French company Parrot is a multifaceted beast, with a hand in commercial, industrial, component, and consumer markets across a range of product types. It played an important role in popularizing consumer drones thanks to its AR Drone, the first version of which debuted in 2010. Since that device’s launch, Parrot has sold over 700,000 drones to hobbyists and consumers, which is not bad for a $300 piece of hardware. Now it wants to reach a broader audience with two more affordable “minidrones,” the Jumping Sumo and the Rolling Spider.
I got to try out the two new smartphone-controlled devices at a special media event yesterday here in Toronto. In the videos included in this article, you can see both the Jumping Sumo and Rolling Spider in action. Both devices have come a long way from their CES debut, with changes to hardware and the control software for your iOS or Android device. In using them, I found that the Sumo was easier to control without any training or instruction, while the Spider, which lacks a front-facing camera for live video feeds, took more getting used to.
The Jumping Sumo’s ability to propel itself forward and up to platforms is impressive, and seems like it could generate a lot of fun in outdoor environments with natural ledges and surfaces. The Rolling Spider’s wall and ceiling climbing is also pretty cool, and the ability to throw it into the air and have it take off for flight that way is likewise a fun trick. One thing that’s not so fun: The Spider has only eight minutes of battery life and between myself and another journalist, we ran it out of juice pretty quickly.
Luckily, replacement packs that fit both the Sumo and the Spider are small and easily carried, plus they will retail for “less than $15” for spares according to a Parrot employee. That should give the diminutive flyer more time to amuse users new to drones with its ability to do barrel rolls and flips, plus follow pre-programmed paths.
As with all Parrot Drones, I’d rather use the app on an Nvidia Shield with physical controls than do so with a touchscreen, but it’s still fairly easy for newbies to pick up and play. These should be a hot seller come the holiday season, especially given that every kid in North America now seemingly has their own smartphone or at least some kind of iPod touch.