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The A.R. Drone Takes Gaming to New Heights

The A.R. Drone Takes Gaming to New Heights

French based company, Parrot, who specialize in wireless devices for mobile phones have recently released their Augmented Reality Drone. The device, a Quadricopter, with forward and downward facing cameras, is controlled by any Apple iOS device (iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad) over a WiFi connection, and is the ultimate flying craft. “At Parrot, we have been developing wireless concepts for video games for 4 years. Our first project was a Bluetooth race car. We’ve developed it, but I was not satisfied. A video game should contain a part of a dream that I missed with the Bluetooth car,” explains Henri Seydoux, founder and CEO of Parrot. “It should fly! So I started the idea of the AR.Drone. With video cameras and a powerful computer, we have developed a very stable drone that is easy to control and flies like a dragonfly.”

The four blades of the Quadricopter are powered by brushless motors providing instant lift to the device, which also give it fantastic maneuverability through tight spaces. The A.R. Drone can be flown both indoors or outside using an iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad as the touchscreen controller, and ships with both a bumpered indoor body and a bumperless outdoor body.

Parrot’s substantial AR.Drone packaging cleverly incorporates a printed helipad, and includes a fully assembled quadricopter supplied ready to fly, after downloading a free copy of AR.FreeFlight from the App Store®, onto your iOS device, and charging the battery. The A.R. Drone features an autopilot facility to take itself off, hover at a predetermined height, and land automatically upon command.

To make the craft travel forwards, backwards and sideways, left or right, the pilot simply has to tilt the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch being used as the controller. In order to get the Drone to climb or drop, the pilot pushes the virtual joystick forward to back, releasing the joystick makes it hover, and pressing the land button makes it safely touch down. The Drone can be made to spin clock wise or anti clock wise by pushing the virtual joystick to the left or right.

Whilst learning all of these controls can be a little confusing initially, an adult with no prior experience of flying remote controlled toys, will master the Drone in no more than three hours of fly time. A child given their lack of fear and quicker adoption of technology will likely be able to halve this time. For safety, the rotors on the Drone will stop immediately should they make accidental contact with any obstacle. We tested this by convincing a daring friend to stick his finger in the way of the spinning blades, and he came away unnerved but unmarked.

The AR.Drone features a robust carbon fibre framework, with a tough expanded polypropylene foam protective body with bumpers for indoor use. A streamlined hull is provided for flying outside, with pairs of red and green LED lights conveniently fitted front and back for added effect, and to assist orientation.

The AR.Drone generates its own Wi-Fi connection with a range of up to fifty metres, and incorporates an onboard computer. A pair of electronic gyroscopes provide superb directional stability controlling the pitch, roll angle and yaw, even outdoors in light winds. Whilst an ultrasound altimeter maintains the height up to six metres, combined with an accelerometer designed to accurately detect horizontal and vertical movement.

A vertical and horizontal video camera selectively feed live footage to an on screen display on the iPhone® or similar, with a high speed of sixty frames a second providing stabilisation for the vertical camera. An innovative detection system will identify other AR.Drones, or tagged virtual objects, whilst validating the shots fired against an enemy, when used in conjunction with AR.FlyingAce software.

To show pilots exactly how to operate this sophisticated product, a comprehensive collection of instructional videos are available to teach both basic and advanced techniques. The AR.Drone includes a high capacity 1,000mAh lithium polymer battery and will fly for up to twelve minutes, whilst recharging in an hour and a half, using the mains charger and alternative international adaptors provided.

Having had an A.R. Drone to play with for three days I can safely say that this is the most fun that I have had with a gadget since I received my initial iPhone in 2007. My one gripe with the device is the limited battery life providing twelve minutes of flying time, however, when one sees the power generated by the four motors, this is no surprise, and increasing the battery would add excessive weight to the device reducing its agility in the air. Spare batteries are inexpensive and are readily available from Solution Centre.


18 August 2011