iPad copter fun to fly, steep learning curve

The four-fan AR.Drone wirelessly streams video back to the controlling device

By , IDG News Service |  Personal Tech, AR.Drone, ipad

The AR.Drone from France-based Parrot is an exciting, fun-to-fly, four-rotor helicopter that can be piloted over Wi-Fi by an iPad, iPod Touch or iPhone. But flying indoors proves tricky and may frustrate inexperienced pilots. The helicopter goes on sale in the U.S. at Brookstone stores on Sept. 3, 2010, for US$299 and is available for pre-order now.

For a video review of the toy, click here.

Getting started

Pairing the unit with an iPad was easy. The toy creates its own wireless network. If there are too many wireless signals in the area, the drone may have trouble pairing, a Parrot spokesman said, but in downtown Boston -- awash with Wi-Fi -- we had no issues.

Wireless cameras

The toy has two cameras, one pointing forward and one pointing down, that stream video back to the controlling device. The cameras seem designed to take advantage of the augmented reality games we saw during CES. In one game an airplane appears on your iPad and you have to control your helicopter to shoot it down. We weren't able to test that game, but we're told that it should be available in the Apple App Store by the end of 2010.

Don't count on the camera to pilot the drone when you can't see it. While the small, front-facing camera has a relatively wide range of view at 93 degrees, it only shoots at 15 frames per second, hardly fast enough to avoid walls and doorways. Outside, though, the cameras give you a unique perspective on the world, especially when you hover the drone amidst trees.

Controlling the toy

The AR.Drone includes basic controls that are on the screen of the iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. Tilting the iPad makes the drone fly in the same direction as the tilt. When first flying it's best to stand behind it for easier orientation.

The software allows for a lot of customization of flying controls. You can increase and decrease the tilt sensitivity as well as the vertical speed and yaw speed. Making the controls slightly more sensitive makes the helicopter easier to control because you don't need to move the iPad as much.

Indoor flying

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