Spykee is marketed as a spy robot. Not in a military sense of course. This robot kit has a wireless webcam and it can be controlled remotely with your computer (either a PC or a Mac) using either an ad hoc wireless connection or a WiFi access point. Also, it is possible to control the robot through the internet.
From the above mentioned you can understand that this can be a very educating toy. Theoretically, it could be used for more serious applications too. However, user feedback reveals some issues that could make such applications difficult.
Do not be confused about its manufacturer. It is manufactured by Meccano Company, branded as Erector in the USA. Anyway, the point is that Erector and Meccano Spykees are the same robot in case you wondered.
This time no war has to be waged between Mac and PC users as the robot can be used with both. A console application has to be installed in order to control the robot and this application is available both for PC and Mac.
So, Windows 2000 SP5, Windows XP SP2 with .NET framework or Windows Vista is required for PC Users. Also the console will run under Windows 7 (I tested it on my Windows 7 RC). Concerning Linux users I've heard rumors that some have managed to get it work. It seems though it won't work with wine.
For Mac users the requirements are - Mac OS X 10.4 or higher with PowerPC GR, G5, or Intel CPU. To control Spykee in remote mode a fast internet connection is required - 512 Kbps upload and 2Mbps download. Also a WiFi access point is needed to control it in a remote mode.
The robot can be controlled in three modes - local ad hoc mode, local WiFi mode and remote mode. In local ad hoc mode you can connect your computer wirelessly directly to the robot. In order to do that, the computer has to be equipped with an internal or external WiFi card.
In local wifi mode you can connect your Spykee to your home wireless network. So - a wifi access point is needed. In this mode it is possible to do without a wireless card in your computer as it is often possible to connect your computer to your router using a regular ethernet cable.
In the remote mode you can access your robot through the internet. Basically, the robot is still connected to your wifi access point only you access the robot using a remote computer instead of local one. The console has to be installed on the remote machine. Also, the robot has to be registered in order to use this mode.
If this seems too technical to you don't be afraid. The manual is quite good and steps to get your Spykee working in either mode are quite clearly explained for both - PC and Mac users. However, if you are tech savvy there's another fun fact for you - there's an Android app available in case you'd like to control the robot using an Android based smartphone! You can find it here.
Screenshot of Spykee's console
Spykee is a robot kit. There are more than 200 parts that has to be assembled before it is possible to use the robot. There are three possible configurations how it can be assembled. Moreover, it is compatible with other Meccano/Erector parts so more configurations are possible.
It is possible to take pictures and record videos with this 'spy robot'. Also, sound and light effects as well as some video filters can be used. Other features are more useful - it can be used as a webcam and as a VOIP phone.
Also, it is possible to play back mp3s with Spykee. Surveillance mode is an interesting feature as well. In this mode the robot can take a picture and send it by e-mail if it senses movement. This is only possible when the robot is connected to the console application though.
It is said that Spykee can return to the charging station by itself. This is partially true. It will return to the charging station only if it is positioned in an appropriate position - 1 to 2 meters away. If it's too far away it won't find the charging station, if it's to near - it may have problems with maneuvering.
All of the above mentioned sounds marvelous right? Nevertheless, there are some issues and criticisms that have to be mentioned. While it may be fun to assemble the body it doesn't do anything. It is not possible to move its arms or head remotely.
While this seems insignificant at first, this means that it is not possible to adjust the camera angle remotely in case the head gets moved or you want to look up. Also, it can fall over quite easily. Some people also report problems with software not working properly.
The bottom line? While in my opinion you can't really expect to use it successfully and safely for more serious applications, it's still a fun and educational toy to tamper with. If you would like to find out more about robots with similar capabilities go to my article on mobile webcams.
A safe place where to get Spykee is at Hammacher Schlemmer (aff link - read ad disclosure). Thanks, bye!