Parrot AR Drone Turns Real Life into a Video Game

iPhone-controlled 'copter 'bot augments real objects in its path into targets in a virtual world.

Ever wish your life was a video game, and you could shoot obstacles out of your way on a crowded sidewalk (or, hem, trade show floor)? This week at CES, Parrot unveiled a device that does just that. The new AR Drone is a helicopter-style flying robot that sees everyday objects and re-images them on a iPhone or iPod touch as virtual enemies or obstacles.

The Drone pairs with an iPhone over WiFi. You control the Drone’s movements with on-screen gestures like taps and by tilting and turning the phone itself. It’s equipped with a small front-facing video camera that feeds what it sees back to the iPhone’s screen in real time. The trick, though, comes with how what the Drone sees is represented on-screen; real life items (like trees or rocks, but in the demo it’s just a white box) can be tagged with bar codes, which its onboard processor scans and re-interprets as opponents, hiding places, or obstacles. The objects can then be re-skinned on screen as planes or whatever you can imagine.

The demo game we saw was a fighter flight scenario, but that’s not how the Drone will ship. It’s not for sale right now, but rather Parrot is looking at it as a new gaming development platform for app and software developers to let their minds run rampant on. In fact, two Drones can “see” each other and enter into a virtual on-screen battle.

The idea of the Drone, Parrot CEO Henri Seydoux told PopSci.com, has been four years in the making, beginning with the idea of controlling a car with your phone (something we’ve been seeing a bit of recently, in fact). But he wanted to make a toy that brings gaming out of the basement and out into the daylight. Plus, the gameplay is actually affected by real-world factors like wind gusts, making it much less predictable and different each time you play.

The platform is now open to developers, and Parrot expects the Drone to be ready for the public this summer.

PopSci at CES