Parrot Bebop 2

The Parrot Bebop 2 drone refines the design and specs of the original. Photo by Donald Bell

The next generation of Parrot’s Bebop drone took flight today at a San Francisco launch event. Due out on December 14th and priced at $549, the Bebop 2 includes several significant improvements, including a 25 minute flight.

For better or worse, the Bebop 2’s second most unique feature is the stationary fisheye lens camera system that debuted in the original model. Instead of a heavy and fragile camera gimbal system that would allow users to physically pan the drone’s camera (as seen on the DJI Inspire), the Bebop takes in a dramatically wide angled image. This makes for lighter, more mechanically resilient camera design, arguably at the expense of some photographic flexibility.

Parrot Bebop 2

The Bebop 2’s propeller system automatically shuts off if it comes in contact with an obstacle. Photo by Donald Bell.

For recording 1080p video, the Bebop’s remote control app allows you to virtually (and convincingly) pan within the incoming video stream beamed down to your mobile device over Wi-Fi. Photos are shot using all 14 megapixels of the fisheye system, and can later be processed on your computer for a flatter image.

Many small refinements have been made to the Bebop’s design, including more powerful motors for improved thrust and overall speed (up to 37mph horizontally) and an updated GPS chipset for greater location precision.

Bebop 2 Exploded

An exploded view of the Bebop 2 drone’s internal workings.

One notable new safety feature is an emergency cut-out feature that disables all four motors if any one of them comes in contact with an obstacle (such as a human). Drones have earned a bit of a reputation as menacing, airborne weedwhackers, so hopefully this motor cut-out feature will minimize the pain of being struck by one. It’s also a real propeller-saver, as I witnessed more than a few crashes during the hands-on demo where the drone came away unscathed.

Bebop 2 bottom

Sensors beneath the Bebop 2 help to detect distance from the ground as well as air pressure. Photo by Donald Bell.

Owners of the original Parrot Bebop drone will be happy to hear that Parrot plans to eventually roll out a firmware update that will bring many of the internal software improvements of the new Bebop to the earlier model (flight stabilization and image quality among them). No specific date was given, but I was encouraged to see that Parrot wasn’t leaving early adopters behind.

Bebop 2 In Flight

The fixed fisheye lens on the front of the Bebop 2 can be sen as either an asset or a liability. Photo by Donald Bell.

Ultimately, at $549, the Bebop 2 sits at a crossroads for the drone market. With its price, image quality, and feature set it’s certainly not a toy (though they make some great toy drones too). What remains to be seen is whether its unique fixed-camera system is powerful and flexible enough for photographers and videographers to choose the Bebop over the pricier prosumer-focused options on offer from DJI. If nothing else, with a luxuriously long 25 minute flight time, the Bebop 2 gives enthusiasts, photographers, and videographers a lot of time to work with in the air, which is a significant consideration.

Bebop 2 Skycontroller

The Skycontroller Black Edition is a $250 accessory offering extended range and refined controls for the Bebop 2. Photo by Donald Bell.

If you really want to make the most of the Bebop 2 experience, a $250 remote control rig can be purchased. It’s called the Skycontroller Black Edition and it extends Wi-Fi range up to 6,561 feet, adds fine physical controls for both the drone and camera system, and spits out an HDMI signal that can be plugged into a pair of FPV (first-person view) goggles for a bird’s eye experience.