Parrot Adds GPS and Partial Autonomy to AR Drone, Shows Off SenseFly UAV

The AR Drone gets even better, and Parrot introduces us to the eBee UAV camera platform

2 min read
Parrot Adds GPS and Partial Autonomy to AR Drone, Shows Off SenseFly UAV

We're huge fans of the AR Drone, not just because it's dirt cheap and a huge amount of fun, and also not just because it's actually being used for serious research, but because we love how Parrot just keeps on making it better year after year. At CES last week, they showed us a bunch of upgrades along the path to autonomy, along with their newest toy: a camera equipped eBee UAV from SenseFly.

Let's start with the AR Drone. Parrot has been working on two hardware add-ons, including a 1,500 mAh battery pack that'll give you 50% more flying time, and (much more excitingly) a GPS receiver:

Sadly, the GPS receiver isn't set up to allow full autonomy (yet). At launch, it'll simply record a track of your AR Drone's flight, as well as helping to keep the drone from drifting, but obviously, there's a lot that Parrot (or other clever blokes) should be able to do with this.

If you're looking for more immediate autonomy, Parrot is also releasing some software called Director's Mode,which gives a little taste:

All those buttons down at the bottom let you direct the drone in different ways, like translating it left and right or forward and backward, or rotating around a point. The idea is that it'll make filming things with the drone's camera a lot smoother (hence "Director's Mode"), but Parrot hinted that more advanced scriptability may be forthcoming.

The final new thing that we saw was the eBee, part of Parrot's SenseFly acquisition from earlier this year. The eBee is fully autonomous, and uses an onboard 16 megapixel Canon PowerShot to autonomously survey sites and stitch together big georeferenced and orthorectified 3D panoramas.

It's easy to carry around, easy to launch, lands autonomously, does all of the image processing by itself, and can be yours in 2-3 months for a really-not-that-much-if-you-think-about-it $12,000.

[ Parrot AR Drone ]

[ SenseFly eBee ]

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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