Without a doubt, one of the coolest things introduced at CES 2010 was Parrot's AR.Drone quadricoptor. We managed to track it down for some hands-on time and yes, it's really as cool as it looks from the developer's videos.
One of the biggest features behind the technology is the sensors and advanced processing behind the device which allow it to practically fly itself. Unlike other remote helicoptors, the AR.Drone uses a combination of downward looking camera, gyroscopes and other sensors to perform stationary flight and also compensate for other flight conditions. The result is a very easy to fly device.
The device is currently controlled using an iPhone/iPod Touch app which communicates through Wi-Fi to the AR.Drone itself. Simply tap on Launch and the AR.Drone takes off and hovers over a stationary spot. On screen controls are easy and effective.
Left/right buttons allow you to rotate 360 degrees in one spot, while up/down buttons control altitude. Pressing on a special button activates tilt-control on the iPhone/iPod Touch itself. This allow you to fly the device by naturally tilting the iPhone itself. Meanwhile, the on screen controls are overlayed with live video coming from the front-facing camera of the Drone itself.
In picking it up for the first time, I found it very easy to maneuver. The main thing I had to get used to was using the drone's point of view to steer, rather than my own. Check out our video:
As if that wasn't enough, Parrot also offers an open API to develop augmented reality games. Using the front facing camera, you can duel with another AR.Drone or attack virtual enemies in space. Parrot has developed a couple of games as demos but expects 3rd party developers to take much more advantage of the technologies.
The current development model only offers about 15 minutes of flight on about an hour's charge. Pricing and availability of the AR.Drone will be announced later this year. More details are available on the developer site.