The iHobby Expo at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, IL - just outside of Chicago, has been an annual pilgrimage for many a hobbyist. It appears the show is going to be bouncing between Los Angeles and Chicago each year starting in 2005. So, this will have to become a biannual pilgrimage going forward for us Midwesterners, but now provides a new venue to those in the Land of the Sun biannually as well!
The show is held in a rather large venue - not "autoshow big," but definitely big for a show dedicated to hobbies. Also, the show is not just for RC, but for all hobbies and all types of hobby stores. Basically, anything you might find in a typical hobby store was on display at this show. So, there were booths and layouts dedicated to trains, diecast models, plastic models, metal detectors, and slot cars, in addition to the expected RC airplanes, boats and cars.
Since we were there representing RCGroups in general, and The E Zone in particular, we focused on electric planes (with a smidgen of electric cars). Although we didn't see too many cutting edge or entirely new products, we did notice that li-poly batteries and brushless motors are entering the mainstream.
There is soooo much to see at this show, even two reporters cannot possibly cover it all. But here are write ups of the largest player's booths, and some highlights elsewhere at the show.
Great Planes had one of the largest booths. Some of the highlights at their booth included a racing toy called Blade Racers as well as a large collection of their MicroSizers micro RC cars and motorcycles. They were also showing a new 1:18 RC car/truck called the Mini Quake which is targeted at the Losi Mini-T crowd. It offers 4WD, oil filled shocks, separate ESC and RX, motor, battery, charger, and transmitter for a street price of about $170. Looked like a nice package.
But, of more interest to the E Zone reader was the new RealFlight G3 flight simulator. Although we only got to try it for a few minutes, it seemed like a nice simulator and a worthy successor to the RealFlight G2.
They were also showing their Ultrafly ARF parkflyers. This is a series of nice looking foamie ARFs that include motor and gearbox. Additionally, the Ultrafly line of products includes two outrunner brushless motors. These are outrunners that are contained within a carbon fiber shell. This seems like a nice way to give the consumer outrunner torque without them having to worry about how to mount the motor while avoiding touching the fuselage or motor wires, etc.
Horizon Hobby was another large presence at the show and they were displaying a plethora of products. The electric flight side of the house had some very nice offerings and partnerships. Plane-wise, they were showing the Mini Funtana electric flyer as well as the Tensor bipe. The Tensor was designed by George Hicks who won the ETOC this past Spring. We saw it fly and it looks like a very nice indoor flyer that would be a worthwhile addition to anyone's hanger.
Additionally, Horizon was showing their Park Zone planes. What really sets these products apart from their other 27MHz-based competition is that they offer a proportional 27MHz transmitter that feels like a regular 72MHz transmitter. Mitch is quite excited by this since he lives within a mile of an RC field, but would like to fly at a park a block away sometimes. These products will allow him to do that and still feel like he's flying his normal RC ships.
Even more exciting was that Horizon is offering a couple of sp400 sized brushless motors under their "E-flite" brand. And, they are offering two "E" size Hacker motors. And, on top of all that, they will be carrying Thunder Power Lipos! (You can see the TP display in the Tensor Bipe photo above.)
The Hitec-Multiplex booth was also showing some neat products. They are quite proud of their new Titanium Gear coreless robot and car servos which offer huge torque (on the order of 400 oz.) in a standard servo size. Although not very useful to us smaller e-flight guys, they did have a video of some robot wrestlers which were just beautiful to watch.
Multiplex also showed their new Magister RTF trainer. This is a .40-sized electric trainer that comes with everything ready to go including batteries with connectors attached, and radio equipment. It looked like a very nice plane that will make a great trainer.
And, speaking of connectors, all you folks that have a problem pulling Deans connectors apart, Multiplex is now offering a Deans-compatible connector that has lips to make them easier to grip.
Also, of interest to us e-flight folks was the display of a large line of lipo batteries offering up to 20C discharge rates. One example of this line of packs is a 15C 4000mAh 3S pack that weighs 345g and measures 9.5 x 1.6 x 0.65 inches. They were also showing a charge guard product for safer charging.
So, between Great Planes, Horizon, and Hitec/Multiplex, it is clear that lipos and brushless motors have entered the mainstream. This can only mean good news for electric consumers.
And speaking of good news in lipo-land, Apogee was displaying a couple of new large-sized packs: 5S3P and 4S3P 7.4AH. But, the real news was that they are going to be wiring their packs for a new charge guard and balancer device that will both protect against overcharging and also balance the cells. Unlike the PCM guard used with, say, Polyquest packs, Apogee's device will not sit between the pack and the charger but rather will plug into the pack via a dedicated connector while the pack is connected to the charger via the normal connector used to connect to the ESC. The device then detects if a cell has reached max charge and starts to discharge the high cell until balance is achieved.
This is akin to the Thunder Power device but is external to the pack. Therefore, the consumer is not buying one of these devices with every pack, nor taking the weight penalty (as minor as it might be).
This company was showing an impressive flight data recorder system. The unit that goes in the plane or car supports several channels of input for things like airspeed (via a pilot tube), motor RPM, voltage/amps, g-forces, and temperature. This data is collected during flight and can then the flight can be "played back" using a computer. (Watch E Zone for a review of this exciting new product in December!)
However, they also offer a real-time telemetry system such that one can look at the flight data in real-time on the ground. This setup provides about 10 minutes of data if all sensor inputs are being used and sampled at a high rate. Otherwise, longer periods of data can be collected. Or, the on-ground telemetry unit can be connected to a PC so that data can be collected on the PC's harddrive in real-time. This effectively means as much data as desired for as long as desired can be collected.
A German company, Reflex, was displaying probably the most realistic looking simulator on the market. Instead of using computer-generated backgrounds, this simulator uses backgrounds based on actual photographs of actual places (e.g. a flying field or a gymnasium). And, the simulation takes into account parameters such as grass length or bumps on the ground so that takeoffs are quite realistic. The physics seemed pretty accurate and at one point we saw someone from JR perform a great helicopter flight routine which further supports the belief that the physics are good.
Maxx was there showing their thorough line of products from servo extension cables to their new, big, Himax outrunner motors. However, the "nifty device" award goes to their GPS plane retriever. Coupled with their BTA Autopilot flight stabilizer, their new BTA GPS Plane Retriever will actually fly your plane back to its starting coordinates if radio contact is lost or if you flip a switch on your transmitter. Once it reaches your coordinates, it basically flies in a circle above the location until you can take over and land it. This product probably wouldn't help if you lose sight of a plane behind trees since it would just fly back to you and probably hit the trees. However, it would be helpful in those cases where the plane just gets too far from you and you lose orientation. It would also be helpful in cases where your TX dies for some reason. Regardless, it is a pretty nifty device.
There was an indoor car area, an indoor pond, and an indoor flying area. Here are some videos from these venues.
We thoroughly enjoyed the iHobby Expo this year and anyone that can attend next year in Los Angeles should do so. Otherwise, be sure to clear your October, 2006 calendar for a trip to Rosemont.
Joined Nov 2001
Great report but.....
It is nice to see the coverage of the I-Hobby expo, but I must say that as an exhibitor in the show, I am somewhat disappointed that you only covered the big guys and one or two smaller vendors.
There was a load of great new products from smaller vendors that you totally overlooked.
It is a shame that the big guys with a few new average items overshadow us little guys simply because they take up most of the show floor.
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