In the grand ranking of remote-controlled vehicles, the only thing better than a remote controlled plane is a remote-controlled boat. At least, that's what I used to think. After playing with Parrot's new generation of Minidrones, I realise that a remote controlled hydrofoil is the true champion of RC anything.
AU Editor's Note: We'll be attending a local launch of Parrot's Minidrone range soon, so stay tuned for Australian availability and pricing.
Really, all of Parrot's 13 new internet-connected robots are just toy drones. Some operate on land, some on water, and some in the air. None of them are exactly autonomous, but let's just agree that a toy drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle designed for fun.
The most exciting is the so-called "Hydrofoil" minidrone. When Parrot announced the new family of toys a couple weeks ago, it seemed like the new minidrones were basically just the old minidrones with a few new tricks. This is more or less true — except with the Hydrofoil, it's a really cool new trick. As the name implies, the waterborne vehicle skims across water like a boat, and then once you pick up speed, it lifts right up into the air while staying anchored with a pretty slick-looking hydrofoil fin.
I took the Hydrofoil for a spin at a recent press event and will admit that it's a pretty novel experience. As we've come to expect from Parrot, the smartphone or tablet controls tend to be a little bit awkward and laggy. Nevertheless, I was able to get the Hydrofoil up to top speed in a narrow pool on the roof of a Manhattan hotel. The drone part of the Hydrofoil minidrone is basically just a revamped version of Parrot's Rolling Spider, a tiny quadcopter with a camera. The $US180 rig can go up to 6-miles-per-hour and seem virtually impossible to capsize. That said, Parrot was pretty cagey about what would happen if you did dunk it in the water. (I'm guessing bad things happen.)
Parrot is also releasing two versions of the mini-quadcopter and calling them the Airborne series. The "Airborne Night" comes with two LED lights that allow for, um, night-time fun. The "Airborne Cargo" lets you carry around a little Lego-style man. These minidrones can fly up to 11-miles-per-hour for up to 9 minutes and come in fun themes like a taxi cab and a SWAT chopper. The Night and Cargo sell for $US130 and $US100 respectively.
Finally, there's the new version of the Parrot Jumping Sumo. This is barely an unmanned aerial vehicle because it mostly just bops around on the ground. However, a fun jumping mode will send it two-and-a-half feet up or across the floor. The quasi-terrestrial drones also come with cameras and a new two-way radio feature that turns them into walkie talkies — which is pretty cool, in my opinion. The "Jumping Night" model tops out at 4-miles-per-hour, while the "Jumping Race" models go twice as fast but lack the fun night lights. They both retail for $US190.
It's pretty obvious that Parrot is pushing hard for a new category of futuristic toys, and these look cooler than what I've seen in the past. (I'd totally take that hydrofoil to the lake!) However, it remains to be seen if people really want to spend almost $US200 on a little car that jumps and talks. Meanwhile, the market for beginner drones is getting awfully crowded. May the best minidrone win.