Remember the cool but wacky Parrot AR.Drone? That flying "quadricopter" controlled by an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch is back for round two. The AR.Drone 2.0, hitting Australian shelves in June, now records HD video, is easier to control and is less likely to break in the event of a flying accident.
The AR.Drone 2.0 initially looks like a minor upgrade to the original on the whole. It has a very similar look and feel, while the basic operation of the unit remains almost identical to the original model. However, the AR.Drone 2.0 appears to have addressed three concerns many users had with its predecessor.
Firstly, Parrot claims the new model is much easier to fly. As we found out when we reviewed the AR.Drone, it definitely wasn't easy to manoeuvre. The company has addressed this issue by reinventing the way the AR.Drone 2.0 is controlled.
The previous model used the AR.Drone itself as the reference point when flying but the AR.Drone 2.0 uses the person controlling the chopper as the reference point. This means it flies in whatever direction you tilt your phone to, regardless of what direction the quadricopter is facing.
This new control system is called "absolute control" and is made possible by the addition of a new 3D compass. A new pressure sensor also allows the AR.Drone 2.0 to fly higher than the previous model (up to 6 metres). We had a brief hands-on with the new control system at Parrot's media launch in Sydney and we can say with certainty that it is a vast improvement over the original. The AR.Drone 2.0 is smoother, much easier to control and has far less of a learning curve than the original model.
The AR.Drone 2.0 can now capture 720p HD video and still photos, neither which was possible on the original model. Users can save images or videos on a USB key through a USB port hidden inside the device, next to the battery. The AR.Freeflight app, a free download for iOS devices, allows users of the AR.Drone 2.0 to upload any captured videos directly to YouTube, or still photos to Google's Picasa service. The app features a redesigned interface and a media manager to handle images and video captured with the chopper.
Finally, Parrot claims the use of carbon fibre tubes, nylon plastic and foam makes for an overall stronger device. The AR.Drone 2.0 weighs the same as the original model (420g with indoor hull, 380g with outdoor hull) but Parrot says it identified the weak points on the hull and reinforced them to make the chopper stronger.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest disappointments of the original AR.Drone hasn't been addressed on the AR.Drone 2.0. The new model has the same poor battery life as its predecessor, lasting no longer than 12 minutes of flying time before needing a 90 minute recharge. While we certainly don't doubt the challenges of battery when it comes to a flying device packing this much tech, the poor battery life is clearly the biggest weakness of the AR.Drone 2.0.
The AR.Drone 2.0 will fly into Australia sometime during June and will be sold at a number of retailers including Dick Smith Electronics (DSE) and EB Games. You can check out videos from the Sydney launch event below, along with Parrot's official promotional clip of the AR.Drone 2.0.