UAVs? There’s an app for that
Despite the recent onslaught of tumultuous events—the war in Afghanistan, the struggles in Japan, the fighting in Libya, massive numbers of birds falling from the sky—a consumer electronic toy managed to navigate through an outright apocalyptic news cycle to capture my attention, if not my wallet—yet.
There, at the bottom of yet another e-mail from Apple, was the mention of the Parrot AR.Drone, a $300 toy quadricopter that can be flown using an iPod touch, iPhone or iPad as the controller. That’s right, for just $300 you can do battle with a friend who has a similar hole in his pocket. Two onboard cameras provide aerial views on your iPod touch. Plus, there’s an added level of video gaming that allows you to shoot your buddy’s AR.Drone out of the sky—virtually speaking.
I mention this toy for two reasons: First, it’s cool.
Second, the cover story this month takes a detailed look at the market for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Aerospace and defense demand will drive the UAV market from $6 billion this year to more than $11 billion in 2020, the report observes.
If, as the story rightly notes, things are looking up for micromanufacturers making components for UAVs, then something like the AR.Drone should take such prospects to new heights. Not only does a toy like this bring the UAV market to mainstream consumers, it just so happens to be aligned with a trio of wildly successful consumer electronic products from Apple.
The Parrot AR.Drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle aimed at the consumer market. Image courtesy Parrot.
Sure, it’s a toy. But it’s a toy that requires two image sensors: one for the front camera capable of shooting at 15 frames per second (fps) with a 93˚ field of view, and a second for a camera on the underbelly capable of shooting at 60 fps with a 64˚ field of view. Plus, the bottom camera is connected to an inertial guidance system that consists of a 3-axis accelerometer, a 2-axis gyroscope and a single-axis yaw precision gyroscope. And let’s not forget the ultrasound altimeter that helps the toy maintain stable flight.
If micro components such as these can find their way into a consumer-oriented UAV, it doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to imagine what’s next. And if you slip into a pair of Nike + shoes equipped with a wireless sensor that synchs to your iPod via the Nike + iPod app, you could actually measure that leap.
There’s even a Nike + chest-strap heart-rate monitor (HRM) that works with your iPod. (Speaking of which, you can read more about how HRM technology is already getting more compact with the recent introduction of the EA Sports Active 2 exercise videogame by checking out the Down Sizing column in this issue.)
What would be nice, though, is a consumer device that would help bring down the cost of environmental sensors. As you will learn in our May/June issue, environmental sensors remain an expensive proposition, yet would be welcome by researchers hoping to better understand why, for example, thousands of birds recently fell from the sky in Arkansas and elsewhere. Wildlife experts theorize fireworks on New Year’s Eve spooked the birds in Arkansas, causing them to fly at night and run into various objects, leading to death from blunt-force trauma.
Imagine the insight these experts could derive had even one of the birds been tagged with a tracking device. At a cost of about $2 a piece, however, that’s not likely to happen. So, for now, we’ll have to put up with “Aflockalypse” headlines. µ