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The Globe and Mail

Parrot's AR Drone brings flight down to earth

Some say it's a dream as old as humanity: The desire to fly. As technology advanced, that vision arrived within our grasp. Still, it remains prohibitively expensive for most to pursue as a recreational pastime.

Similarly, while remote-controlled aircraft have been around for a while, they are expensive and complicated to operate.

Enter the advent of Wi-Fi enabled touchscreen computers such as the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, combined with wireless video streaming and augmented reality, and you have Parrot's AR Drone: A personal aerial drone that not only gives its pilot a cockpit view of the flight, but adds a video game-like layer to the picture as a pair of pilots engage in virtual laser dogfights.

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The $299 toy was five years in development as Parrot tried to perfect the technology that would make the AR Drone easy for novices to fly, project manager Yori Benatar told The Globe and Mail at the International Consumer Electronics Show.

Now the company is working to build its developer community, encouraging them to make use of the AR Drone's open software development kit.

"Anyone can create his own application for the drone," Mr. Benatar said as half a dozen aerial drone pilots battled each other outside the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Some of the applications that have already been created by independent developers include one that records navigation data and streams the telemetry to identify air current patterns and drafts and another records the video the toy streams, for example.

That wasn't always the vision Parrot had for its camera-equipped remote controlled toy.

"The original concept was to make a car," Mr. Benatar said. They quickly discovered that it was too limiting with a low, fixed camera point of view , which made for a boring experience. "It wasn't fun."

Globe @ CES

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