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Spy Games: Parrot’s New Mini Drones Skim Over water, Fly at Night, and Carry Cargo

They’re like James Bond gadgets, but you won’t need an MI-6 budget to get one.

In a James Bond movie, you’d never question the idea of robots flying at night, carrying small payloads, or skimming the surface of a lake. Now, the good people at Parrot are more than happy to play Q to your budget 007.

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Today, Paris-based Parrot is unveiling a set of 13 second-generation mini drones that are joining its existing “minidrones team.” Each of the new “connected robots” are expected to be released this fall.

Until the recent emergence of China’s DJI as the world’s-largest maker of consumer drones, France’s Parrot had been perhaps the most famous brand thanks to inexpensive products like its AR line of drones and its Sumo line of jumping robots. The first generation of Parrot mini drones sold more than 600,000 units, the company said.

DJI is said to be on pace to bring in $1 billion in revenue in 2015, which would mean sales of several hundred thousand drones, most of which cost more than $1,000. By comparison, Parrot’s mini drones products sell for between $99 and $189. Other brands, like 3D Robotics, also aim for the higher end of the market, and action camera giant GoPro said last month that it plans on selling drones starting next year.


Like Anki, the maker of a set of artificially intelligent race car robots, Parrot calls its mini drones “characters,” and gives them clever names, like Diesel, Buzz, and Marshall.

The new mini drones come in three categories: jumping, airborne, and “hydrofoil.”

All of Parrot’s second-gen mini drones can be operated using the company’s free FreeFlight app and a Wi-Fi connection.

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The company’s new jumping robots have a built-in camera, can “talk” (making “bip,” “ziiip,” and “groutch” noises, “like any robot”), and come with a walkie-talkie feature that lets users talk and listen through them.

Jumping Night, Diesel

They can jump as high as 2.5 feet using a spring-mounted system, and Parrot says they always land on their feet. They can also be programmed to follow a specific course or set of actions.

There’s also a “racing” set of jumping Parrot mini drones that can hit speeds of 6 miles an hour, while the standard models top out at 4 mph.

Airborne

Parrot’s new $99 Airborne drones feature a 3-axis accelerometer and a 3-axis gyroscope, and can automatically stabilize in flight thanks to an on-board autopilot.

Airborne Cargo, Mars

Able to fly at up to 11 miles an hour, the Airborne drones are designed to do mid-air tricks like flips without losing control. Users can make the drones do instant 90- or 180-degree turns with a swipe in the app.

And the drones are self-aware: Toss one of them in the air, and its sensors turn on its motors and take flight automatically.

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Airborne Night, McClane

The “Cargo” model can also carry small figurines or toy bricks in flight, Parrot said, while the $129 “Night” versions have white LED lights whose brightness can be adjusted from the app. The company says it imagines people flying the drones at night in areas that would otherwise be inaccessible in the dark.

Hydrofoil

The final new mini drones are designed to skim two inches above the surface of a river or lake while attached to a hydrofoil. These $179 drones are meant to be raced like boats in a sailing match, and can ply the water at up to 6 miles an hour. They can be turned on a dime, Parrot said, without capsizing.

Hydrofoil, Orak

If the drone is detached from its hydrofoil, it can then fly around like one of the Airborne models.

And with that, the drone takes another big step toward complete ubiquity…

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About the author

Daniel Terdiman is a San Francisco-based technology journalist with nearly 20 years of experience. A veteran of CNET and VentureBeat, Daniel has also written for Wired, The New York Times, Time, and many other publications.

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