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Written by Chris Velazco

New Tactus Case Concept Brings A Disappearing Keyboard To The iPad

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It was about this time last year that Tactus — the company behind the amazing disappearing touchscreen keyboard — really started making a name for itself. So what does a buzzy company do to top its previous showing at the world’s biggest consumer tech show? In Tactus’ case it quietly showed off yet another potential game-changer, so we met with Tactus CEO Craig Ciesla on the CES show floor to dig into what the team has been working on.

If you’ll recall, the past few months have been interesting ones for Tactus. The Fremont, Calif., company linked up with Synaptics to cobble together a reference Android tablet and it just recently locked up a hefty Series B round to help it flesh out its relationships with new and existing OEM partners working to embed Tactus tech into their wares.

As it turns out, they’ve been working on some kooky (not to mention awesome) hardware prototypes, too. Ciesla brought one such device for us to peek at, and should it reach production, it could potentially solve one of Tactus’ biggest hangups.

You see, Tactus’ big deal is all about licensing its disappearing keyboard tech to other device manufacturers, which means that all the tablets currently floating around on the market are tablets that Tactus can’t make money off of. In order to fix that, the team whipped up an impressive 3D-printed case prototype within the span of a month that adapts that screen keyboard tech to existing devices. When it’s lashed onto a device (in this case, an iPad mini) the Tactus case pushes fluid into a series of vessels nestled in a thin layer that sits atop the tablet’s screen. The end result? A keyboard that can appear and disappear at will and work on any device.

The case has the sort of rough edges you’d expect a prototype to have, but there’s no denying that seeing a fluid-filled keyboard up and running on an iPad is tremendously cool. Because of the aftermarket nature of the case, there’s no way to coax the keyboard into appearing through software, so a slider on the side controls how much fluid gets pushed into the screen.

Neat as this is, Ciesla was eager to remind me that Tactus has no desire to craft and sell these sorts of devices under its own name. He expects the first batch of Tactus-enabled gadgets to hit the market toward the middle of the year, and with any luck, some smart OEM will bite the licensing bullet and crank these cases out for the masses soon.

And The Winner Of Our First Hardware Battlefield Is… CubeSensors!

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Three days go by awfully quickly, don’t they? The Consumer Electronics Show — and by extension our Hardware Battlefield — only started on Tuesday but we’ve seen no shortage of cool gadgets and hot startups take our stage here in Las Vegas.

This is the first time we’ve tried to put together a Battlefield solely for hardware startups and to be quite honest, we were blown away by both the number and the caliber of the companies that threw their hats into the ring. In the end we saw hundreds of applications beget 14 great contenders, and here we are — three days later — faced with the task of choosing a winner from a great batch of finalists that includes Atlas Wearables, Blaze, CubeSensors, and Owlet Baby Care.

That unenviable decision fell to our final panel of judges — Bre Pettis, Yves Béhar, Matt Turck, and Jen McCabe — who deliberated for half an hour until they came up with a winner. We’re awfully proud of all the companies that participated in our inaugural Hardware Battlefield, but in the end only one can take home the trophy and the giant $50,000 check. So without further ado, say hello to our 2014 Hardware Battlefield winner and runner-up:

The Winner: Cube Sensors

CubeSensors are home air monitors packed with seven different sensors that measure over air quality, temperature, humidity, noise, light, weather pressure, and motion. You can read our full coverage here.

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The Runner-Up: Owlet

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The Owlet is a baby sock that tracks a young one’s heart rate, oxygen levels, skin temperature and even provides rollover alerts during sleep. You can read our full coverage here.

AirDroids Wants To Democratize The Skies With Its Pint-Sized Pocket Drone

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The buzz around drones is undeniable these days — as it turns out, even Martha Stewart uses one to survey her farm — but there still hasn’t been a runaway drone hit that has captured that imaginations of the masses. That’s exactly what a hardware startup called AirDroids is trying to accomplish with the Pocket Drone, a (relatively) inexpensive flying machine that’s meant to give people of all stripes a different perspective.

They’re serious about that “perspective” bit, too. The original vision was simple enough: co-founders Tim Reuter, TJ Johnson, and Chance Roth really just wanted to create a cheap way to tote a camera through the sky. Those ambitions evolved slightly though, and now they’re looking at the Pocket Drone as the ideal air machine to kick off a widespread drone revolution.

“We’re a mission-driven company,” Reuter said. “Our goal is to put flying robots in the hands of as many people as possible. We think it’s empowering to democratize the sky.”

Plenty of rapid iteration formalized the Pocket Drone’s shape — by which I mean marathon 3D printing sessions in Johnson’s basement — and the process seems to have been fruitful. In its current form, the Pocket Drone can tote around a GoPro (or something of similar weight) for up to 20 minutes, and support for GPS navigation and tablet controls means that you don’t have to be an RC fanatic (like some of the co-founders) to maneuver of these things through the air.

And, as the name suggests, the drone is just slight enough to fit into a pocket (albeit a pretty large one). It’s not going to fit in your jeans, but it does slide in and out of a windbreaker pocket without too much hassle. That’s mostly thanks to the drone’s folding design — the three rotors’ arms can fold back and telescope for easy storage. The inclusion of easily replaceable carbon fiber chassis components also simplifies the process of swapping out damaged bits — after all, no matter how skilled a pilot you are you’re probably still going to crash every once in a while.

In the event that you’re itching to take to the skies with a Pocket Drone, the team just recently launched a Kickstarter campaign where you can lay claim to your own unit for as low as $415 if you bring your own remote control equipment. Production is going to take a bit of time though — AirDroids is linking up with a Taiwanese manufacturing concern with operations in Mexico to bring the Pocket Drone to market and they hope to get units on peoples’ doorsteps and in the air by June of this year.

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