Price: AUD $349 USD $299
Platform: iOS (coming soon to Android)
I remember the first time I laid eyes on a Parrot AR.Drone, I knew immediately that I had to play with it. How could I not? Let’s be honest here, this thing looks like it’s from the future. A quadricopter that you control with your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad (coming soon to Android), the AR.Drone does pretty much deliver on it’s initial wow factor even if it has a couple of small downsides that go along with it.
On first impression the AR.Drone is actually much lighter then I had initially expected. Out of the box it comes with two casings, one with bumpers for indoor use and another without for outdoor adventures. You can swap the shells out really easily, everything fits over the front facing camera and connects to the back with a magnet. It’s able to take a bit of damage but will ultimately start to break down on you after too many big crashes. Fortunately, Parrot has an online store for anything you might want to replace if it comes to that.
There are two cameras equipped on the AR.Drone, the forward facing clocks in at a resolution of 640X480, and delivers somewhere in the neighbourhood of 15 FPS. The bottom camera is actually a bit lower at a 176X144 resolution but the FPS is notably higher. You’re able to fly the quadricopter using only the cameras and it’s perfectly serviceable in that regard, but I found just keeping it within line of sight always worked best. The unit I received came with 2 batteries in the box, which is fantastic as they only last about 40-50 minutes per charge. Recharging takes about 90 minutes so as long as you’re on top of keeping one on the charger you’re never going to have to wait too long to get back in there.
There’s a free iOS App to pilot the AR.Drone and you’re able to connect to it via a Wi-Fi signal the quadricopter puts out. Once connected it’s actually rather easy to control. There’s a little bit of a learning curve but after just a few minutes of playing around with it you’ll be flying like a pro. Take off and landing are handled automatically with a button and you’re able to control flight with onscreen thumbsticks or motion controls. I never ran into a situation where the AR.Drone became off balance or spazzed out on me, there’s also some nice touches like if you’re out of range from the Wi-Fi signal, the device will softly land itself.
Unfortunately we were only sent one so we didn’t get a chance to try out some of the AR Apps like AR.Pursuit, which is a cat and mouse chase game. As of this writing Parrot has released new game Apps for iOS such as AR.Race, which gives you the ability to make your own circuits and AR.FlyingAce, which is a multiplayer dogfight game. Parrot has also released an open API for developers to create their own Apps, so expect even more support in the future. This is actually the most exciting thing I find about the AR.Drone; since it’s an open platform to develop on we’re going to see some really innovative stuff in the future. There’s already some Apps which allow you to record using the cameras for all you amateur film makers (given the resolution is pretty low, but it’s neat none the less).
Real World Applications:
I was able to affix cotton balls to the AR.Drone with some tape and ingenuity to disguise it as a cloud… Which for the most part worked fairly well I’d say. I then followed it around making thunderous noises as a friend of mine sprinkled water on people. To my disappointment I was unsuccessful in fooling anyone that a cloud was actually following them regardless of how realistic my thunder noises may be. I can only assume that since the propellers were visible it lost the illusion as clouds typically (or so I’m told) don’t come equipped with them. I tried to create a better disguise for the quadricopter, but unfortunately it wasn’t able to lift off. However, every single person who came across the magical cloud with propellers thought it was amazingly cool and was extremely curious as to what it was. After being the good samaritan and directing them where they might learn more about the AR.Drone I called it a day.
I’m not going to lie. If I could go back in time and give the AR.Drone to myself when I was obsessing with RC toys as a child I don’t think I would be able to calculate how amazed I would be. So let me be frank: the AR.Drone is easily the coolest RC style device I’ve ever heard of or seen. It has some small issues, like a low resolution camera or the inability to disguise itself convincingly as a cloud, but if you’ve got $349 burning a hole in your pocket and this seems like its something you’d be into, then I implore you to pick one up. With the API out there’s only going to be more and more support. So play with a toy from the future and try out an AR.Drone. You’ll have a smile on your face, I guarantee it.
Check out the interview we did with the guys from Parrot.