February 17, 2010
We had our first look at Parrot's AR.Drone at this year's CES, and after seeing the super geeky iPhone controlled quadricopter in action, we just knew we had to get our hands on one. Well, Macworld 2010 presented us with that opportunity and we took full advantage of it. Before we get into how the AR.Drone operates and handles, let's first give you a little backstory on how the device came to be. The AR.Drone started out as a pet project by Parrot's CEO. As you may or may not know, Parrot is known for their wireless tech devices, such as Bluetooth headsets, speakers, and car audio equipment, so it was only natural for the company to use their vast wireless knowledge in an entirely different and exciting way. The company first chose to create a Bluetooth controlled car, but then decided that it just wasn't pushing the envelope far enough. They went back to the drawing board and decided a flying device would be much more exciting than a car (we would have to agree), and the AR.Drone is the result of that decision. When you first witness the AR.Drone in real life, you really realize just how much time and effort went into designing the product. It's sleek, rather large, and still surprisingly light. The device is packed full of technology, including two video cameras, Wi-Fi, accelerometer, and a brainiac on-board Linux-based computer that is able to control the device when you are not capable of doing so. This definitely comes in handy as you will see in our video below. To get the AR.Drone up and running, all you have to do is sync your iPhone with the device via Wi-Fi. Once a connection is established, it's all fun and games. Parrot's AR.Drone iPhone app, in its current form, was super simple to use. Just tap a button on the bottom of the screen and the device takes to the air all by itself. At this point you can just stare at the device in awe if you wish, watch the camera feed on your iPhone, or actually take control. Flying the AR.Drone can take a bit of getting used to, but all the worry of crashing it is removed after your very first moments in the air. Touching the on-screen controls on the left side of your screen activates the iPhone's accelerometer. While your finger is pressed on the screen, you will be able to tilt and turn your iPhone to control the AR.Drone's movements. If you are in trouble, go against everything you have ever learned about driving or flying something and just let go of the controls. The device will stabilize itself in seconds, helping you avoid a complete disaster. The left side control also features the ability to drag your finger left and right, which actually turns the AR.Drone's body since tilting your iPhone only slides it. When and if you are skilled enough, you can tilt your iPhone turn the AR.Drone and slide your finger across the screen at the same time to bank into corners. When perfected, this gives you an amazing sense of accomplishment. You are able to control the flying height of the AR.Drone manually from the iPhone as well via a slider located on the right side of the screen. However, the height control is fairly sensitive, and since we were inside of a hotel, we really didn't play around with this feature too much. Since the AR.Drone is able to adjust its height automatically based on how close the surface is, you shouldn't be too worried about bottoming out anyway. Basically, the AR.Drone is accessible to anyone and everyone. The device takes off and lands itself, controls itself when necessary, and features a padded hull attachment that allows you to run into almost anything without even leaving a scratch. It's also great for the professional aviators out there, as you can really do some amazing maneuvers after a bit of practice. Parrot still refuses to give us any solid details regarding the device, which is somewhat of a let down considering how polished everything seemed during our demo. All they had to say was that it will be released sometime this year and that it will be affordable. What affordable means is open to interpretation, but after having a chance to fly it, I have to say I am willing to pay a pretty penny to spend vast amounts of time with the AR.Drone in my backyard. Embedded below is all of the footage from our hands-on time with the AR.Drone.