CES 2010 was where we first heard of the Parrot AR.Drone, a radio-controlled quadricopter that hooked up via Wi-Fi to an iPhone app. And now, two years later, that product is out and successful -- and now, obsolete. Parrot used CES 2012 a few weeks ago to introduce the AR.Drone 2.0, a brand new version of the flying drone that's set to arrive for the exact same price later on this year.
Last week at CES, we got to fly the drone around through its paces. There is actually a very noticeable difference in the new version once you get behind the wheel: It's much, much harder to crash. Part of the reason for that is updates in the drone's app and firmware, but the model for 2.0 makes the craft much sturdier, and a new onboard compass (along with some other tech) means it's easier to fly as well. Things are much more stable, so the drone itself can do much more of the work of just staying in the air. You, the flyer can focus on moving it around.
In addition to general adjustments, there's also a new mode implemented called "Absolute Control." This allows the drone to fly in a certain direction, no matter where you tell it to go. It's tough to explain in just text, but the AR.Drone 2.0 "knows" where it's looking, even when you turn it around. For most people, keeping it facing the same way while tilting your iPad or iPhone to move the device is much more intuitive than having to track both the direction you're actually tilting and the direction the drone is flying. Explaining how it works is confusing, but it makes flying the drone much less so.
The drone design itself appears a little smaller than before, but it's actually about the same size. Rather than changing the form factor, some of the hardware has been strengthened, with the weak points on the initial model being the main targets for the refresh. There are also new cameras on board; they will shoot up to 720p HD video, which means even on a tablet screen video from the drone is clear and crisp.
Parrot has seen a lot of action with the drones on YouTube as well; in fact, while we played with the drone at CES, there was also a world championship of sorts going on, with all kinds of flyers from around the world competing after having entered by posting videos online. The new model's software (still a free download from the App Store) will now allow you to not only see video live from the drone, but also take pictures and even record full HD video directly from the device. That should make for a lot of interesting viewing online, even if you don't buy one yourself.
The AR.Drone 2.0 is a significant improvement on Parrot's already popular model. At $299, the AR.Drone is a pretty expensive toy (professionally made as it might be). The more stable control scheme, however, and the addition of the 720p camera and its capture features mean the Drone 2.0 is worth another look, even if you passed the first one by. We're set to get a review model later on this year, so stay tuned for an even more in-depth look at how it all works. The device itself is supposed to be available in Q2.