CES: AR.Drone lesson: Don't dogfight in a Wi-Fi war zone

A demo of an iPhone-controlled helicopter goes wrong as the drone smacks into a CES attendee's head.


The AR.Drone helicopter demo was going really well, until the 'copter, under the expert pilotage of a company employee, veered out of control from its demo arena and smacked into a CES attendee's head. Fortunately, the foam bumper on the drone was installed, otherwise the guy might not have laughed off the collision.

Shortly thereafter, in a demo set up for me of the new AR.Drone dogfighting game, Flying Ace, one demonstrator mercilessly (virtually) pounded another pilot's copter, which hovered motionless, locked in place by the Wi-Fi interference that plagues this conference every year (check out the video at about the 30-second mark). I took the controls a bit later, and my 'copter ended up smashing into a monitor. Although, to be fair, in that case one could plausibly blame pilot error.

The fact that CES is a Wi-Fi war zone overshadowed a fun announcement for this product, which we first saw (and loved) at last year's conference. The new AR.Pursuit game lets you race your drone against a clock. There are pylons to fly around, and a colored tape stripe you put on the ground to represent the start and finish line; the AR.Drone's built-in ground-facing camera recognizes when you cross it.

The racing game joins another game, launched previously: AR.Pursuit, a cat-and-mouse game played by two people and two 'copters. With guns. All the games run on your iOS device, and necessary virtual-reality elements (like gun tracers and missile trails) are displayed over the real-world camera view that the drone transmits to your phone.

While this is Android's year at CES, Parrot is not currently building a control app for Android phones. The main reason is that the iPhone supports ad hoc Wi-Fi networking, which the AR.Drone needs to communicate. Android does not. Additionally, a spokesperson told me that multitouch, a key element in the AR.Drone app interfaces, isn't consistently implemented on all Android phones.

The AR.Drone's price is unchanged, at $299.

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