New from electronics maker Parrot comes the AR.Drone, a Wi-Fi helicopter with dual cameras and augmented-reality video streaming, that you control using your iPhone or iPod Touch. Although the RC flyer is still in the prototype stage, Parrot has been demonstrating it at the 2010 CES show in Las Vegas. The AR.Drone features four rotors and interchangeable hulls for flying both indoors and outside. Built-in flight stabilization technology keeps the drone steady while you use your iPhone’s motion sensors to steer it remotely over the craft’s Wi-Fi network.
If the AR.Drone looks familiar, it may remind you of the CyberQuad unmanned aerial vehicle we covered in December. Unlike the CyberQuad, the AR.Drone is meant for consumer use. Weighing about 400g (0.9lbs) the drone features a carbon-fiber frame and Styrofoam hulls for light weight and resiliency against bumps. The smaller hull is intended for outdoor use, while the larger hull includes rotor guards for use when flying indoors. Parrot says the onboard Lithium-ion batteries provide enough power for 15 minutes of flying time.
Although Parrot has previously been known for their wireless speaker systems, they spent four years developing the AR.Drone with an eye to creating an augmented reality gaming platform. Using its forward facing streaming video camera, the AR.Drone onboard image processing can detect other drones or 3D targets. You can then fire virtual rockets or lasers at the target for simulated battles. Several demo games are on display, but Parrot hopes that game developers will take advantage of their open API to develop more games and other applications for the AR.Drone.
To make the AR.Drone easy to fly, Parrot developed a microelectromechanical (MEMS) inertial guidance system that includes a three-axis accelerometer, a two-axis gyroscope, and a single-axis precision gyroscope for yaw. The flyer also includes an ultrasonic altimeter and a down-facing video camera for calculating speed and position. These elements combine to allow the AR.Drone to compensate for windy conditions, and even to hover unattended. Piloting the drone is accomplished by tilting your iPhone or iPod Touch. The remote control connection is established through the AR.Drone’s built-in Wi-Fi network, and the unit’s forward-facing video camera streams its feed directly to the screen on your iPhone. If you remove you finger from the iPhone, the AR.Drone’s autopilot keeps the drone hovering about a meter (3.3ft) off the ground. If the network connection is lost, the autopilot will stabilize the drone and slowly lower it to the ground for a soft landing.
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