March 2013 issue

Date:27 February 2013 Tags:, , , , , , , , , ,

If gadgets are your thing, you’ll hopefully enjoy our 8-page report on the International CES, a ridiculously large gadget show that descends on Las Vegas once a year and transforms seemingly rational adults into a bunch of (mostly harmless) loonies. This may have something to do with a multiplicity of sensory impressions as 150 000-plus humans attempt to walk, talk, eat, take photographs, compare notes and avoid sinking into a coma while simultaneously absorbing the function and significance of, you know, stuff. Lots and lots of it.

Some examples of illogical behaviour: scores of people join a very long queue in the hope of scoring an ugly promotional key ring, then slink off in visible disappointment when stocks run out; photographers snarl and jostle each other while an impossibly blonde celebrity (her identify remains a mystery) poses with a gadget bearing an uncomfortable resemblance to an adult toy; a man watches in rapt fascination as crab-like “combat” robots circle each other and fire small plastic balls in random directions (er, that may have been me).

Against that, we indulged in a veritable feast of new consumer technology that ranged from game-changing to extremely silly, with lots in between. Prominent in the former category was a device called Oculus Rift, developed by a bright young man named Palmer Luckey. A new virtual reality (VR) headset designed specifically for video games, it promises to change the way you think about gaming.

Featuring a very wide field of view, high-resolution display and ultra-low latency head tracking, the Rift – financed by a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign – delivers an immersive experience that allows you to step inside your favourite game and play like never before. Luckey’s top priority right now is sourcing the right parts for a top-notch head-mounted display for the Oculus Rift developer kits, the idea being to produce a marketable product at an affordable price. Our American colleague, Glenn Derene, enjoyed a hands-on demo of the latest prototype at CES; read his report at http://bit.ly/Wy136N, then check out an introductory video here: http://kck.st/NU6QRn

In keeping with PM’s adventuring ethos (that is, we’re deeply suspicious of deskbound journalists), Associate Editor Sean Woods hauled out his well-worn wetsuit and tackled a beginner’s sea kayaking course; see “Paddle the deep blue”, starting on page 36. Sean is a skilled diver and seasoned yachtie (he acquired a modest-sized day sailer of his own last year), so a kayak would seem a logical next step. In fact, he’s thinking seriously about buying one.

Finally, to our cover story, and a real flying saucer – albeit one that doesn’t exactly churn up the stratosphere. In fact, footage captured during tests in the 1950s reveal Project 1794’s prototype to be alarmingly unstable even while hovering at near-ground level. Does this mean all those UFO and Area 51 conspiracy theorists were right after all? No, it doesn’t.

– Alan Duggan (aland@ramsaymedia.co.za)