Microsoft Kinect. PlayStation Move. Gears of War III, Deus Ex, Kane & Lynch 2, Fallout III: New Vegas and, of course Mortal freaking Kombat. E3 2010 has one of the most impressive product spreads in recent memory. But, at least in my eyes, the coolest product at this year's expo isn't a video game.
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The Parrot AR Drone is a hovering four-rotor helicopter that you can control with your smartphone or computer. We've been hearing about this wild new toy for months now, but today was the first chance I've had to fly one.
It blew my mind.
When a product description sounds as cool as “camera-equipped helicopter that you control with your phone” you kind of have to expect it to suck. Ambitious products are the ones most likely to crash and burn.
But the Parrot AR drone is exactly as awesome as it the PR made it seem. The iPhone app gives you a view of the floor beneath your drone, with two clear circles superimposed upon it. Tap one to glide up and down, and press the other to activate your phone's accelerometer and control the drone's flight.
Through WiFi at least, the drone is extremely responsive. At a crowded E3 booth with 3-4 drones up and running, I noticed no lag. Expect a bit of a learning curve; you'll be bouncing off of walls and hitting the roof for the first few minutes.
The Parrot AR drone is extremely moddable. The chassis is attached magnetically, which allows you to swap bodies for indoor and outdoor play. I asked Henri Seydoux, CEO, if 3rd party chassis might be allowed in the future. His answer was a cryptic “maybe”.
Right now, the controller app is only available on iPhone and iPad. Don't worry though; Seydoux himself packs a Nexus One. An Android app is already in the testing stages, and the controller code is totally open-source. You'll be able to program your own controller applications and games if you want to.
The Parrot AR drone will cost $299 for two chassis (in door and outdoor), a battery and a charger. 90 minutes of charge time gets you 12 minutes of flight. They'll be twelve of the funnest minutes of your life.
The possibilities for a toy like this are so broad it boggles the mind. The outdoor body is tough enough to take a beating, and Seydoux admitted that more than a few pilots had tried out ramming the other craft. It's only a matter of time before some nerd sticks a nerf gun on his drone and ushers in a whole new era of office warfare.
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The Parrot AR drone will launch in September.