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Gadget Ogling: Speedy Tortillas, Racing Robots, and Real-Time 3D

Hello, and welcome to Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that sparks up a barbecue to inject delicious charcoal flavor into the latest gadget announcements.

On the grill in this edition are a so-called “Keurig for tortillas,” a robot companion for runners, a portable live-streaming 3D camera, and a home video phone for the family.

As ever, these are not reviews. The ratings for each should be read only as indicators of how much I’d like to try each item, and are in no way reflective of how often I’m likely to cook outside when the sun’s out this summer — that’s guaranteed to be a 5.

Fast Fajitas

Flatev is a pod-based system for instant tortillas in the mold of a Keurig coffee maker. Insert a pod of fresh dough — you have several choices, all organic — then adjust settings for type of dough and desired crispiness, and 90 seconds later you’ll have a fresh, warm tortilla.

There’s a heated drawer to keep your tortillas warm while you make as many as you need.

Starting at around US$200 for backers of its crowdfunding campaign, the machine itself seems a fair price. Actually, making the tortillas might prove costly, with each pod running at 79 cents — though convenience might win out.

That the pods are recyclable is a major plus, and though the machine seems physically large for a single-purpose system, having fresh tortillas with approximately the same effort of store-bought ones is a win in my book.

If there were a machine to prepare all my ingredients and assemble the fajitas, that would ensure the best possible experience for layabouts such as I.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Fresh From the Ovens

On Track

Motorsports have a pace car, so why can’t runners use a pace robot?

The Puma BeatBot can keep on the lines of a track at pretty much any speed, using infra-red sensors to stay in place. It measures speed and distance, naturally, and has GoPro cameras to record runs.

It’s designed for pro athletes, who can input their personal best time, a rival’s current year best pace — or, if they’re feeling ambitious, test themselves against Usain Bolt’s 100 meters world record. If and when BeatBot get a consumer release, it can help runners of all shapes and sizes have a physical opponent to beat on the track rather than having to rely on activity trackers to determine how fast they are.

It’s neat, though I’d be inclined to have it carry my water and towel. I don’t want to have to walk all the way back to the start line.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Bleep Tests

Real-Time 3D

Eyse is a camera set-up designed to stream the world around you in three dimensions. It’s a small system that can attach to just about anything — such as a helmet, drone, or the edge of a desk.

It’s surely a different immersive experience from viewing the latest virtual reality content, as your field of vision is restricted to whatever the camera operator chooses to show. It does work with VR headsets — the crowdfunding package even includes one.

I can’t imagine viewing a real-time feed in 3D will be all that enjoyable. Movies filmed in the format tend to have a great deal of craft and care put into them, and with a juddering action-cam perspective, motion sickness might be a factor.

Conversely, the portability is a big selling point, and I’m interested to check it out — even if virtual reality footage — not 3D — is the path forward for visual media.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Beasts Coming Right for Us

Friendly Phones

I can’t imagine that as a child I would have loved a modern videophone at home. Not that I was much of a troublemaker, but a required check-in with my parents while they were out would have put a real drag on my temporary time as king of the castle. That said, I’m sure I’d have found Ily cool.

Ily is a home videophone limited to communication with approved contacts. Young children can use it with apparent ease to keep in touch with loved ones, and there are smartphone apps on the way, so you won’t need multiple systems to make and receive calls.

There are text and video message, doodling and photo functions, and I can’t help but welcome the inclusion of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. That’s bound to be helpful if the young ‘uns have a quick math question or need to know the gestational period of an elephant for a class project.

There are no Web browsers or games, so you needn’t worry that your offspring are doing things they shouldn’t be when you’re not in the room.

It’s difficult to be sniffy about modern technology that brings loved ones closer together, especially when it can do so in a relatively worry-free way for parents, so Ily gets a thumbs up from me.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Silly Messages

Kris Holt is a writer and editor based in Montreal. He has written for the Daily Dot, The Daily Beast, and PolicyMic, among others. He's Scottish, so would prefer if no one used the word "soccer" in his company. You can connect with Kris on Google+.

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