This week members of the UK press had the privilege to attend the official launch event for the AR.Drone, a remote control ‘quadricopter’– a coup for Britain, launching ahead of Parrot’s mother country, France.
Following the buzz from E3 2010 we eagerly awaited the presentation and – more importantly – our own chance to play with one!
Five years in the making, the Parrot AR Drone team are very proud of their latest creation and rightly so. By utilising on-board Wi-Fi the drones are controlled through networked iPhone and iPod Touch devices. What’s more, the drones are also capable of interacting with each other to allow multiplayer action.
The Wi-Fi has a respectable 50 metre range in open spaces, but this falls to 20 metre in built up areas where the system can be confused by other Wi-Fi networks and other urban obstructions.
The gameplay itself has 2 settings, Beginner and ‘Ace’/Expert, essentially changing the number of controls required to manoeuvre. There are also 2 onboard cameras, several MEMs sensors, a ‘Precision gyrometer’ and an Ultrasound altimeter built in, to provide autopilot functions, altitude regulation and safety features such as the automatic propeller lock in the event of contact. A pretty impressive list of features for a quadricopter to say the least!
Disappointingly, the battery life is only 12 minutes, requiring a 90 minute recharge and the drone doesn’t come with any spares. Spare batteries, we are told, will be available from Parrot’s website along with replacement parts for those that want them but there’s no indication at this time on how much they may cost…
The Parrot AR.Drone will go on sale for around £299 on July 18th, with the control iPhone app and three games available from the Apple App Store from the same date.
The development platform is all open source and currently around 450 developers have registered, suggesting fantastic opportunities to expand the games available. Interestingly this also indicates that the range of controller platforms (currently limited to iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch) could easily and quickly expand too.
There is also a bespoke community in development at ARDrone.com for users and fans with videos, information and a pilot training zone. You can view all the photos that we took of the Parrot AR.Drone event over on Flickr.
Parrot’s experience with kit cars means they’ve built a sturdy toy which can easily be repaired at home. The Wi-Fi is also excellent and it has amazing gaming potential however it’s really let down right now by the short battery life – I’d give it a 2.5 out of 5.