You Can Now Pre-order the New Parrot Bebop Drone
Parrot, perhaps best known as the makers of the AR.Drone 2.0 smartphone-controlled mini quadcopter, adds an impressive new model to its fleet: "BeBop." Whereas previous Parrot drones were built for the RC hobbyist market, with a 720p non-stabilized flight camera more for FPV than video recording, BeBop looks set to become a serious contender in the precipitously growing aerial video market. The most notable features being touted for the new quadcopter are a unique image stabilization system and the ability, with the right hardware, to pair it with an Oculus Rift.
Keeping the camera steady and level has been one of the biggest challenges facing videographers ever since they started mounting cameras on an aircraft, manned or unmanned. The propellers generate vibration, wind and turbulence buffet the aircraft and, finally, the horizon is constantly shifting. Motorized gimbals and gyroscopic stabilizers have been the principle means of combating this Trifecta of interference. Although scaled down, relatively low-cost gimbals can now be had on the prosumer market, but drawbacks remain: They add weight and consume precious battery power. These factors translate into even shorter flying times, which on multi-rotors, are already measured in minutes, if not seconds.
BeBop does things differently. Its camera features a 180-degree fisheye lens plus a 14-megapixel sensor, allowing it to capture a wider field of view and higher resolution than it needs, so the image can be cropped by onboard software and have an image stabilization algorithm applied. If this sounds like electronic image stabilization (found on many consumer camcorders) that's because that is exactly what it is. However, BeBop's electronic image stabilization is a tad more sophisticated than your average home movie camera. It uses an array of sensors to keep track of movement and tell the software which way to "pan-and-scan." For example, if BeBop gets jolted left, the "window" it crops out of the frame instantly pans right.
By cropping the image you lose resolution, which of course has been the reason optical—i.e., lens-based—image stabilization is preferred. BeBop's camera can get away with it though, because of the extra resolution the 14-megapixel sensor provides. And for photos you can always disable stabilization and get the full sensor.
The other major feature introduced by BeBop is the ability to pair its camera with the Oculus Rift. The camera isn't 3D, so you won't quite be getting a VR experience. But it does give you a truly first-person means of living your flights. To link the Oculus it looks like you will need the Skycontroller, an accessory whose primary function is to extend the Wi-Fi range of the mobile device controlling the quadcopter up to 1.2 miles (2 kilometers).
BeBop has GPS as part of the flight control system, and we can expect it to have similar autopilot features as the AR.Drone 2.0 has when paired with the Flight Recorder USB dongle. It uses a 1200mAh battery, which is reported to last around 12 minutes. Many have criticized it for short flying time; however, 12 minutes is about average right now for quadcopters in this range. You really need fixed-wing planes, which have the ability to glide, for significantly longer flights.
At the moment, the BeBop will be available in Red or Blue. It will come in a basic package with two batteries, a charger, indoor and outdoor hulls, spare props, and a USB cable. Additionally, there will be a bundle that also includes the Skycontroller, to give you the tactile flying experience of a traditional RC transmitter.