Attack of the Drones

With the price and size of computer hardware steadily decreasing, it's becoming more viable to use embedded Linux systems to control small robots and drones. There are plenty of projects for Raspberry Pi, but not everyone wants to build a drone from scratch. That's why enthusiasts will be pleased to hear about the new drones from Parrot.

Last week, the French firm released a range of 13 mini-drones. They are available to buy right now in France, and they will be released in the UK and Europe in July. Like most drones, they are remote-controlled; you can use your phone or tablet to control them via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

What sets them apart is that these drones are also programmable, thanks to their embedded Linux-based operating system. The drones can be programmed to follow a preset path, or you can use more sophisticated logic to control them.

There are many various models, including night and day models and racing models capable of greater speeds. The different models fit into three categories:

1. Jumping: these drones roll and jump. They're like two-wheeled remote-control cars that can traverse rough terrain and jump up to 32 inches. They also have a camera that can record or stream a live video and a microphone to pick up sound. There is even a built-in speaker that can broadcast your voice for some remote presence fun.

2. Airborne: these are quadcopters, and not surprisingly, they can fly. They feature an autopilot that can keep them level, so you don't have to juggle the controls. There is a vertical camera, and one model even has a LEGO receptacle so you can pick up and carry LEGO models.

3. Hydrofoil: these are amphibious devices--you get a boat and a quadcopter. On its own, the quadcopter can do normal "quadcoptery" things, but when you attach it to the boat, it becomes more interesting. The quadcopter adapts to a new position and powers the boat to skim along on the water at about eight mph. The camera adjusts to provide a forward facing view, so you still can use it to steer from a first-person point of view.

The drones use a standard mini-USB cable to recharge their built-in 550mAh batteries.

Right now, the details of the programmable interface are sketchy (by which I mean they are written in French, a language in which I am somewhat less than fluent). This is clearly my failing, not Parrot's; however, with the UK release coming in a few weeks, we'll be able to learn more soon.

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