January 6, 2010 by USA Post 

ar.drone_3D_renderAr.Drone: almost certainly the world’s first Wi-Fi enabled iPhone-controllable miniature flying device.
Three years ago, in one of my more fanciful columns for the sadly defunct Technology section of the newspaper, I predicted that the future of gaming was augmented reality robot battles. Inspired by the news of Bandai’s NetTansor, a miniature droid that could be controlled remotely via Wi-Fi, I suggested that we’ll all one day be indulging in real-world death matches, commanding robotic slaves into battle on the streets of our towns and cities, as we controlled the carnage via our computers.

Well, it turns out, these weren’t the ‘oh Christ, I’ve got one hour to file a story’ blatherings of a desperate man.

Parrot, a Paris-based tech company specialising in wireless devices for mobile phones, has just unveiled the AR Drone, a model ‘quadricopter’ pilotable via, yes, a Wi-Fi connection with your iPhone or iPod Touch (and potentially any device with wireless connectivity and a decent screen). The ‘copter features two camera, one acting as an Inertial Measurement Unit to stabilise flight, the other streaming real-time video footage of the flight to your phone screen. Controls are via the iPhone accelerometer, which handles changes in direction, and a series out icons on the touchscreen for rise, drop and rotate functions.

Parrot has the field of augmented reality gaming firmly in its sites, and sees aerial combat as a possible killer app for the device. According to the website, the AR Drone will ship with two AR games, including a simple shooter in which you blast computer-generated craft that are overlaid on the video display. Furthermore, a Software Development Kit is now available for the developers who want to create games for the AR Drone.

Interestingly, the craft can apparently be flown both inside and out in the open, suggesting two possibilities: massive multiplayer deathmatches in the skies above; and mid-air voyeurism. Well, someone was going to point it out eventually – and let’s face it, the CIA has been working on insect-like spy cameras since the ’70s, and a swarm was apparently spotted over Washington two years ago. Is this the consumer version?

There’s no word on costing or availability yet, but Parrot is showing the technology at this week’s giant Consumer Electronics Show. I’ve put in a request for a review unit, though I’ve probably blown my chances pointing out that whole spying angle.

What do you think? The future of gaming?

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