Rise of the drones

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 June, 2012, 12:00am
 

There are few things capable of getting an office full of hard-working hacks (oh yes we are!) to down tools en masse. The boss distributing Lai See packets or a disaster unfolding live on television might do the trick; the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 definitely did. People who had gone unintroduced for years were rubbing shoulders, giggling like schoolboys as the toy took to the air.

The drone is a remote-controlled helicopter, or quadricopter, as the maker likes to call it, operated via Wi-fi, with a smartphone as the control unit. The device records pictures and video with two cameras; one that points forward, one downwards. This is a toy for the biggest of boys.

Once you've downloaded the relevant app, for an Apple or Android device, getting started is simple enough, albeit a little scary, given you're piloting HK$2,399 worth of hardware through the air with little idea of what you're doing. There are demo videos online (www.parrot.com) but, really, who is going to sit and watch those when you're itching to get the thing off the ground?

The manufacturers must have anticipated that, because the drone is robust and comes with a foam exoskeleton capable of withstanding a crash ... or many. One other thing that is helpful to know at the outset is that, if you take your fingers off the controls, the device stops and hovers.

A second, less-protective hull is included for outdoor use and the craft has a range of at least 50 metres.

It is totally impractical for cramped Hong Kong, of course, but we've no doubt the drone will be a big seller for Toys 'R' Us, HMV, the Apple online store, Nobletime and other retailers.

Despite the warnings about privacy printed in the manual, it will be interesting to see how long it is before some start-led resident of a 14th floor apartment lodges a complaint about being spied on by an AR.Drone.

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