Review: Parrot AR.Drone

We’ve seen the AR.Drone floating around multiple events this year including CES but we never really got a chance to play with it until this week. Before I get into my review, I’m going to tell you a story. People ask me all the time “What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen” and like a football stadium toilet attendant being asked how his Sunday went, I always reply with a downcast face and a sad, slow sigh. “Nothing,” I’d answer. “Nihil.”

But the AR.Drone has renewed my faith in gadgets. It is, in short, the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long, long time. This quadro-copter floats effortlessly through the air and has all of the self-righting capabilities of a Segway. The iPhone controls are amazingly intuitive – just press a button and move the iPhone in the direction you’d like it to go. Emergency controls take over when you screw up. It is fun, technologically advanced, and, in short, amazing.

Parrot basically makes Bluetooth gear. Why they made or sold this device is a mystery but I take my hat off to the guy who approached his boss one day and said “Let’s make a flying rotocopter and sell it for $299. We can use an iPhone to control it.” And kudos to the boss, who was probably French (Parrot is a French company), for saying “Oui.”

The copter itself consists of a center control unit with battery and four powerful propellers that could double as leaf blowers. A protective ring keeps the props from shredding your pets and directs the air downwards. The device is made of light foam and is fairly damage resistant although I did snap the front piece early on in my testing. A little Gorilla Glue and all was well. You can also buy repair parts from Parrot.

The Drone creates its own Wi-Fi hotspot to which the iPhone or iPod Touch connects. The device gets updates via Wi-Fi as well and has a fairly nice range. Built-in sonar keeps the thing from flying into space.

The real fun is controlling the Drone with the iPhone. It uses the tilt sensors in the iPhone to move forward, back, and side-to-side, and flying the device is so intuitive it only takes a few minutes to put the thing through its paces. There’s an augmented reality game included that uses little stickers to create an interactive video game but the drone itself is so cool there’s hardly any reason to add in layers of difficulty. You’ll make friends just by flying it around.

Is this for kids? Probably not unless you trust your kid with both your iPhone and this device. A 12-year-old would love this thing. An eight-year-old would destroy it.

Again, this is a great toy. I highly recommend it if you are one of those guys or girls who always likes to bring cool stuff to the office to annoy the higher-ups. Couple this with a Nerf Stampede Gun and some Friday afternoon beers and you’ve got a party.

Thank you, Parrot, for restoring my joy.

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