Parrot Bebop Drone Pairs With Your Smartphone
Parrot's Bebop drone, just unveiled, uses ad-hoc Wifi connections to talk to your smartphone- or tablet-based app. With four rotors protected by foam bumpers, you get about 11 minutes per charge on the battery. And it's fast.
(Parrot Bebop Drone hands-on video)
Here’s how it works. When you’re flying the Bebop and controlling it through Parrot’s FreeFlight iOS or Android app, you can see what Bebop sees. However, in video mode, the camera shows you just 86 degrees. For one thing, this smaller view makes the camera appear perfectly stable no matter how you move Bebop about in the air. Also, you can control which 86-degree portion you see and record through the app — all without moving the drone.
The Bebop is part remote-control flyer and part robot. It has a host of sensors — including pressure, accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer — to help it fly stable, hover in the air, and take off and land smoothly without assistance. The AR.Drone has those, too, but Bebop adds a built-in GPS that tells Bebop where it is (outdoors, only) and even if you lose sight of the drone, a command to return “home” will bring it right back to you.
Bebop can also travel faster than the AR.Drone — a lot faster. It’s been clocked at 50 kilometers per hour (roughly 31 mph). The AR.Drone maxes out at 15 kph.
Parrot also put in a brand new 802.11ac radio that can connect over 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, which means you can even search for the best channels and manually switch to them if you want better communication with the drone. And those connections could go a long way. Bebop stays connected, said Parrot, up to 250 meters away.
The idea of having a controllable, flying platform for viewing the scene at a distance is one of the most common wishes for science fiction writers (and science fiction readers, for that matter).
Consider the floater camera from the 1985 Michael Crichton movie Runaway, which is paired with a dashboard camera controller in a police cruiser:
(Top view of floater camera from Runaway movie)
And of course the wristband viewer from the 1980 novel Changeling by Roger Zelazny, used to view images from the sinister (and solar-powered) tracer birds:
Mark brushed back the soft green sleeve of his upper garment and pressed several buttons on the wide bracelet he wore upon his left wrist. The bird took flight again, climbing steadily. He controlled its passage with the wristband and saw through its eyes upon the tiny screen in the bracelet's center.
I can't leave out the flying eye from The Repairman, a Harry Harrison short story from 1959:
Staying outside the atmosphere, I sent a Flying Eye down to look things over. In this business, you learn early where and when to risk your own skin. The Eye would be good enough for the preliminary survey.
Finally, I'd include the Raytron apparatus from Ray Cumming's classic 1928 story Beyond the Stars:
Then Sonya prepared an image-finder. She connected the batteries, the projector, and the grid of glowing wires.
Alice and Dolores held the grid between them. Sonya fired the small projectile. It sailed off, a whirling pink ball. It was in reality a small, flat disk with a lenslike eye and a whirling, pink, glowing armature on top.
Over a radius of several miles Sonya's raytron apparatus could direct its flight, and back over the invisible connecting ray came an image of all that the lens eye saw.
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