iTête à iTête – Interview with Parrot’s Michael Pastor – AR.Drone – future of augmented reality gaming

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The iDevice controlled, quad-propeller Parrot AR.Drone helicopter debuted at this year’s CES. And we got some mouth time with the kind folks behind this dream toy! Joining me today is Michael Pastor – the Marketing coordinator for the AR.Drone project.

As always – my comments are in bold.

1. Michael, thank you for joining me today. Could you say a few words about yourself and Parrot in general?

Parrot is an expert in wireless technologies, and has a 15 years history of innovations. Parrot is a R&D company (we have 150 engineers based in our HQ in Paris) and Innovation is in everything we do. From the first wireless hands-free system to multimedia hands-free systems (global leader in wireless devices for mobile phones), from technological photo frames (using Bluetooth, NFC, e-mail…) to wireless speakers offering 360° immersive sound designed by some of the best designers in the world.

And what’s your position in Parrot?

I am pretty new in this position. I have been International Trade Marketing specialist for 2 years, and I am now in charge of the AR.Drone as AR.Drone Marketing coordinator. As I’m pretty new, sorry if I can’t answer all your questions, but I’ll do my best.

2. Parrot have been making various accessories for the iPhone and other mobile devices for some time now. What made you decide to embark on the AR.Drone project?

At Parrot, everything we are developing are wireless products, connecting to cellular phones. All are very high-tech product (with advanced technologies), all are for consumers. With all our products, we want to develop the cellular phones uses.

Video gaming is just another application of wireless technology and Parrot AR.Drone a very innovative project as all we do in the company. We have been developing this project for 4 years, with a dedicated engineers team.

Parrot AR.Drone is the outcome of a dream: to develop a high-tech product for kids and adults by creating a new concept of video gaming, using iPhone and iPod touch as a first step. Parrot’s first entertainment project was a Bluetooth race car. Parrot has developed it but Henri Seydoux was not fully satisfied. Why? Because he did not find the necessary share of dream a toy should provide. It should fly!

3. What is expected timeframe for its launch?

This product will be launch in 2010, in several markets, but we cannot give you an accurate timeline right now, as we are still working on it.

4. How do you position AR.Drone? Both age-wise and wealth-wise?

This product is dedicated to consumers from kids to adults. About the pricing, we can’t give you a estimated price, but we want the AR.Drone to be affordable for a large audience.

Closer to “an arm and a leg” variety or will an arm suffice?

:) The price is not defined yet.

5. I have some reservations about controlling the AR.Drone with an iPhone. What happens if a call comes in while I’m piloting the drone? Or if the drone flies out of Wi-Fi range?

If the AR.Drone is flying out of range, or if you receive a call while piloting it, the AR.Drone, will stabilize itself, and land after few seconds.

Just a thought – what if it is over water? :)

To avoid such situation, we give you the advice to put your iPhone in “plane” mode.

We are actually testing different way of flying, and the fly over water is part of these tests. We will obtain a feedback in few weeks regarding this aspect.

6. This is quite a niche product. What makes you so certain it will be a success on the market? Especially considering the obvious enormity of work spent on it!

This is not such a niche market. As I explained to you earlier, this product is dedicated to a large market from kids to adults. With the AR.Drone, Parrot is creating a new video game concept and also a new trend of market, offering to customers a game mixing real and virtual worlds, and hobby. The AR.Drone is the next level of the video games. Something never seen before!

7. Why did you decide to target the iDevice as your main controller? Will there be support for other controller types?

First, Apple smartphones and multimedia players are probably the most innovative for play, and we can’t ignore the number of iDevices in the market today. Furthermore, we know the company very well because most of our products (from hands-free systems to digital photo frame or wireless speakers) are compatible with both iPhone and iPod.

For example, motion control technology enabled by Apple products offer amazing gaming experience and matched with the way we first dreamt of for piloting the AR.Drone. Nevertheless, everything is open, and we can easily imagine people will be able to pilot the AR.Drone with other Wi-Fi peripherals.

Parrot AR.Drone has been created as an open development platform for developers and we have already a dedicated website for them ( Developers will be able to develop applications for other Wi-Fi platforms.

Did you have special support from Apple in developing AR.Drone?

As we know very well Apple products, thanks to our automotive and Design By collection range, we developed the application by ourselves.

8. The upcoming Apple Tablet device is expected to run iPhone Apps. Have you already tested the AR.Drone with it?

iTablet is for the moment just a “project” isn’t it? It may be released soon, but we did not test the Apple tablet.

9. Your product is unique in that you offer an SDK to third party developers to develop application and games that use the unique capabilities of the Quadricoptor. What notable releases should we look forward to?

Yes we offer to developers a SDK, to give them the opportunity to be creative, and to create new video games in Augmented Reality (for example) thanks to the innovative AR.Drone capabilities/technologies, i.e. front camera.

We just hope to get the best creativeness from the developers. For example, all video games already available on the market can be adapted to the AR.Drone. But it is not necessarily what we expect, we expect them to go further and to take video games to the next level.

10. The AR.Drone has a lot of very interesting technologies built-in. What uses other than a toy do you see for it?

No other application, it has been created to be a game and just for pleasure of flying.

11. Any project has lots of funny stories – could you share some from the AR.Drone project?

Sorry, I’m just thinking about it, but i do not really have funny stories to tell you. It has been a huge work for all the team, and we happy about the results, and this is funny enough for us :-)

12. Do you think there is a big future this kind of accessory for the iDevice?

The AR.Drone proposes to play with Augmented Reality and this is a strong trend in IT/Smartphone applications. This feature has been used in marketing activities since a few months ago but the main benefit will be for gaming. Augmented Reality will be an important trend for gaming in the coming months.

On the other hand smartphones/iDevices offer a lot of new capabilities (more than a simple cell phone) i.e touchpad; large screen; accelerometers; high speed internet connection to develop for.

13. Are you working on other projects using a similar platform? Maybe a smaller/simpler model?

We are fully committed to the finalization of the AR.Drone.

14. What other new products are you working on?

This is confidential for the moment, but as i said, we are finalizing the AR.Drone project first! :-)

15. Michael, thank you very much for your time! Do you have some final words for the TMA readers?

Thank you very much too for this chat. What I would say to the TMA readers, is that if they want to follow AR.Drone development, they can follow us on Twitter or on Facebook, and I hope that they will enjoy this product as much as we do.

Visit Parrot’s webpage for more

A project manager in a major telecommunications supplier, an iPhone junkie and lately - a TMA editor. Love long walks on the beach and my wife, who is the most beautiful girl on the face of this planet. You can also follow me on twitter for all things iPhone and project management (and some personal stuff as well):

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