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Parrot’s new quadcopter slims down in size while growing its capabilities — most notably, an incredible software-stabilized video camera that eliminates the need for a mechanical gimbal, and the ability to interface with an Oculus Rift headset.

Similar to Parrot’s AR 2.0 drone (but said to not be 3.0 version of that line by Parrot CEO Henri Seydoux at the pre-release press conference in San Francisco), the 0.83 pound rig called the Parrot Bebop contains an AR-2.0-esque variety of ground-facing sensors to help with flight, and a lightweight expanded-polystyrene body. It is similarly controlled by the user’s smartphone or tablet using WiFi — Seydoux explains that this is because he wants this to be a consumer device that interfaces with the most common device we carry. And it has a removable blade guard to cover its four propellor-spinning arms, for indoor flight. Beyond that, there aren’t many similarities between their older model and this new platform.

The body of the drone, especially with the bumper off, is much smaller than the AR 2.0. Its arms are beefier, and the propellors use three blades rather than the two-bladed setup on the AR. It looks sleek and stealthy.

The BeBop really stands out, however, because of its 180º fuselage-mounted camera. This isn’t a normal fisheye lens — Seydoux explains that it captures the footage at a very high resolution and then narrows in on the part of the footage on which the user wants to focus, but still outputs that at 1080p. As the copter maneuvers, the software adjusts that perspective to keep the angle steady and smooth, or pans as the user desires — just like a motorized gimbal but without the bulk and weight. The software also adjusts the footage to remove distortion from using such a wide lens.

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As imaging sensors get more and more advanced, software-stabilizing systems will undoubtedly become the norm. Motorized gimbals are already a necessity for aerial video, and have become useful for handheld applications. This is the first application of what will soon become a much more common system, and with the right amount of bandwidth, there’s no reason that multiple users won’t be able to observe differing footage from the same lens-sensor setup. Kudos to Parrot for putting this into their new flying bird and pushing some boundaries.

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The Bebop also adds advanced GPS waypoint planning, allowing the pilot to set a route, including the height and angle of perspective of the drone, and have it follow it autonomously. And this function isn’t reserved for their own proprietary software — Seydoux also mentions that it will be compatible with open-source flight software packages. Very cool.

Speaking of compatibility, the Bebop will also interface with the Oculus Rift headset, allowing the wearer’s movements to control the drone during flight.

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The biggest hangup with the platform is the decidedly unprofessional experience of a using smartphone as a controller, but Parrot addressed that with the unveiling of the Skycontroller, which combines a pair of physical stick controls with a tablet and an oversized WiFi antenna. With it, the pilot can access much more precise flight control while increasing flight distance to up to two kilometers. The rig appears to use the same 1200mAh swappable battery as the Bebop, a nice touch by the company.

The Bebop will be available towards the end of 2014. Price hasn’t been released yet, but Seydoux says it will come in between the $300 AR 2.0 and the competing $1000 DJI Phantom 2 Vision.

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Mike Senese

Mike Senese is the Executive Editor of Make: magazine. He is also a TV host, starring in various engineering and science shows for Discovery Channel, including Punkin Chunkin, How Stuff Works, and Catch It Keep It.

An avid maker, Mike spends his spare time tinkering with remote-control aircraft, doing amateur woodworking, and attempting to cook the perfect pizza.

Follow @msenese


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