Parrot AR.Drone hands-on: a quadricopter for the rest of us

The Parrot AR.Drone was definitely one of the highlights of our day; how can you top a quadricopter that can fight with another using augmented reality, is easy to fly, and only needs an iPhone to control it? You simply can't -- this is just pure joy and is exactly what a gadget should be: it's an electronic aircraft, has multiple cameras (two to be exact), uses WiFi for control (via an ad-hoc connection), and likely has more intelligence on board than a lunar lander. This early version can only be controlled via iPhone, or iPod touch, but Parrot's Henri Seydoux mentioned that it could be (and we're really hoping will be) controllable by BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and so on. The AR.Drone uses a pile of pretty sophisticated magic to enable it to fly -- those aforementioned cameras are just the start (one forward facing, one facing down running at 60 fps that allows stability in light wind) because you've also got two ultrasonic transmitters for vertical stability, a three-axis accelerometer, and a two-axis gyroscope paired with a single-axis yaw precision gyroscope for good measure. Needless to say, casual gamers and folks looking for a nice $30 gift need not apply. Read on for more impressions and video!

Control is really pretty simple: hit the take off button and the AR.Drone lifts off and then hovers at about 3 feet. The controls in the app include buttons to rotate left and right, a slider to climb, and a button that -- once pressed and held -- allows the iPhone to be tipped to tilt and fly the AR.Drone in any direction. If your WiFi connection drops while playing, the drove will stabilize and then land itself without damage or drama. Parrot's demo games are fun, too -- you can choose to fight against a computer opponent that you'll see on your iPhone's display (when you're shot, your drone actually rocks back and forth) or dogfight with a friend. Sadly, release date and pricing remain a mystery, but we're already lined up and we're not worrying about the cost. No doubt, this will be a contender for CES 2010's best remote controlled flying quadricopter, and deservedly so.