Parrot's development labs in Paris to check out the company's newest project. While Parrot is mostly known for its Bluetooth headsets and speaker systems, the company's newest project combines augmented reality with a remote-controlled helicopter. This helicopter - the AR.Drone - features four rotors that keep it stable and a front-mounted camera that is linked to an iPhone or iPod touch. The rig is controlled via an iPhone or iPod touch and the device's screen can show an augmented view of what the helicopter's camera sees.In December, I visited
AR Meets the Real World
What's most exciting about this product is how it combines a real helicopter with this augmented reality view. Instead of just looking at an augmented view of the world through the phone's camera, you get to see the world through the drone's camera. The iPhone takes the view of the camera (via Wi-Fi) and replaces markers with anything from walls to dinosaurs.
During our discussion with Parrot in December, we couldn't get any information about the price of the AR.Drone out of the company's representatives. Given how sophisticated the hardware is, however, chances are that it won't be very cheap. The drone, for example, features two cameras. Besides the camera that feeds the video to the iPhone, the drone also features a second camera that is mounted underneath the structure and augments the drone's autopilot.
Hands-On With the AR.Drone
We got a chance to play with a prototype of the AR.Drone in Parrot's labs, and it took a while to get used to the controls (the app uses a combination of the phone's tilt sensors and on-screen controls to manipulate the drone). The video on the iPhone was surprisingly clear and didn't show any noticeable lag. Sadly, we didn't get a chance to try out the AR features of the app, though.
Parrot will launch the AR.Drone later this year. The company plans to demo the helicopter at CES this week but the exact date of the public launch remains unclear.
A Drone for Developers
In its current iteration, the hardware and software is clearly laid out for gaming, but Parrot also released an SDK that will allow developers to use the hardware for other purposes as well. It will definitely be interesting to see what games and other tools the developer community will come up with once the AR.Drone is launched. Parrot told us that it hopes that developers will look at the hardware as a platform, and the company hopes to create an active developer ecosystem around the AR.Drone.
Disclosure: Frederic met with Parrot during a trip that was partly sponsored by Parrot.