Parrot’s latest addition to the world of consumer drones is a very simplified and miniaturized drone that serves better as a casual (and entertaining toy) than a legitimate and useful aerial vehicle.
What is most astounding about this new drone is its size – this little guy is very petite! Including rotor-span, this drone is smaller than my hand. It’s tiny size makes it great for transport, unlike its larger AR.Drone 2.0 cousin, or the forthcoming Bebop Drone. I’ve been able to casual throw this guy in my backpack going to work, or stick it in a Tupperware sandwich box to keep it protected. Unlike conventional drones, this MiniDrone literally sounds like a mosquito with its high-pitched whine, so is perfect for buzzing around people and irritating them to no end. However, with such compact size comes sacrifices. Unlike the AR.Drone 2.0, this MiniDrone sports just a single ultrasonic sensor (instead of two) and no forward-facing HD camera. Additionally, it performs in a much more limited range (20M/66ft) utilizing Bluetooth Smart instead of WiFi. With a tiny battery, it’ll only stay airborne for an advertised 8 minutes (though from my tests, you’ll be lucky if you get that long).
Yet this new dog has its own tricks – with its removable wheels (yep, wheels on a quadricopter) it can happily roll up walls and across ceilings like, well, a rolling spider. Like its ancestor, a quick tap can make the drone do flips and rolls to your heart’s content, and the battery’s angst. While I think the rolling aspect is pretty neat, and their promo video does a great job of demoing it, I’m less enthused about it in real life. Sure, it works, mostly, though you have to be very active with the controls to get it to roll properly (without bouncing), and unless you happen to live in a drywalled shell, chances are you’re not going to be able to roll too far without knocking off a picture, smoke detector, or careering into a doorway. After a few demo flights (and as a novelty thing to show off), I’ve left the wheels sitting in my desk, and simply fly the MiniDrone as a conventional drone.
How She Flies
The battery life is very short, noticeably as compared to the AR.Drone, it’s not horrible when you think of this little thing as a casual toy. Additionally, it charges off USB, making it a lot easier to charge, than having to use a dedicated charger over AC. In fact, I’ve toted this little guy along when taking flights with the AR.Drone, and sent this up for a little joyride, before plugging it into my Mophie Juice Pack for recharging while continuing with the AR.Drone, and then being able to take up the MiniDrone again for kicks. This Rolling Spider sports a downward facing 0.3MP camera, which, like on the AR.Drone is used for ground tracking by the control board, is also able to take still photos, which it saves to its internal memory. This is the only capturing ability that you have with the Rolling Spider, which is unfortunate. The number one comment I’ve gotten from everyone I’ve shown it to is how great it would be with a forward facing HD camera, especially given its size. While I can understand why they logistically decided to avoid including this camera, it’s still unfortunate and prevents this from being really great as a tool. The flight stability of this is actually much better than I expected, and is stable inside as well as outside – possible more-so than the AR.Drone. I was wary about taking it up on a windy day, yet it did fairly well. On a day during which the AR.Drone was being buffeted and losing all stability/control due to the wind, the Rolling Spider did quite-possibly better, retaining control, and not being send far down the field. That being said, its range and height is much more limited than its larger cousin. The internal sensors work very similarly to the AR.Drone, though this guy is somewhat constrained by the height restrictions (set in the app, but limited to under 20M). While I was able to fly the AR.Drone off a three-story roof without confusion, when I tried the same with the Rolling Spider, it became totally disoriented, and bounced up and down, having no idea what to make off the massive change in altitude that had just occurred.
The companion Free Flight 3 app is similar (though sleeker) to the preceding Free Flight 2 app, but requires a read of the directions to learn what the undescriptive icons signify. It has three flight modes – beginner (utilizing a tilt-the-controller method of flight), a capturing mode (allowing you to film the drone from your device while flying it), and advanced mode, with single joystick control, plus one-touch rotates. The controls are much more sensitive than the larger drone, which can make flight in constricted areas to be difficult, especially given the very fast speed of the drone.