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Living with Technology / A civilian takes controls of drone flight

Published 11:58 am, Thursday, February 7, 2013
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Lately, there has been a lot of talk about drone aircraft, both military and civilian. Drone aircraft are generally described as unmanned aircraft that are remotely controlled. In the case of military aircraft, some of the drones are flown from thousands of miles away.

While the military aircraft are out of the reach of most, there are a number of consumer drones available to the general public. Last week, I had the pleasure of trying the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0.

The AR.Drone is a quadcopter. It's shaped like a big letter X with a motor and a propeller on the end of each of the four legs. At the center of the X is the brain, sensors, battery and cameras.

The AR.Drone comes ready to fly. You simply charge up the included battery, pop it into the unit and drop the cover on.

The AR.Drone doesn't come with a remote control. Instead, you use a tablet, such as an iPad or a smartphone. I used both an iPad and my Android phone very successfully. Parrot offers free, downloadable apps for both Apple and Android devices.

Starting the AR.Drone is very simple. Pressing the take off button on the tablet or phone, the device pops up to about four feet off the ground and hovers. From there, you can control the AR.Drone's height, rotation and forward, backward, left and right motions.

When you are ready to land the AR.Drone, you simply press the landing button on the screen and it sets itself gently down. If you think you're doing to crash, there's an emergency button that shuts down everything immediately.

The AR.Drone even comes with two built-in cameras that can record video to a USB memory stick, which you must provide.

There are much fancier -- and more expensive -- drone quadcopters out there, but Parrot has done a great job of making a very accessible, affordable product for about $300.

The Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 is available from Amazon.com, Brookstone, Apple, Toys-R-Us and even the Verizon Wireless store.

I shot two videos over the weekend that you can find on YouTube are "An 8-year-old boy flying the AR.Drone" at http://bit.ly/11kNLkX and "Video from the AR.Drone" at http://bit.ly/WmQ01e

Although I have to return the demo AR.Drone, I predict we'll have one in our home in the not-too-distant future.

Mark Mathias is a Westport resident and has worked in information technology for more than 30 years. His "Living With Technology" appears every other Wednesday. He can be contacted at livingwithtechnology@mathias.org.