We've never written about the Parrot AR.Drone on our humble news site because we've yet to see its applications in the gaming space. Don't get us wrong -- it's as inherently awesome as you'd expect a hovering, camera-equipped drone (that's controlled by your iPhone!) to be. However, "random things that are awesome" doesn't really align with our editorial purview.
At GDC, Parrot went to great lengths to show off the gaming applications of the Drone. A representative presented two tech demos to us, both of which use the device's front-mounted camera to recognize "tags" in the environment, creating augmented reality overlays which allow the user to virtually interact with an object. In layman's terms: It recognizes predetermined patterns, and turns them into virtual targets, at which you can then shoot virtual bullets and missiles.
Before analyzing these tech demos, I should mention that flying the drone is extremely cool. There's a slight latency between the user's input and the device's motion -- to be expected, seeing as how these commands are sent to the Drone via a private Wi-Fi network the device creates. This small delay could present a roadblock to responsive, enjoyable gaming, but it's hardly noticeable when you're doing a bit of casual hovering.
The Drone's controls are all mapped to simple commands on the iPhone interface -- there are inputs which control altitude and rotation, and tilting the iPhone while pressing another input controls the Drone's actual movement. Though iPhone control is a huge draw for the device, I found myself wishing for actual tactile buttons. Still, the user needn't fear a gruesome crash should they accidentally input the wrong command -- the Drone is imbued with some impressive auto-stabilization technology.
Since the iPhone serves as the controller, video can streamed directly from the Drone's camera to the iPhone's screen. Unfortunately, there's another fraction of a second of latency in the video stream. Attempting to control the device while watching the iPhone feed and not looking at the Drone got a little disorienting, though I suppose more time behind the wheel could make the process more natural.