- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Here’s a look at some of the latest scale-model vehicles that combine technology with slick designs to deliver an interactive experience:

Batmobile from Mattel, requires one 9-volt battery and one 9.6-volt Turbo NiCd battery pack, available only at Toys R Us, $59.99. Based on the design from “Batman Begins,” the Dark Knight’s famed mode of transportation arrives as a 12-inch-long, radio-controlled supervehicle that looks as awesome as it drives.

This mutated black Humvee looks like a miniature model of the film version, with six rubber tires and a roaring engine. Most impressive, the car mimics its on-screen counterpart’s ability to jump, land and continue a high-speed chase.

That’s right, crime fighters, the car defies gravity, leaps through the air with the greatest of ease and lands right-side-up 99 percent of the time.

The magic behind the trick took Mattel’s developers about four months to concoct and is achieved through a well-balanced design; low center of gravity (a difficult-to-install battery helps as a counterbalance); and a heavy, spring-loaded mechanical arm.

A 10-foot accelerated warm-up is required to wind up the device, and when a button on the underside of the transmitter is pressed, the arm pops down from the bottom of the vehicle and propels it about 6 inches into the air.

The transmitting controller also has a pair of molded toggle buttons to execute quick turns, move forward or reverse, and perform dead stops.

Drivers wanting to put the vehicle to use as soon as they take it out of the box will be disappointed to discover they must track down a Tyco 9.6-volt Turbo NiCd battery pack ($19.99) to unleash 45 minutes of moves on a four-hour charge.

For those with some extra cash, Mattel also has created an even more impressive 1:6 scale version of the Batmobile ($119), sold exclusively at Wal-Mart. This Batmobile sports working headlights and taillights, monstrous acceleration sounds and a faux flame coming from its tail.

The black beauty is about the size of a suitcase (32 inches long, 16 inches high) and will run over small pets with barely a power drain. With its four large rear rubber tires, a pair of high-performance motors and working suspension, the vehicle even will grind through a well-manicured lawn and slightly hilly terrain.

It appears not to be enough these days to deliver a massive remote-control vehicle that will have pop-culture aficionados drooling, so Mattel also has tuned this baby to practically burn rubber when taking off. It uses a rotating tire wheel underneath to complete sharper turns on indoor environments and comes with adjustable air brakes that do little for performance but add to the cool factor.

The versatile multiband controller uses the molded toggle-button design (no mini steering wheel), has about a 30-foot range and can split the 27 MHz or 49 MHz frequency into three bands so up to six vehicles can race at the same time

The only bad news when dealing with the RC Batmobile is the enormous power behind it. Owners will need one 7.2-volt rechargeable NiCd battery pack (included with a charger) that offers about 30 minutes of action on a four-hour charge along with two AA batteries for the transmitter and three AA batteries for the myriad lights and sounds.

Herbie, from RadioShack, requires two AAA batteries, $19.99. RadioShack’s popular 1:64 scale radio-controlled vehicle line, dubbed ZipZaps, pays tribute to the legendary Volkswagen that has returned to theaters in “Herbie: Fully Loaded.”

The limited-edition, 3-inch replica of the classic Beetle, complete with white body, red and blue stripes, and the number 53 on the sides and hood, first must be assembled.

In a process that takes less than 30 minutes, owners use the included micro screwdriver and steady hands to install miniature tires, hubcaps, transfer gears and a motor to the chassis.

Builders also can purchase a speed- and performance-booster kit ($7.99) with a variety of motors and gear sets to customize their car for certain race conditions.

The handy six-way controller also acts as the car’s charger. Herbie plugs into the top of it and, after about 45 seconds, is ready for about three minutes of high-speed cruising.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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