Around this time last year, we were just about to get our hands on the Parrot AR.Drone quadricopter. It was (and still is) an incredibly cool remote control toy with some seriously advanced technology onboard that allows for control of the craft via an iOS device complete with a video feed captured from cameras onboard the AR.Drone all connected through a WiFi network served up by the quadricopter itself. Parrot later even expanded the AR.Drone's functionality to include a few different games that utilized the cameras in interesting ways.

Unfortunately, all of this tech came with a hefty price tag. $299.99 to be exact which put the AR.Drone far outside of impulse purchase range for most. Thankfully, acclaimed accessory manufacturer Griffin took note that people thought things like the AR.Drone are cool as hell, while building a similar product with a price point that falls comfortably inside "eh, what the hell" territory which I really think is vital for any gadgety toy.

Check out the HELO TC in action:

Griffin has taken a unique angle with the HELO TC and has made several obvious cost-cutting measures to hit that key $50 price point. First off, the HELO TC obviously lacks all the flight stabilization logic that powered the AR.Drone. The AR.Drone basically flies itself, while the HELO TC seems to be very similar to the barebones remote control helicopters that you can pick up for around $20 online, which leads me to believe that flying the HELO TC with the finesse seen in the above video is going to be very difficult.

Similarly, all of the WiFi connectivity options found in the AR.Drone have been replaced by a transmitter that clips on to your iOS device and plugs into your headphone jack. This takes AA batteries, and utilizing the free companion app sends tones out your headphone port to an IR transmitter, a technique that has been well documented and used by hobbyists to essentially create a playlist of sounds to do things like control a digital SLR camera, or in this case, fly a helicopter.

Of course Griffin hasn't mentioned the specifics of how the HELO TC works, so this is largely just a series of educated guesses on my part, but the logic seems sound. Either way, we're totally stoked for the device. I had a ton of fun with the AR.Drone, and it seems like the HELO TC should be equally fun, only for a sixth of the price.

For more information, check out the HELO TC web site, or if you're totally sold on the device swing over to the Griffin store to pre-order. No specific release dates have been mentioned yet, although the PR Griffin blasted out this morning repeatedly mentions the holiday season. It seems every year the window for what the "holiday season" actually is broadens even wider, so we could be seeing the HELO TC sooner than we expect. I've got my fingers crossed, at least.

  • Adams Immersive

    Neat, but too many compromises for me. I still want an AR.Drone (but am hoping for smoother video transmission in a revised version).

    Another major cost-cutting difference: AR.Drone has two cameras, and transmits to your iPhone to view your flight live, first person. No cameras in the HELO.

  • Brandon Butler

    That's one of the greatest commercials I've ever seen!

  • NX915

    Sigh...there will be no stability issues as the author suggest, as this bi rotor design is stable by design, unlike the drone which required stability software. So, this thing is still pretty good at "flies it self" without fancy on board software, simply due to the bi rotor design. Granted the design will require small adjustment to maintain hover, unlike the drone.

    • Eli Hodapp

      Having had experience with both the AR.Drone and dual-blade helicopters like this the difference is going to be night and day. The AR.Drone is so simple and idiot-proof in comparison. Of course, as mentioned in the article I mention this is all based on educated guesses from experience with similar products so we'll see what it's like when it's finally released.

      • Elisucks

        You can't take criticism.

  • Charles

    It's actually already out, if you check out the Griffin's blog section it says you can buy it now

  • Anonymous

    Great!!  best part is for 49.99 i wont feel too bad when I only use it one time and then add it to that collection of time forgotten novelty nerd toys that i never touch. 
    I probably have a place for it on my shelf right in between the original edition Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man and the Nokia nGage. 

  • Macaroon

    Cool little gadget, however I`d rather have one of those petrol powered beasts that I remember from my childhood.

  • Anonymous

    Cool commercial, but would have ended it right when the copter was head to head with the boss the first time - thought that was funny, then it turned into a saga. Fans of remote toys should dig this, but I'd rather go on an insane quality gaming app shopping spree. . 

  • Purplie Quatrona

    In response to NX915, this style of helicopters is very stable, but not as portrayed in the video. All of them are on stick or strings! Fake!

  • Spleen

    Another problem with these tiny 3-channel RC helis is they can only be flown indoors. The tiniest breeze (even just an air-con unit on very low) will throw them off course. Still, they can take a lot of punishment and take no skill to fly so it will be very "accessible", not like the 7-channel T-rex 600N I have that is in a perpetual state of repair =( (currently needs the tail servo replaced).

  • Aa

    It looks like they get the signal from the iphone to the transmitter using the stereo audio jack. It has 2 channels... brilliant !!!

    • Anonymous

      No reason they have to use on/off(/level) per channel; in fact, encoded audio would be simpler, as you just amplify and direct to the IR emitter, with all the processing in the (i-)device.
      IR emitters and receivers are effectively only a single colour / channel after all.

  • C D W

    There are about $10 cheaper direct from Hong Kong if you don't mind waiting a couple weeks to ship.

    • Anonymous

      Those aren't the same model, just FYI - not saying one is better than the other.
      So I guess the Griffin one isn't that innovative (seeing as the DX ones were out at least a month ago), just the first commercial / branded option.

      I haven't bought one despite my love of all things mechanical and motorised, because they are simply a standard IR heli, with an audio/IR converter instead of a control unit

    • John Cheng

      I just live in HK but never discovered this online store. Thank a lot.

  • Dave

    Quite possibly the great commercial for a toy I have ever seen!! I want one now!

  • Anonymous

    It is essential that controls the iPhone. Are already looking forward to custom applications .. 🙂
    Do not compare pears and apples .. drone price vs griffin ..

  • Dave Russell

    The only issue I have is that these are simply Syma S107 clones, and the stock S107 controller works very well for flying them.  And a stock S107 comes in at about half the price.  If the iOS app added anything to the S107 experience, that would be one thing.  But all it really does is leave you with another iPhone accessory laying around.  To make this thing cool, they should have made it so it could be controlled via wifi.  Then, you wouldn't need the IR adapter; and it would get around the inherent issues of using IR control.  Although I have several S107s, and I just can't see how it would be easy to control them via an iPhone app.  The S107 is very quick to respond to controller inputs, and you almost need the physical resistance that the joysticks provide in order to finesse it around.  With touch/tilt controls, I could see it being very easy to overcontrol.  Unless there is a huge dead-zone built into the controller app, in which case it could cause the heli to be less controllable.

  • Sergio Velazquez

    I do not recommend this RC Helicopter, After two days of playing the little cables on the tail rotor snapped and of course with out the tail rotor the helicopter became useless, I called the tech support and the said there is nothing they can do about it, and offered me a 10% discount if I wanted to get a new one... Seriously? 10% when I just spent $50.00 three days ago??? Do not Buy it lok for other alternatives.