Remember when you were a kid and there was something that was just so cool that you absolutely had to have it? Even going so far as risking the ire of your parents as a result of your nagging, sulking and crying? Well, we’ve found something that would probably get the same reaction from grown men. It’s possibly the coolest thing we have ever had the privilege to review, and when we had to send it back we cried long and hard… It’s called the AR Drone, and it is (in our opinion) the best toy ever invented. It’s noisy, possibly dangerous and does the coolest things. Actually, it only does one thing… it flies.
The AR Drone is a fairly large device, with a tough Styrofoam body (covered by a hard outer shell) that is carried aloft by four powerful rotors. It kicks up a hell of a racket doing so, but the noise is just part of the fun. The four rotor system sets it apart from remote controlled helicopters because the user doesn’t have to worry about trim. Thanks to the four rotors and a built in altitude sensing system, the Drone flies steadily and beautifully.
Here’s the real treat though; it’s controlled by a smart phone. Using either an iPhone or an Android device with downloaded software, the user can pilot the Drone by tilting their handset in desired directions. Also, the Drone has a front mounted camera that transmits images back to the handset’s screen. You’re not going to be able to effectively navigate that way, no matter what the makers claim, but it adds a fun dogfighting game element to the device, when two are close together. And it’s cool.
The Drone does not come without its problems, though. It uses a WiFi connection (we’re mystified as to why the makers didn’t go with Bluetooth, which would have been much better) which can drop in areas of interference. If the signal drops, the Drone goes into a sort of safety holding pattern, hovering above the ground. Re-establishing connection may give difficulties, in which case you pretty much have to wait for the rechargeable battery to run out, forcing the Drone to perform an emergency landing procedure.
Another issue is wind. Even seemingly slight winds can carry the Drone off, prompting the user to perform a quick landing to avoid it leaving the 50 meter range of the WiFi signal. Once again, once it is out of range, the same holding pattern behaviour occurs… but a breeze will carry it away.
The Drone can also be flown indoors, as it has a special protective housing included in the box, which shields the rotors on their sides. When all is said and done, the AR Drone is a rather expensive toy. It has no function beyond fun. Yet, despite its cost and niggles, it is just about the most fun you can have without breaking numerous laws. We loved playing with the AR Drone, and anyone remotely (aha, a pun) interested in remote control flying should give it serious consideration. It’s a reason to buy a compatible phone!
The most fun you can have without breaking a ton of laws.
Many online shops and retailers sell the Parrot AR Drone.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.