Latest Gadgets were invited to the launch of the Parrot AR.Drone in a swanky Central London location. In case you missed the AR Drones’ debut at CES 2010 the AR Drone is a toy helicopter with a difference. A quadricopter that you can control via Wi-Fi using a smart phone, the AR.Drone screams cool from the rooftops. If you ever watched AirWold as a child and dreamed of being Stringfellow Hawke, then this is the toy for you.
Creator Henri Seydoux spoke of his desire to fuse virtual and physical play – creating video games that you can interact with in the real world and the AR.Drone is pretty successful in this regard. The Quadricopter contains two cameras, one at the front, one at the bottom. The bottom camera connects to an Inertial Measurement Unit which measures horizontal speed for stability and has been adapted from military technology. And judging by how smoothly the AR.Drone flies it is working overtime. Both cameras can stream to your smartphone over WiFi as it creates a local network so you can use it outside. Flying the ‘copter is cool, but it’s hard to describe how cool having the images from both cameras beamed into your hands is.
Upping the cool stakes (sorry my thesaurus has failed me) the AR.Drone comes with some Augmented Reality Apps that overlay the real world with video games – hoops to dive through, enemies to look at, areas to bomb etc. AR.FlyingAce for example enables you to perform World War II battles. You can join the AR.Drone-Pilot Academy and improve your skills or compete against other AR.Drone owners. There is an SDK so expect a range of augmented reality games to appear over various platforms over time. You have to buy the apps from the App Store (on iOS at the moment), which seems a bit much given that the hardware alone is far from cheap.
Available in HMV from August 2010 for £299 the AR.Drone is an expensive toy aimed at rich kids or grow men or women with too much disposable income. But even as a grown man with too little disposable income I have a pretty hard time resisting.
We first mentioned Parrot’s AR.Drone in our review of CES 2010 back in January, but since it’s appearance at the Las Vegas show there’s been a growing buzz around the iPhone controlled quadricopter as geeks of all shapes and sizes have begun to get excited about its release later this year.
Parrot are the world-leaders in wireless products for mobile phones and for those of you that haven’t heard of the AR.Drone yet, it is quite simply a remote controlled helicopter that’s designed for use with the iPhone and iPod Touch. The quadricopter promises to be stable whether flown inside or out and the two video cameras give users a never-before-seen experience as they can zip the drone about all over the place as if you were sitting in the pilot’s seat. It’s a stunning design that incorporates the best of today’s technologies but as Henri Seydoux, the founder and CEO of Parrot explains, it’s also an idea that captures the imagination:
“At Parrot, we have been developing wireless concepts for video games for 4 years. Our first projectwas a Bluetooth race car. Wedeveloped it, but I was not satisfied. A video game should containpart of a dream that I missed with the Bluetooth car. It should fly! So I started with the idea of a quadricopter. With video cameras and a powerful computer, we have developed a very stable drone that is easy to control and flies like a dragon-fly.”
The AR.Drone is undoubtedly a quirky concept, but what really excites me is the idea of it as a new arena in video gaming, one that continues to blur the lines between what’s real and what’s virtual. The user will have to adapt to the real world around them, adjusting for wind and obstacles; and outside of the joy of simply flying the thing the AR.Drone also comes with inbuilt augmented reality. Thanks to this augmented reality, it’s possible to recreate a range of scenarios such as an aerial fight between two quadricopters and Parrot is also opening up the Drone as a platform for software developers which in theory will lead to the development of a range of games, challenges and utilities in the same way that the App store has for the iPhone.
In a world where superlatives are often overused it’s no stretch to say the AR.Drone truly is a ground breaking bit of kit, and so it’s easy to see why so many people are getting excited about it.