Parrot has unleashed a new army of 13 drones, starting for as little as $99. They come by land, sea and air. Most of them have cameras, and some of them can even see and fly in the dark. The Airborne drones, specifically, can sense when they are thrown in the air, prompting them to automatically start their own engines and stabilize themselves in mid-air. I had a blast trying my hand at driving and flying these little guys.
The Parrot Airborne lineup features two drones: Airborne Night and Airborne Cargo. Both weigh just 1.2 pounds and are controlled through the FreeFlight 3 smartphone app. Each comes equipped with a three-axis accelerometer, a three-axis gyroscope and an ultrasound sensor. A vertical camera tracks the speed and can take aerial selfies, stored on the 1GB of internal memory that can be accessed through the companion app. Images snapped with it looked pretty clear and color accurate on an iPhone screen.
The $129 Night drones, which reach a maximum speed of 11 mph, will only run for 9 minutes at a time before you need to charge them for 25 minutes. These feature two LED lights that can be adjusted for various levels of intensity. You can also project flashing lights, for those times you really want to freak out the neighbors. The lights were very bright in person. Parrot identified three separate characters, with different color schemes: SWAT, Mac Lane and Blaze. Mac Lane channels Die Hard with his police vehicle identification on the sides.
Mars and Travis, the two new Cargo quadcopters, can carry one or two of your favorite Legos around. They have the same top speed and battery endurance as their night-vision-enabled brothers, but they will only cost you $99. I used an iPhone running the FreeFlight 3 app to control Travis. Not being a gamer, I have no talent for joysticks. But I was able to easily maneuver up, down, left and right. Double tapping had it doing flips in the air. I even landed it safely, sort of. It clipped a stool on its way down, but it didn't break. I also enjoyed putting the iPhone in accelerometer mode, where my movements of the phone were mirrored in the air.
In Parrot's Jumping lineup are racing and night-vision drones, which are land based. These $189 bots are like little pairs of big wheels. They can take turns as sharp as 90 degrees and jump up to 2.5 feet in the air. A wide-angle camera, microphone and speaker mean you can pass messages with them. The Jumping Night versions, known as Diesel, Buzz and Marshall, are equipped with two LED headlights with adjustable intensity, just as with the Airborne line. They can go up to 4 mph for about 20 minutes, with a 25-minute charge time.
The Race models — Jett, Max and Tuk-Tuk — can hit 8 mph, in short bursts of speed. That's thanks to their wider and retractable wheel base. They, too, can last about 20 minutes. When I drove Max around, using an iPad running the Parrot app, he made odd little beeping noises, which I'm told is how it differentiates its personality from the others in its group.
The Hydrofoil lineup from Parrot travels by freshwater and sort of by air. The four propellers of this MiniDrone can be raised up to make the boat appear to float above the surface, or flapped back down to sit about 2 inches above the water's surface. You can even detach the tiny propeller system to fly through the air, using the same controls as on the Airborne lineup. I was surprised to learn the flying part of the drone is not waterproof, but can handle some splashes. Just don't submerge it.
For $179, the Orak and New Z boats can go up to 11 mph in hover mode, or 6 mph on the water. The battery endurance is only 7 minutes, however. You'll definitely want to stock up on a second (and possibly third) battery pack because cruising around with this guy was total fun, even if I did run into a couple of walls in the process.