This RC toy is now an augmented reality game

Posted by Mark Raby

If you've got a big budget this holiday season, here's an ultimate gift for anyone who likes gadgets and toys - a remote-controlled hovercraft with WiFi, cameras, and an iPhone game.

It's the AR Drone from a company called Parrot, and it's being marketed because of its iPhone controls and the brand new "augmented reality" game that goes with it.

Augmented reality refers to a game or app that uses some sort of real-world interface to make it appear as though you're playing the game in the real world.

Some games use a camera to take video of your surroundings, then dynamically add creatures or enemies to make it appear as though the action is happening right in front of you. Others tap into real-world factors like your GPS location or current weather conditions.

And then there's the AR Drone. You may have seen these little guys in the mall or in SkyMall Magazine on your last flight. It's a highly precise remote-control airship that, in and of itself, is a pretty cool gadget. But the company behind it sees it as more than just another RC vehicle. To it, the AR Drone is a video game platform.

The Drone actually has two built-in cameras and internal Wi-Fi connectivity. It can be controlled by a Wi-Fi-enabled iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. And now, the initial dream is coming true as the makers of the Drone are releasing a new multiplayer game for the device.

Here's how it'll work. You and your friend both send up your Drones into flight. One of you is chosen as the pursuer and the other as the pursuee. As the pursuer, you must chase down the other Drone, in real-life, but using your iPhone to control it. The camera transmits live video feeds to your iPhone screen, from which you send out virtual missiles.

The Drone you're chasing can recognize when you're on its tail, and will slow down when "hit" by a weapon. The person behind chased must shake his iPhone to stabilize the controls.

After a certain period of time, roles are reversed and the hunter becomes the hunted. The winner is the one who lasts the longest without being hit.

It's a pretty cool concept, to be sure, and at around $3 for the game it's pretty cheap. Of course, the AR Drones themselves cost about $400 each. So do iPod Touches. So, it's a total investment of $1,606 if you and a friend want to play this game. I think we'll just file this one under "neat idea" for now.