French robot makers are on a roll. Aldebaran Robotics unveiled last Thursday its new personal robot, Pepper, to go on sale next year. And yesterday another Paris-based company, Parrot, announced that its MiniDrone line of toy robots will hit U.S. stores in August.
At an event in New York City, Parrot said that Rolling Spider, a small quadrotor, will sell for US $99, and Jumping Sumo, a two-wheel machine that rolls and hops, will cost $159. Both will be available for preorder in July and reach retailers the following month.
We first met the two smartphone-controlled robots at CES early this year and were impressed by their capabilities. Rolling Spider can fly and hover around, and even flip in midair, and it can also roll on the floor, walls, or ceiling using two optional wheels (the robot uses Bluetooth Smart to communicate with a phone or tablet and can take photos but not stream video). Jumping Sumo has two wheels and it can zip around and spin in place, and a spring lets it jump about 80 centimeters into the air (it uses Wi-Fi for communication and can record and stream video). Check out the robots in action:
The only thing that MiniDrone users may find disappointing is battery life. Because of their compact size, the robots carry small battery packs. Rolling Spider can operate for only 8 minutes, and Jumping Sumo for 20 minutes.
Parrot is known for its popular AR Drone, which packs a lot of technology into an affordable quadrotor (the company has recently demonstrated an even more impressive flying robot, the Bebop Drone, although it's expected to cost more). With its MiniDrones, Parrot seems to be targeting a broader market of not only robot enthusiasts but also kids (and their parents) looking for cool robotic toys. Will they sell? Only time—and the holidays—will tell.
Stephen Cass contributed to this report.
Theresa Chong is a video host and multimedia technology journalist based in Palo Alto, Calif. As on-camera talent, she has performed science experiments for “Discovery News,” explained how virtual reality works for USA Today, and interviewed Adam Savage for IEEE Spectrum. She has written about wearables for Scientific American and travel tech for Architectural Digest. With a DSLR, GoPro, and green screen by her side, she has produced digital videos of robots, driverless cars, and 3D printing. She earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, and in a prior life she worked as a civil engineer.