If you’re already drone crazy, here’s what you probably want to know about the latest Parrot drone, the BeBop 2, introduced today in San Francisco. The 500-gram drone has a 2-kilometer range, a 25-minute battery life (twice as long as its predecessor), a top horizontal speed of 60 kilometers per hour, and can resist headwinds up to 39 miles per hour. The pilotless aircraft, which can operate in first-person view mode, will sell for US $500 when it comes out on 14 December.
If you’re interested in the engineering of this gadget, you might want to know that it includes: a vertical camera that watches the ground to help in stabilization; an ultrasound sensor that measures altitude up to 16 feet (about 5 meters) and a pressure sensor for tracking altitude beyond that; a 3-axis gyroscope, magnetometer, and accelerometer, and a GPS chipset; a graphics processor, and 8 gigabytes of flash memory. Its sensors operate at 1 kilohertz to feed the image stabilization’s software. The BeBop 2’s only moving parts are its propellers.
If you’ve never flown a drone solo before, like me, you certainly would want to know that the learning curve is about 45 seconds, it’s really, really hard to hurt someone because it’s small, light, and has built-in safety features (during my first 45 seconds at the controls those indeed came into play). Once you figure out how to point the gadget towards something you want to photograph you immediately see how having a camera drone could be a lot of fun.
Parrot CEO Henri Seydoux unveils the Parrot Bebop 2Photo: Tekla Perry
Parrot CEO Henri Seydoux, unveiling the new drone, touted all of its features, including aerial performance, battery life, and wifi range. But, he said, “The most important feature is the camera; [consumer] drones are for taking pictures you can put on YouTube or Facebook. Bebop 2 is built around a camera; everything done to stabilize the image is through image processing. It’s a flying image processing device.”
Seydoux also stressed the drone’s size and weight: “Doing everything through software makes it lighter,” he said. “If it falls down, less opportunity to break itself.” And in a collision, “It doesn’t hurt if it hits someone.” (It also avoids causing injury with a feature that automatically stops all the propellers if one is touched.)
Parrot’s new Bebop 2Photo: Tekla Perry
In hands-on testing of three or four drones by journalists who were drone novices—in an indoor ballroom where structural pillars regularly interrupted open space, there were a multitude of crashes into windows and walls. None of the collisions disabled any of the drones. After my first minute, during which I somehow didn’t understand that I could stop the drone by lifting my finger from the touchpad and flew it full speed into a cluster of Parrot staff members and journalists (a staff member calmly reached out and snatched it just before impact), I found it easy and fun to fly. Adding to the fun was the ability to get whatever camera view I wanted on the touchscreen. Definitely a user-friendly gizmo.
Think of it as a pigeon, Seydoux suggested. “A small bird,” he said. “has nearly the same capabilities of very large bird. A pigeon can travel hundreds of kilometers and know exactly where it is; it is as good for traveling as a goose.”
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.