Drone flying may still be controversial (for reasons of privacy and safety) — but the inescapable truth is that it is also a lot of fun.
There are few things quite like remotely controlling a flying device via your iPhone. Make the drone only a little bit bigger than your hand, and the fun actually doubles. That’s what I found with Parrot’s new mini drone, Rolling Spider.
I recently piloted Parrot’s tiny flyer (known as the “Rolling Spider” because of the large wheels you can attach so it can roll up walls) and its Earth-bound drone cousin the Jumping Sumo.Mashable first encountered these two toys at CES 2014 in Las Vegas, where Parrot reps did the flying as I jealously watched.
Now, Parrot’s ready to reveal more — like price, availability and battery life — and to let me take a turn at the wheel.
The more interesting remote control device is the Parrot Rolling Spider mini drone. It’s a quadrocopter that includes enough onboard intelligence and sensors to keep itself aloft and in one position. You lift-off, land and control via Parrot’s free iPhone app, FreeFlight3. Once we paired an iPhone with the Rolling Spider, I was able to easily control the drone. I tilted the phone in the direction I wanted the little copter to fly and used on-screen thumb controls to go forward and back.
Like its big brother, the AR.Drone, Parrot’s Rolling Spider mini drone includes stunts, like the ability to flip in the air. I simply tapped an icon on screen and the Rolling Spider did the rest. I mastered the controls in moments, but then I’ve trained with the AR.Drone and its iPad app. I suspect it might take novice users a few minutes to get the hang of it.
Unlike the $299 AR.Drone 2, the $99 Rolling Spider mini drone cannot record video. It does include a tiny camera in the base that shoots at 60 fps and is used primarily for stabilization. It also allows for something approximating VGA photography, which sounds pretty useless to me.
And while you can expect roughly 15 minutes of flying time from the big drone, the Rolling Spider flies for just 8 minutes, before needing another hour long charge. You will be able to buy extra batteries (for the Sumo drone, too) for $19.99.
Parrot’s second drone, the Jumping Sumo, doesn’t fly, but the tumbler of a robot does leave the ground. Also controlled via the FreeFlight app on the iPhone, the Sumo can turn on a dime and, when you hit the right icon on the iPhone, jump almost three feet in the air. I used Sumo’s spring foot to jump up onto a couple of platforms. This took some practice, as I kept over-shooting the 12-inch-by-12-inch square.
I did much better when we moved to a larger platform. I was also able to make more precise turns by, as I did with the Rolling Spider mini drone, tilting the iPhone. Using the app, you can even program in paths, which it will then follow on command. I didn’t test drive this feature.
Sumo’s large wheels are also adjustable. I could push them close to the body for tight maneuverability or pull them further out for more stability.
Throughout my Sumo test drive, the little bot made a variety of noises and its LED lights blinked green and red. While I didn’t find any of this very useful or interesting, it’s an indication that Sumo can tell you how it’s feeling. It even responds to touch, hence the noise every time I picked it up.
Sumo, which is rated for 15 minutes of playtime on a charge, also includes a camera and streams live video back to the iPhone. The feed appears right behind your controls. If you add a USB key to Sumo, you can store the VGA-quality video on the robot.
Jumping Sumo lists for $159 and will be available in white, brown and black. Rolling Spider will come in red, white or blue. The FreeFlight 3 app will also be available on Android and Windows Phone. Both toys go on pre-order in July and hit retail stores, including the Apple Store, on August.