The new AR Drone helicopter combines an iPhone and virtual games to make a product that’s drawing much attention at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The helicopter, or what France-based Parrot calls a quadricopter has four fans that allow it to fly in all directions.
Under development for four years, the most impressive aspect of the AR Drone is that it streams real-time video from its two cameras back to the iPhone or iPod Touch that is controlling it. Tilting the iPhone to use its accelerometer controls the helicopter’s flight.
In single-player mode, gamers play against a computer, but in two-player mode two friends can pit their helicopters against each other
The unit comes with two augmented reality games, one of which pits players against a fighter jet that needs to be shot down. Augmented reality is when there’s computer generated imagery added to a view of the physical world.
“The idea is to explore a new area of video games. Video games that you do with things, video games that you do outside your computer display,” said Henri Seydoux founder and CEO of Parrot.
The AR Drone has a full on-board computer and uses an Arm926 core processor and Linux. It also has a three axis accelerometer, two gyroscopes and an ultrasound altimeter. The front camera produces a 640 x 480 pixel video at 15 frames per second while the bottom camera shoots at 176 x1 44 video at 60 frames per second.
“It uses a cellular phone CPU, memory, sensors and it has a very powerful CPU as you have on a cell phone and it permits it to bring this level of flight quality, but also processing for the augmented reality,” said Seydoux.
The software running on the iPhone is open source so Parrot hopes that developers will create more games for the helicopter and adapt the software to run on other devices .
The helicopter has autopilot features that include automatic take-off and landing, auto leveling and stable flight 1 meter above the ground after take off and automatic stabilization on release of controls.
The AR Drone will be available this year, but the company wouldn’t say when or for how much.