I saw a video of the Parrot AR 2.0 drone half a year ago or so and thought it looked like a lot of fun. Up until this point I’d been a $35 indoors RC helicopter kind of pilot. You know, weak IR, line of sight that kind of thing. I’d experimented a few times taking them outside and found that as long as you stayed in the shade, the sunlight interfered with the IR sensor far less. But physics says that a few grams of less-than-aerodynamic plastic is going to have a lot of trouble dealing with even small breezes. That’s why the AR drone appealed – wifi instead of infrared meant that line of sight wasn’t an issue, and range is greatly increased. Fortunately my birthday was coming up and the family all put in to get me one. Using my iPad to fly it was appealing, too.

Even though I had read the dimensions, it was bigger than I expected at first. In a good way. Clearly this was a level up. Part of the 17 grams of the thing is more processor power than my PC had in 1999, two video cameras, USB flash drive, a range of onboard sensors and of course the wifi. Cool.

Not moving with the thing you’re controlling makes it difficult to control that thing. But with a bit of practice you get a feel for it. The big risk with owning things like these is that every mistake you make  is potentially game over. $350 out the window in a flash. But the only way to know how a thing flies is to take it to it’s limits – talk about razor edge stuff. I’ve crashed my drone a few times and it’s still in working order. The back right rotor took some damage after falling about 10 metres from the sky, after the low battery warning kicked about 3 seconds before the whole thing ran out of juice. Something’s been knocked out of whack and the frame vibrates more than what it did, but not enough to affect hovering of flying straight, so I guess i got lucky. When/if the long life battery is released, i’ll probably pick up a parts and repair kit too… just in case.

The app i’m using to fly the AR has been removed from the iTunes store recently on account of a patent dispute – something relating to the freeflight mechanics that were offered by the software. I haven’t actually used this feature much, I think I prefer flying relative to the machine. But it’s a bit of a worry.

I plan to use it to capture unique views of a few interesting places around about town. The Carillon crosses my mind, but the problem with flying in spaces like that of course is the ever present wind from the lake. Still, won’t know how hard till I’ve tried it. I think in terms of capturing quality video of decent length is going to depend on the upcoming “Director Mode” software feature which will allow users to pre-program paths and movements of the drone. Whatever legal complications that have caused the removal of some of the features may impact on time spent on developing other aspects of the product’s features. But I hope not.

Entertaining videos to follow.