Update: We swung by the company's demo station outside the show floors here at E3, spoke with the company CEO, got a little more information about the post-release plans for this thing, and dive-bombed a few PR reps before running for the hills. All those details and a funky fresh new video are waiting for you after the break.
Hopefully you're not sick of the AR.Drone, because we sure aren't, and we took another opportunity to take it for a spin, and to speak with Henri Seydoux, founder and CEO of Parrot, the company behind the thing. Naturally the big news of the day is the $299 price, which is steep but honestly a little lower than some of the cynics among us were predicting.
For that money you get yourself one drone with two bodies: one for indoor flying with expansive foam bumpers and a second for zipping around outdoors. This one ditches the bumpers in favor of better stability in crosswinds and, we presume, better overall speed. You also get a free download of the control app in the App Store, as well as a simple combat app in which your view on your iPhone is overlaid with missiles, lasers, and explosions as you duel with another Drone -- meaning you have to talk a friend into getting one, too if you want to get the most out of it.
That's not exactly a stunning deal for $299, but it's the future that has us intrigued. The idea is that there will be additional apps added to the App Store on a regular basis that will add new games and challenges. Henri suggested there might be bombing runs on the Drone's cardboard box (which has a target on the back), missions to rescue hostages far out in your backyard, and pretty much anything else that anyone can think of. This is because, of course, the AR.Drone's software is completely open-source, and the company will be encouraging others to write their own games and release them to the App Store -- or via any other distribution system. Basically, creative types will be free to do whatever they like, and if this thing has one fourth the success that LittleBigPlanet achieved the results could be amazing.
The controls right now are simple and intuitive. The iPhone displays two inputs, the right being a virtual thumbstick that raises or lowers altitude, and allows you to rotate the Drone on its axis. If you hold your thumb on the left control you can tilt the iPhone to bank the Drone in any direction. There's also a button you can tap to take off or land automatically, which is good for those prone to buying the farm.
The initial Android app is not expected to be ready at launch time, which is disappointing, but that should come soon enough. We're hoping that independent devs flock to this device and fill App Stores, Marketplaces, and everything else with augmented reality minigames. If that happens this somewhat pricey, high-tech novelty could turn into a truly killer augmented app.
The first quadricopter for video games and piloted by Wi-Fi will be available in the U.S. in September under $300
Los Angeles, June 15, 2010 /PRNewswire/ - Parrot, leader in wireless peripherals for mobile phones, today unveils at E3 Expo in Los Angeles the final version of the Parrot AR.Drone, a quadricopter using augmented reality and piloted with an iPod touch®, an iPhone® or an iPad™.
With super intuitive handling, Parrot AR.Drone achieves spectacular flights and enables consumers to play video games in augmented reality.
You are piloting a one-of-a-kind quadricopter, where real and virtual worlds meet to offer unparalleled gaming experiences...
The front-camera broadcasts and streams what the drone is seeing onto the iPod touch or iPhone screen; and the image processing allows integrating real-time special effects of augmented reality.
Pattern Ergonomic piloting
With its shaped cockpit driven by four propellers with brushless motors, the Parrot AR.Drone offers excellent maneuverability and stability during piloting.
Parrot AR.Drone generates its own Wi-Fi network (no need for an Internet connection nor a router) at which you simply connect an iPod touch or iPhone. Once the "AR.FreeFlight" application has been downloaded, the iPod touch/iPhone turns into a true piloting station.
Two piloting modes are available:
* Beginner: two tactile piloting buttons to control the accelerometer / the direction of the drone and to maneuver.
* Ace: expert mode with a single tactile button to pilot the AR.Drone.
Touch the take-off button on the screen of the iPod touch/iPhone and the Parrot AR.Drone starts its engine, takes-off, stabilizes a few feet from the ground and waits for the pilot's instructions.
The player needs to put his/her left thumb on the screen and a control button will position under it. The accelerometer of the iPod touch/iPhone is detecting movements. Parrot AR.Drone moves forward, back or sidewise depending on the inclinations of the iPod touch/iPhone.
Another command button on the right of the iPod touch/iPhone screen enables the pilot to make the AR.Drone rise, go down or rotate.
In Ace mode, a single button enables the pilot to fully control and pilot the AR.Drone.
Touch the landing button and the quadricopter will land and stop its engines.
A unique high-tech quadricopter
Parrot AR.Drone is made of carbon fiber and high resistance PA66 plastic.
The heart of the AR.Drone contains MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanicals Systems), three axes accelerometer, two gyrometers [one axe & two axes], one ultrasound sensor and two cameras:
* The first camera, located underneath, is connected to an Inertial Measurement Unit. Thanks to this unit, the AR.Drone is capable of measuring its horizontal speed and performing mind-blowing stationary flights. The system of images comparison enables it to compensate turbulences due to the wind during outside flights.
These technologies are usually used for professional or military applications and have been adapted to gaming universe for the first time.
* The second camera, at the front of the quadricopter, broadcasts and streams on the iPod touch/iPhone screen what the drone is seeing as if the player was in the pilot's position.
This camera plays a major role for video gaming thanks to the use of form recognition: it enables augmented reality.
For example, the front camera will recognize another AR.Drone in the game battle between two quadricopters, or tags which will turn into obstacles, monsters or robots on the screen of the iPod touch/iPhone.
Video streaming has been enhanced compared to the development version of AR.Drone introduced at CES. Also, the front of the hull has been strengthened to better protect the camera.
The players can choose the camera they prefer or display the two cameras simultaneously on the screen of the iPod touch/iPhone.
New rules for games
With the AR.Drone, Parrot is combining the worlds of video gaming and radio-controlled models.
This one-of-a-kind quadricopter enables consumers to recreate a large number of video games in the real world and also offers a multi-player possibility thanks to augmented reality.
To offer pilots unprecedented gaming experiences, three games will be available for download in the App Store℠:
o Application that is mandatory to fly and pilot the AR.Drone.
o Two piloting modes: beginner or expert.
o Downloadable for free on App Store.
o Solo game using augmented reality.
o Requires the two tags provided in the box.
o Story: After the successful downloading of photons, scientists try the same experience with matter. The first try is a catastrophe, a number of scientists disappear and a black hole forms accidentally. This is the "Grey Zone". Military-researchers create a radio-commanded device able to bear the extreme conditions of the Grey Zone. But since, unexplained attacks occur on the facilities.
o Mission: Protect your military base and destroy "enemies".
o $2.99 USD on App Store.
o Story: For the first time, you will be able to use a radio-commanded quadricopter to conduct aerial battles of World War II aces proportions.
o $2.99 USD on App Store.
A new look for inside and outside flights
Parrot AR.Drone is designed for flying inside and outside.
For a flight outside, a shaped hull reduces the area to the wind and offers an extreme maneuverability of the quadricopter.
Three hulls are available:
* orange and yellow
* orange and green
* orange and blue
These vivid colors enable the pilot to easily follow the movements of his/her AR.Drone. They are also easily recognized by the front-camera of the AR.Drone, which enables the AR.Drone to identify a competitor for two-player battles.
For indoor flight, a specific hull – with a white, gray and black cockpit- surrounds and protects the propellers if the AR.Drone hits an obstacle. Stickers, with colors similar to the shaped hull, can be fixed on each arch to enable drone battles inside.
Finally, electroluminescent diodes (green at front, red on the back), are positioned on the landing gear and enable the pilot to easily position his/her AR.Drone for piloting. These diodes also activate and react according to the action from the game.
A community of pilots
Available via www.ardrone.com, AR.Drone-Pilot Academy will be a website dedicated to Parrot AR.Drone users and fans.
This website will showcase approximately 20 videos and detailed information on the AR.Drone.
* Training Zone
This area of the website accompanies the pilot, from the first encounter of the AR.Drone to tips for piloting.
How to prepare your AR.Drone (installation of the battery, configuration Wi-Fi / iPod touch - iPhone...), pilot (control of the accelerometer...), do sophisticated maneuvers (circles, figure-eight, half-turn, slalom, obstacles race...), practice aerial battle (offensive and defensive maneuvers, indoor and outdoor battles...).
* Community Zone
Here pilots will be able to post their videos, share and discuss on forums, follow AR.Drone news (via Facebook, Twitter...).
An open development platform
Since the introduction at CES 2010, the Software Development Kit, which was updated in May 2010, is available for developers to create games for the AR.Drone. Source code porting on other platforms is also feasible from the SDK.
To date, more than 450 developers around the world have registered on Parrot AR.Drone platform.
The only bounds of the forthcoming games for the AR.Drone are the imagination and ingenuity of the fans of Parrot's quadricopter.
To download the SDK or get more information, visit http://projects.ardrone.org.
Parrot AR.Drone: a technological first
The development of the AR.Drone required more than four years and the creation of about 20 patents.
For the first time, a consumer product encompasses:
* A quadricopter made of carbon fiber and high resistance PA66 plastic, with 4 brushless engines embedded.
* An inertial unit with MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) combining video processing with an automatic piloting software to ensure a very intuitive piloting of a radio controlled object.
* Wi-Fi and video streaming for a modern gaming interface with an iPod touch/iPhone.
* Images processing software for augmented reality.
Parrot has worked for 15 years on wireless technologies. Engineering is the keystone of the work of Parrot and the R&D department of the company consists of 150 engineers.
Parrot concentrates on the maintenance of its investments in R&D to a high level, with an important focus on the software and the signal processing. Parrot develops complete products in taking care of their use; because of this, software, electronics, design and also manufacturing costs are the daily work of the research department.
Parrot AR.Drone Invasion Plan
Parrot AR.Drone will be available for purchase at selected retailers* in September in the United States for $299 MSRP.
Availability in Europe and Asia will be announced in the following weeks.
*For more information, please go to www.parrot.com
Tim Stevens contributed the hands-on portion of this article.