Software Development

Geek Gifts 2010: Parrot AR.Drone Wi-Fi quadricopter

The Parrot AR.Drone Wi-Fi quadricopter is the epitome of a cool flying model vehicle and could be the ultimate geek gift this holiday season.

There are some things in life that just bring out the kid in us. For me, and for a large number of TechRepublic members, flying radio controlled gadgets is one of the first things on that list. The Parrot AR.Drone Wi-Fi quadricopter is the epitome of a cool flying model vehicle and could be the ultimate geek gift this holiday season.

Think about all of the geek goodness contained in one gift: it flies, it is controlled via Wi-Fi with a iPhone/iPod/iPad, it has an onboard computer, it stabilizes itself with gyroscopes and an altimeter, and it has two cameras to record the fun. You will be hard-pressed to find more geek fun in one single package.

For an example of the AR.Drone in action take a look at the Test Flight Video.

Specifications

  • Product: Parrot AR.Drone Quadricopter Controlled by iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad
  • Dimensions: 28 x 28 inches with hull; 29 x 11 inches without, 13.4 ounces
  • Battery:
    • Fly time: 12 minutes
    • 3-cell lithium polymer battery
    • Capacity: 1000 mAh
    • Charge time: 90 minutes
  • Motors: 4 x 15W electric brushless motors (3,500 rpm)
  • Front camera:
    • VGA (640 x 480) CMOS camera
    • 93-degree wide-angle lens
    • 15 fps video
  • Vertical camera:
    • QCIF (176 x 144) High-speed camera (CMOS)
    • 64-degree diagonal lens
    • 60 fps video
    • Horizontal stabilization
  • Altimeter:
    • Ultrasound-based
    • Emission frequency: 40 kHz
    • Vertical stabilization
  • Internal guidance system:
    • MEMS (micro electro mechanical system)
    • 3-axis accelerometer
    • 2-axis gyroscope
    • 1-axis yaw precision gyroscope
  • Embedded computer:
    • ARM9 RISC 32-bit 468MHz
    • 128MB DDR RAM
    • Wi-Fi b/g
    • Linux OS
    • USB socket
  • Cost: $300 on Amazon
  • TechRepublic Photo Gallery

What I like

  • Science: The science and technology behind the AR.Drone is pretty darn amazing. Twenty-five years ago, technology that would enable the stable flight of a quadricopter would be well-guarded military secret, now it is just part of a flying drone anyone can own. Contemplate this for a minute: the AR.Drone has an altimeter, several accelerometers, several gyroscopes, and it is controlled by a small hand-held computing device that is also equipped with similar sensors. They communicate wirelessly using a secure system that anyone can access with the right permissions.
  • Intuitive flying: A typical radio-controlled flying device requires the mastery of a moderately complicated handheld controller. The AR.Drone takes advantage of the touch interface found in iPhones, iPods, and iPads to make flying a simplified operation. Sure, true mastery of the controls will take some practice, but the interface is so easy to use that just about anyone can learn how.
  • Simplified flying: Not only is the interface simplified, the flying is also simplified. Pilots don't have to worry about the throttle, pitch, and yaw. Those basic flying characteristics are handled by the onboard computer. Pilots of the AR.Drone need only concern themselves with height, direction, and orientation.

What I don't like

  • Battery life: There are two major problems with the AR.Drone, with the very short battery life being the most detrimental. You will only get about 12 to 15 minutes of flying time per battery charge. That's it. I recommend at least on spare battery, because you will want to fly it longer than that for sure.
  • Durability: The other problem is not quite as bad, but is definitely something to keep in mind. The AR.Drone is not what I would consider a toy. It is a fun flying device and kids will love it, but it is not designed to take a beating. It is remarkably durable with careful use, but one good crash will require the purchase of replacement parts. Although I have not be a young boy in many years, I still remember the destruction I could inflict on my toys. I would recommend the AR.Drone for older children and children in their late forties like me.
  • Value: The initial cost of the AR.Drone at $300 is not too much for a sophisticated flying vehicle, but under normal use there are likely to be additional costs for spare parts. Depending on your propensity for crash landings, those additional costs could add up quickly. Like many other hobbies, there is a continuing cost that should be considered before making that initial purchase.

Bottom line

The Parrot AR.Drone Quadricopter is one of the coolest Geek Gift Guide devices we have ever reviewed. Just opening the box caused widespread cubicle prairie dogging to see what this quadricopter looked like. The AR.Drone is a wonderful piece of applied engineering and technological innovation, which always appeals to the technology geek, but add in the fact that it flies and it is controlled by a smartphone; well, that is a device that no techno-geek can pass up.

Geek rating (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: *****
  • Geek factor: *****
  • Value: ***
  • Overall: *****

Video

Want more reviews of tech gadgets and gizmos? Download the PDF of TechRepublic's Geek Gift Guide 2010.

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

10 comments
Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do you have radio controlled flying models? Have you tried the AR.Drone? Do you recommend it?

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

I wonder if you could modify it with a larger battery and get more flight time? I wonder if that would cause problems with the height control? Bill

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Not so much the cost of the thing but the fact that I would have to buy an Apple Product kills it for me. As for Battery Life 12 Minutes is good for something like this 10 minutes being good and longer is better. As for Hard Core Flying there are what are called Balance Chargers available which can recharge LiPo Batteries in a few minutes so if you where to get serious one of these and a spare Battery would be Must Have Items. If you where to show it against something of a known size that may prove helpful so we get some idea of actual size Mark. Yep I know that it's Big for something like this but others may not. Now I wonder if I can get the Wife to buy an I Phone so I could get one of these to get serious with. ;) Col

Dknopp
Dknopp

Is the main problem these devices have a small fly time. Now if we could have that battery everyone wants that packs a lot of power in a light weight package, then a lot of technology will take off.

metaphysician
metaphysician

It doesn't look like the fun would be enough to make me pay an equal amount for the i-whatever that is required to control it. I kind of understand the iPod phenomenon, but, as for the rest, I've other pocket devices that do as much or more without locking me into AT&T. If they offer a control program that runs on one of my current WiFi devices, I might reconsider it.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

With the indoor hull (most of the photos in the gallery show it that way) is about the size of an extra large pizza. Check out the photo gallery to get a better idea of the size.

Charley.McGee
Charley.McGee

Plutonium batteries? Really? That is SO 1985. What we REALLY need is a battery pack with the Iludium Pu-36 Explosive Space Modulator at its core. That thing is TINY and packs quite a wallop!

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

But as yet you get frowned upon when you ask for Plutonium Batteries. They are what is needed though here. ;) Col

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

The camera output goes to the device you are controlling the quadricopter with. In the video, what you see on the iPhone is what the camera was seeing at the time.

Benny7440
Benny7440

...the technology involved here make it something else: much more than a toy. I would like to focus the attention to something important that's missing in both, the explanations given & the video shown: where's the output of the cameras onboard going. I would have been very good to show something in that direction. The radius covered by the wifi xmitter is also an important detail to be covered somewhere. Thanks for the post, it was fun to see the video. Repeated it about 4 times!