanted elements, with the software intelligently filling in the background. Cloak does the same thing to moving video, though, which is a significantly bigger challenge.

Engadget got an early look at the tech, including a video demonstration and chance to talk with Adobe research engineer Geoffrey Oxholm and Victoria Nece, product manager for video graphics and VFX. At the moment, the technology is in the experimental stages, with no set plans to implement it. However, Adobe likes to give the public "Sneaks" at some of its projects as a way to generate interest and market features internally to teams.

An example of that would be last year's slightly alarming "VoCo" tech that lets you Photoshop voiceovers or podcasts. That has yet to make it into a product, but one that did is "Smartpic" which eventually became part of Adobe's Experience Manager.

The "Cloak" tech wouldn't just benefit Hollywood -- it could be useful to every video producer. You could make a freeway look empty by removing all the cars, cut out people to get a pristine nature shot, or delete, say, your drunk uncle from a wedding shot. Another fun example: When I worked as a compositer in another life, I had to replace the potato salad in a shot with macaroni, which was a highly tedious process.

Object removal will also be indispensable for VR, AR, and other types of new video tech. "With 360 degree video, the removal of objects, the crew and the camera rig becomes virtually mandatory," Nece told Engadget.

Content-aware fill on photos is no easy task in the first place, because the computer has to figure out what was behind the deleted object based on the pixels around it. Video increases the degree of difficulty, because you have to track any moving objects you want to erase. On top of that, the fill has to look the same from frame to frame or it will be a glitchy mess. "It's a fascinating problem," Oxholm said. "Everything is moving, so even if you nail one frame, you have to be consistent."

Luckily, video does have one advantage over photos. "The saving grace is that we can see behind the thing we want to remove," says Oxholm. "If you've got a microphone to remove, you can see behind the microphone." In other words, if you're doing shot of a church with a pole in the way, there's a good chance you have a different angle with a clean view of the church.

With 360 degree video, the removal of objects, the crew and the camera rig becomes virtually mandatory.

Another thing making content-aware fill for video much more feasible now is the fact that motion-tracking technology has become so good. "We can do really dense tracking, using parts of the scene as they become visible," said Oxholm. "That gives you something you can use to fill in."

The results so far, as shown in the video above, are quite promising. The system was able to erase cars from a freeway interchange, did a decent job of deleting a pole in front of a cathedral and even erased a hiking couple from a cave scene. The shots were done automatically in "one quick process," Oxholm said, after a mask was first drawn around the object to be removed -- much as you do with Photoshop.

It's not totally perfect, however. Shadow traces are visible on the cave floor, and the cathedral is blurred in spots where the pole used to be. Even at this early stage, though, the tool could do much of the grunt-work, making it easier for a human user to do the final touch-ups. I'd love to see Adobe release it in preview as soon as possible, even if it's not perfect, as it looks like it could be a major time saver -- I sure could've used it for that macaroni.

Adobe Photoshop adds support for Microsoft’s Surface Dial

As part of its Creative Cloud 2018 rollout, Adobe has revealed that Microsoft's Surface Dial, seemingly made for Photoshop CC, is finally supported by the app. Adobe notes that for now, it's shipping as a "tech preview," meaning you'll have to first turn the feature on and it's not production-ready, so there may be a few bugs. You'll need to have a Bluetooth-capable PC running the latest version of Windows 10, and functionality is limited to the brush settings for now. As shown in the image below, you can use the Dial to adjust the brush size, opacity and other parameters.

It's unclear why it's taken Adobe and Microsoft so long to get together on the Surface Dial, nor why the functionality is so limited. As Microsoft has just released its Surface Book 2, however, there may have been some pressure for Adobe to at least do something to help motivate creative folks to look at the dial, which remains a niche product so far.

I've had a chance to use other physical dials -- notably the Palette Gear -- with multiple functions on Photoshop CC and other Adobe apps, so it doesn't seem like it's that hard to implement. Hopefully, the device will be fully functional by the time Microsoft releases its next Surface Studio desktop, whenever that might be.

Apple’s self-driving tech appears to be one fully-contained unit

Like so many companies, Apple has been working on its own version of self-driving technology. Last year, we learned that the company had moved away from designing its own vehicle, opting instead to develop a system that could be incorporated into existing vehicles. We've had glimpses of this system before -- it's codenamed Project Titan -- but thanks to Voyage cofounder MacCallister Higgins, we now have an up-close view of it.

Higgens posted a short video on Twitter of a Lexus SUV topped with Apple's sensor array, which he called "The Thing." He also said that the majority of the compute stack is likely contained within the roof unit itself, rather than stored elsewhere in the vehicle, and noted that it had six LiDAR units on the front and back. Such a self-contained unit would be pretty easy to pop onto any car really without requiring many additional modifications to the vehicle itself, which is probably why Apple has opted for such a design.

You can take a peek at Apple's roof array in Higgens' video above.

Via: TechCrunch

Adobe remakes Lightroom CC as a hybrid app and 1TB cloud service

Adobe has unveiled a raft of new apps and updates for Max 2017, most notably a big revamp of Lightroom CC to make it more cloud-friendly for mobile users. The centerpiece is an all-new Lightroom CC with a 1TB cloud service -- the "Project Nimbus" app that leaked last year. It features a streamlined version of Lightroom CC that keeps images, edits and metadata synced in Creative cloud across PC and Mac, Android and iOS. For desktop users who prefer the current, non-cloud app, Adobe has re-branded it as Lightroom Classic CC.

Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic CC

To be clear, because Adobe's new naming system is pretty darn confusing, Lightroom CC is a series of apps app and a service. As Adobe describes it, Lightroom CC "is designed to be a cloud-based ecosystem of apps that are deeply integrated and work together seamlessly across desktop, mobile and web." Lightroom Classic CC, on the other hand, "is designed for desktop-based (file/folder) digital photography workflows."

Despite the fact that it's cloud-based, Adobe says Lightroom CC is "built on the same imaging technology that powers Photoshop and Lightroom." The desktop app has changed considerably, however. The new version for PC and Mac has an all-new, simplified interface with streamlined sliders, presets and quick-adjustment tools, and some of the features in the old version of Lightroom CC are missing.

The prime feature of Lightroom CC is the cloud sync, which works automatically to save all of your RAW images, edits and metadata, letting you pick up where you left off regardless of your location or device. Another key new feature is Adobe Sensei, an AI algorithm that figures out what's in your images and automatically tags them, much as Google Photos does. Adobe is also highlighting its built-in sharing tools that let you build cutom galleries and share them on social media or through the new Lightroom CC Portfolio integration.

The mobile apps on iOS and Android have also been significantly updated, though they'll still work as they did before with Lightroom CC Classic. The iOS version gets Adobe Sensei search and tagging, an enhanced app layout and iOS 11 file support. Meanwhile on Android, Adobe has finally added tablet support and a local adjustment brush, along with the same Sensei searching as on iOS.

Using a preview copy, I tried out the new desktop version on Windows 10, and the new user interface is completely different and more like the tablet version. Gone are the top "Library," "Develop," "Map," "Slideshow" and other menus, replaced simply by "My Photos," and "Edit." Photo organization has also been simplified, reduced to two grid sizes and a single image, eliminating the "Select/Candidate" and "Survey View."

All of the tools from "Develop" are now in "Edit," but some popular tools like "Tone Curve," "Panorama," and "HDR Merge" are no longer available. There's now an "Edit in Photoshop" button that will presumably let you do more fine-tuned work. However, if you've got an established workflow and rely on those missing tools, you'll obviously want to stick to the Lightroom CC Classic version.

As for the Lightroom CC Classic desktop app, Adobe has made a few small changes including a faster boot time, image previews, file imports, and a new color range and luminance masking functionality. It emphasized that Lighroom CC "continues to focus on a more traditional desktop-first workflow with local storage and file and folder control," compared to the "cloud-centric" operation of Lightroom CC.

I personally liked the new version of Lightroom CC, as I always found the "classic" version to be a bit confusing and cluttered. I generally prefer to use photoshop, but I can now see myself using Lightroom CC for most of my photo editing chores instead. The fact that you can pick up a photo edit where you left off, whether you're on the train, at home or at work, is also a life-changing feature for me.

However, there are a lot of users who depend on the app to make a living, and have often automated the use of it to a large degree. Many of those folks will have no interest in the new app, but Adobe is slowly but surely shifting everything to the cloud, so one day, you may have no choice. For now, Lightroom Classic CC users don't have to worry about it, as it's still available for the same price.

Photoshop CC and new apps

Adobe made some significant changes to Photoshop CC (above), most significantly updates that will make it easier for cloud users to connect. It also added what it calls "major improvements to learning and getting started," thanks to interactive, step-by-step tutorials and rich tip tools. Other highlights include Lightroom photo access from the start screen (above), 360 spherical panoramic image editing, symmetry painting (tech preview), numerous brush tweaks, new font tools and much more.

The company unveiled three new apps that do three very different things. The first, Adobe XD CC, is aimed at users who want to design and prototype mobile apps and services, developed "in open partnership with the design community through a public beta," the company said.

For animation creators, Adobe also unveiled Character Animator CC. It lets you take graphics and characters from Photoshop or Illustrator, and add "visual puppet controls," pose-to-pose blending, physics behaviors and other 2D character animation tools. Finally, there's Adobe Dimension CC, basically a package that lets designers do quick-and-dirty 3D work for branding, packaging design, etc. "with the ease and simplicity of working with 2D."

Plans and Pricing

With the introduction of Lightroom CC, Adobe has introduced several new plans that, it has to be said again, are bound to create some confusion because of its naming system. First off, know that all of its image editing products, including Photoshop CC, Lightroom CC, Lightroom Classic CC, Illustrator and others fall under the "Lightroom CC Photography Service" moniker.

With that in mine, there are three new photography plans, all available starting today. The first is the "Creative Cloud Photography plan with 1TB," which includes Lightroom CC (both the desktop and mobile versions) and Lightroom CC Classic, along with Photoshop CC, Adobe Spark with premium features, Adobe Portfolio and 1TB of cloud storage. That costs $19.99, but Adobe's discounting it to $14.99 for the first year.

The $9.99 "Creative Cloud Photography Plan" gives you the same features, but just 20GB of storage, while the all-new $9.99 "Lightroom CC" plan subtracts Lightroom Classic CC and Photoshop CC, while giving you back the 1TB of storage. Adobe will continue to offer Lightroom 6 as "the last stand-alone version of Lightroom that can be be purchased outside of a Creative Cloud membership." However, it "will no longer be updated with camera support or bug fixes after the end of 2017," it adds.

‘Monument Valley 2’ comes to Android on November 6th

Monument Valley 2, the follow-up to UsTwo's beautiful and head-turning puzzler from 2014, is almost ready for Android phones and tablets. The London studio announced today that the game will arrive in the Play Store on November 6th, five months after its debut on iOS. The title, if you need a refresher, follows a mother and her child as they traverse a world filled with crisp and colorful M. C. Escher-inspired architecture. Like the first game, your success is dependent on figuring out the different pathways that unlock as you tap, slide and rotate various parts of the environment.

Hopefully UsTwo can earn some money on the platform this time. In 2015, the studio revealed that a mere five percent of Monument Valley installs were "paid for." The rest, bar a "small number" of exceptions (likely review or promotional copies) were obtained illegally. Piracy isn't a new problem for Android but does affect the business model and, ultimately, livelihood of small game developers. UsTwo is a little different because its business spans many disciplines, including commercial app development, and therefore isn't solely reliant on Monument Valley revenue. Still, the sequel is a cracker, and one we feel is more than worthy of its $5 asking price.

Source: ustwogames (Twitter)

GM aims to be the first to test self-driving cars in New York City

It looks like New York City will be hosting its first test of fully autonomous vehicles very soon and surprisingly, they're not from Waymo or Uber. Instead, General Motors and Cruise Automation have submitted the first application for sustained testing and are aiming to do so in Manhattan.

New York state only recently opened its roads up to self-driving vehicles, joining California, Arizona and Pennsylvania in allowing tests of the technology. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in May that the DMV had begun taking applications for said tests on New York's roads and GM is the first in line. In order to be approved, companies like GM will have to cover each vehicle with a $5 million insurance policy, reimburse state police for any costs that come with overseeing the tests and keep a person in the driver's seat at all times. There are also some limitations on where the tests can take place -- they can't be conducted near a school or a construction zone, for example.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said in a statement, "New York is the ultimate proving ground for autonomous vehicle technology. We have a streetscape that is unrivaled in its scale and complexity, and so it's fitting that General Motors and Cruise Automation are finally bringing this technology here for testing and development."

GM's and Cruise Automation's tests will be performed with an engineer behind the wheel and a second person in the passenger seat in a geofenced area of Manhattan. They're expected to begin in early 2018.

Source: Governor Cuomo

Microsoft’s redesigned Xbox dashboard is now available to all

Microsoft's next big update to the Xbox dashboard is now ready for public consumption. The first "Fluid Design" interface comes with a redesigned Home page, which is all about simplicity and customisation. The top-level section has four shortcuts (your current game, two personalised suggestions, and a deal from the Microsoft store) and a horizontal carousel underneath. The biggest change, however, is the new "Content Blocks" that sit below this screen. Scroll down and you'll find a series of large, visual panels dedicated to games and friends. These are completely customisable and act like miniature hubs for your favorite titles and communities.

The quick-access Guide has been tweaked for speed, with small, horizontal tabs that you can slide between with the Xbox controller's LB and RB bumpers, D-pad or left thumbstick. If you launch the Guide while you're streaming or part of an active party, you'll also see the corresponding broadcast and party tabs by default. Other Guide tweaks include a new Tournaments section in the Multiplayer tab, which will summarise any official, professional or community tournaments that you've entered.

In addition, Microsoft has overhauled the Community tab with a modern, grid-based layout. It's also tweaked the idle and screen dimming features that kick in when you walk away from the console momentarily. These might sound like small changes, but together they represent a pretty significant visual overhaul. We first heard about them in August, when Microsoft rolled the update out to Xbox One Insiders on the alpha ring. Starting today, however, they should be available to everyone. Microsoft has long-struggled with the look and feel of the Xbox dashboard, but now, finally, it seems to have landed on something simple and cohesive.

An appreciation of 2017’s in-game shopkeepers

In-game shops are more than handy outlets to transform random metal scraps and tired old gear into new and useful items. Shops offer a reprieve from the action of whichever digital world you've entered, allowing you to take a moment, breathe and consider the situation from afar. Do you want to play as a gun-toting tank or a sneaky spy? Is your bow powerful enough for the battles ahead? Do you have enough health potions? Does your character look better in green or purple? Only the shop can provide the answers.

Overseeing all of these calculations -- and guarding stores' impossibly large piles of loot -- are the shopkeepers. The past year has been incredible for video games, as we've discussed at length, and this infusion of creativity extends to the stingy store servants selling wares and wiles along our adventures.

From Cuphead to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, 2017 has offered up a buffet of adorable, wacky and nostalgia-ridden shopkeepers for us to enjoy -- so we might as well get to it.

Kilton, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

It's easy to imagine Kilton soaring through the skies of Hyrule in his patchwork hot-air balloon, whipping over fields and grazing mountaintops, surrounded by bundles of monster parts and masks. It's easy to imagine, but we never actually see this -- instead, Hyrule's favorite five-head is always nearby (as long as it's nighttime), ready to sell you a stockpile of exclusive clothing and accessories. You just have to find him first.

Crazy Cap clerks, Super Mario Odyssey

In a game all about hats, the Crazy Cap store does not disappoint. One of its most charming locations is in Tostarena, where friendly, bright skeletons stand by wearing caps on caps on caps while you browse their headwear.

All of the merchants, Splatoon 2

Nintendo does "charming" extremely well, as demonstrated by every one of the sea-creature shopkeepers in Splatoon 2. There's Murch the emo sea urchin, Bisk the sneaker-obsessed spider crab, Flo the bohemian sea slug and her shrimp buddy Craymond, Jelfonzo the stylish jellyfish, and Sheldon the horseshoe crab and weapons expert. And then there's Crusty Sean -- he's a food-truck operator who is, in fact, a giant tempura-crusted shrimp. It's either irreverently adorable or incredibly morbid, but since this is Nintendo, we'll go with the latter.

Porkrind, Cuphead

"Welcome," Porkrind growls as you enter the Emporium. His voice is gruff and he has an eye patch over a twirled villain's mustache. However, any danger in his demeanor is dispelled by his pink upturned nose and floppy ears -- it's hard to be scared by a pig in overalls. Cuphead is a feat of visual delight, and Porkrind fits into this retro world brilliantly, evoking the image of Porky Pig every time he waves goodbye and the screen circles to black.

Tae Takemi, Persona 5

Takemi is a punk-rock doctor on a mission to clear her name -- she's direct, intuitive and entirely badass. Fortunately for players worldwide, Persona 5 is a ridiculously dense game and we get to know Takemi better than shopkeepers in many other games, as she's an important player in the overall story. Besides, who doesn't love an in-game merchant that you can eventually, well, love (even if she is a few years older than the protagonist)?

Also, shoutout to another Persona 5 shopkeeper: Munehisa Iwai, the former Yakuza member with a heart of gold.

Emil, NieR: Automata

The only thing better than a shopkeeper you can love is one you can fight. Emil is an established and important character in the Nier anthology, and this time around his giant, grinning, bald head is attached to an item cart. Or it could be one of his clones (he used to be a boy, mind). Either way, Emil the shop(keeper) isn't just a hub for all of your Android accessories -- you're able to battle him in an epic secret ending.

Baknamy merchant, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

This one is an oldie but a goodie. The 2006 title Final Fantasy XII reappeared this year in high-definition with The Zodiac Age, and it brought the Necrohol of Nabudis' secret merchant along for the ride. This Baknamy shopkeeper is tough to track down, which only makes buying his goods all the more sweet.

Xur, Destiny 2

Xur is the Destiny universe's fickle exotic-gear dealer, showing up on the weekends to stuff your inventory with random, rare goodies. Xur is something that couldn't have existed in a game before internet connectivity -- he's a living shopkeeper, always offering new secret items and popping up only when he sees fit.

Square Enix’s Project Hikari makes a good case for VR comics

Comics are big business in Japan, but here in the West, Japanese and American titles alike tend to get overshadowed by movies, television and video games. In fact, many of those programs might even be adaptations of popular comic titles. For its first big VR project, Square Enix's Advanced Technology Division is putting the spotlight back on manga. But it isn't just about taking these stories and pasting them into a headset. Due for release in 2018 on all major VR platforms, Project Hikari aims to capture the look and feel of reading a manga while taking advantage of the immersive nature of VR to let the viewer delve deeper into these worlds.

Square Enix is best known for console role-playing games like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. But it has also been a manga publisher for several decades now, putting out popular titles like Soul Eater, Black Butler and Fullmetal Alchemist. When the team first encountered the Oculus dev kit back in 2013, project lead Kaei Sou says they were inspired to do something more story-focused than the usual VR fare, as well as something unique to Square Enix. The company's large back catalog of manga gave them that opportunity.

For Project Hikari's first outing, the team chose Tales of Wedding Rings, a lesser-known title from the company's oeuvre. The idea was that working on something more high profile like Fullmetal Alchemist would draw criticism from fans if they didn't like how it looked or if something was left out. But while the creator of Tales of Wedding Rings has been giving the Advanced Technology Division some feedback and art assistance as it develops the project, he's been mostly hands off, though apparently pleased with the results.

Instead of a fully interactive experience where you wander around a virtual space and click on things that interest you, Project Hikari is focused on feeding you the story. That means there are stretches where you're looking at panels floating in front of you, dialogue and all. It's similar to other attempts to translate comics into VR, with images floating in a simulated space. But the Square Enix team has also added spoken dialogue, sound effects and music.

Square Enix is hardly the first to try to meld comics with other media. Marvel has been experimenting with concepts like motion comics and adaptive audio for decades. And then there's popular webcomic Homestuck, which incorporates various multimedia and interactive elements over its thousands of pages of story.

Where Project Hikari differs is how it incorporates animation. For companies like Marvel, calling something a motion comic was a way to cover up the fact that it was essentially a cheap cartoon, with limited motion and reused backgrounds akin to an old Hanna Barbera show. But Project Hikari aims for realistic 3D animation, something that looks smooth and natural from every angle.

One of the team's biggest challenges has been taking 2D drawings and reconceptualizing them for the virtual space. Artists may need to take a lot of shortcuts or distort their character designs in order to get them to look the right way on the page. It doesn't matter if something isn't anatomically accurate, as long as it looks fine in the finished drawing. But when transferred into a 3D space, the flaws in the images become obvious, with things like overly long limbs and crooked facial features seeming downright horrific.

So the character designers have had to rework the character models, making sure protagonists Satou and Hime look well-proportioned and detailed while still maintaining the distinct look of manga. It's not unlike how the Disney short Paperman is computer animated but still carries many visual markers of hand-drawn animation. The artists on Project Hikari pay a lot of attention to line thickness and shading, aiming for the natural, somewhat imperfect look of ink on paper. But they still need to give it some 3D shadowing to give the characters weight in the eyes of the viewers who will end up standing next to them.

The animation right now is done through motion capture. That means although it looks fluid and natural, it's impractical in the long run. The eventual goal, which the company will work toward with later chapters, is to fully animate the story from scratch on a computer.

The characters aren't the only thing the team has had to build out though. Even if Project Hikari heavily leans on its floating-comic-panel structure, it still takes advantage of the immersiveness of VR by dropping you into fully rendered environments from time to time. For example, during my demo at this past weekend's New York Comic Con I saw the inside of Satou's apartment first as a comic panel, but then it slowly opened up to surround me so that it felt like I was standing inside the room. I could look out the window at the town and forest beyond, even though the original comic panel only faced the door.

One of the challenges Square Enix's environment artists face in recreating the world is figuring out what lies beyond the comic panels. They can glean clues from the manga's content. For example, in a later scene from the same chapter Satou does look out that window, so they can extrapolate what it would have looked like in the earlier part of the story. But other places, like the alley behind Satou and Hime's apartment complex, don't get as much panel time, forcing the artists to come up with their own designs.

But with all this work into creating a full 3D world, how is this adaptation of Tales of Wedding Rings still a manga? It goes a lot further than Marvel's experiments with sound and motion, and at times it very much falls into the "walking simulator" genre of video games, where you poke around an unfamiliar environment to uncover bits of story.

But one thing about Project Hikari is that it's more strictly regimented. The New York Comic Con demo had all interactivity removed in the name of expediency, keeping it as short as possible to ensure that more attendees could try it. But the interactive elements planned are more about making it a better reading experience: The team wants to add the ability to skip to or rewind parts of the story and to slow down or pause the action so players can look around more. The most gamelike addition will be interactive objects that can be clicked on to reveal more about the story, though these additional bits of the experience won't be required for finishing each chapter.

The other thing that makes it more mangalike is how the story transitions between sections. Individual scenes are often separated by panels, with the viewer's focus shifting from one to the next and something even sliding or stepping through them to reveal the next scene. This keeps the comic book feel to it but also has a huge side benefit: It's really good at reducing VR sickness. That disconnect you often get between what your eyes are seeing and your lack of movement doesn't happen in Project Hikari because your viewpoint isn't being dragged around from place to place. I'm prone to motion sickness, and I'm happy to report I didn't feel ill once during the 11-minute demo.

Manga is supposed to be relaxing, so making the viewer as comfortable as possible is key to Project Hikari. In fact, the Advanced Technology Division might have succeeded already, as several people who tried it asked if they could lie down during the demo, since that's how they usually read manga at home. But still, one of the things many people enjoy about reading manga is the portability of it, and that's sort of lost when transferred to VR. You not only lose the ability to curl up on your bed but also can't throw it in your bag and read it on the subway. But Square Enix isn't looking to replace manga any more than an anime replaces the work it's based on. Project Hikari is just another way to experience it.

Kamigami is a cute robot bug you build yourself

There are plenty of products out there that teach STEM skills, from robots you can code to kits for building musical instruments or games. But the "fun" is often short-lived. Most of the activity is rooted in the building process, and the final product is often too basic or simplified to be very interesting. By contrast, Dash Robotics and Mattel's new Kamigami robotic kits are very much focused on what kids do after they finish putting them together. They still get a sense of accomplishment and might pick up a few STEM skills in the process, but in the end it's really about having your very own cute bug bot to race, battle and customize.

The basic design of each Kamigami robot is based on company founders Nick Kohut and Andrew Gillies' academic work in biomimicry, which involved building machines that could walk like insects. When fully assembled, each Kamigami has six legs, like a real bug, with three of the feet facing forward and three facing backward, in an alternating pattern. This means that once you put it together and start controlling it with the app, there's always one set of legs driving the robot forward, letting it run very, very fast.

The legs are one of the main things you'll have to assemble yourself, along with the distinctive plastic shell, based on one of six different insects, including a cute ladybug, a shiny rhinoceros beetle and a fierce-looking scorpion. Each kit comes with a preassembled central unit containing the electronics module and gearbox, equipped with useful sensors like an accelerometer, gyroscope, IR transmitter and two IR readers, as well as speakers and LED lighting. You'll be asked to download the app on your phone and sync with the base unit via Bluetooth, after which the program will walk you through assembling the Kamigami.

It's actually pretty simple, though a bit nerve-racking. At first I was scared I would accidentally break the plastic pieces, but they proved to be pretty sturdy as I slotted them together and bolstered them with black rivets. But while I managed to put together the Kamigami in less than an hour, it was still somewhat challenging. The rivets are hard to remove if you make a mistake, and some of the tabs are really small and hard to manipulate: I could see a kid getting frustrated and handing it off to their parents to finish.

Once you've got the legs and shell attached, you can just jump into the rest of the app and have the bug skittering around almost immediately. You control the robot's actions directly using the joystick on your screen, or select preprogrammed actions like a figure eight or a little dance. A coding mode lets you program simple movement, light and sound patterns for your bug. There's even a battle mode that allows two Kamigami to wrestle physically in a sumo match and shoot virtual ray guns at each other.

I started out with just having mine run around and it worked fine, though I noticed it had a tendency to list to the left a bit. When left to its own devices, the Kamigami avoided most obstacles thanks to its array of sensors, though it would occasionally get stuck under things like the legs of an office chair. When placed on a long bench, it successfully detected and avoided the edge several times. When it eventually did fall off, it kept running on its merry way, no worse for the wear.


While the racing and battling aspects are fun, especially when you have multiple Kamigami to play with, the coding functions felt a little weak. The number of commands the app gives you is rather limited, and the drag-and-drop interface, combined with my phone's small screen, made it hard to design any long or complex routines. If you want to teach your kids coding, they're better served by products like LittleBits, which have a more explicit focus and can be used on a desktop.

But if building and battling your very own skittering robotic insect is something that appeals to you, Kamigami goes on sale today at Target for $50.