Whether you, personally, view this as a sign of the end times or not, drone selfies are all the rage. Taking a picture of yourself with your arm stuck way out is so last year. Now it's all about swooping a video camera down from the sky. We love the drama, as long as watching the resulting shaky video doesn't actually make us nauseous.
Parrot named its new high-flying gadget the Bebop Drone because when you try to shoot high-def video with a lightweight flying toy, the wind and the motor vibration can shake the camera all around like the right hand of a bebop piano player. So Parrot added shock absorbers, an onboard quad-core GPU, and software algorithms to stabilize your footage until it's smooth like a Kenny G solo.
The Bebop has a 14-megapixel camera, with a huge fisheye lens. But unlike a GoPro, it doesn't show you the whole image that the lens can capture. You can use the Freeflight 3.0 app (for iOS and Android phones and tablets) to digitally adjust which part of the image is the focal point, in effect "pointing" the camera without moving the drone. (The effect is all digital; the camera doesn't actually move.) Software makes further adjustments as you fly, to both digitally stabilize the image along 3 axes, as well as straightening things out, so you don't get the curved-horizon effect that you do with a GoPro.
Plus, a GoPro doesn't fly! Flying the Bebop is a great time--the two red rotors make it easier to tell the front of the drone from the back, and an onboard GPS lets you plot a course ahead of time. All the flight data is automatically saved to Parrot's Pilot Academy cloud if you want to nerd out on stats like altitude and speed, as well as see your path on a map. GPS also lets the Bebop return to you--its range is farther than ever, thanks to four antennas for the dual-band MIMO Wi-Fi.
In fact, if you add the optional Skycontroller hardware, you get an amplified Wi-Fi radio and four antennas for the jaw-dropping range of up to 1.2 miles (2 kilometers). You can dock any Android or iOS phone or tablet in the Skycontroller, and then pilot the Bebop with its two joysticks. The Skycontroller looks downright badass, with its huge wing-like antenna at the top, and even a neck strap because that's how huge and hardcore it is.
To really intimidate, the Skycontroller has an HDMI port so you can connect first-person-view glasses (think Oculus Rift), and then position the camera's view by turning your head. Yes, you'll be able to fly the Bebop up in the air and look around--a real, live bird's-eye view.
We didn't get to test the Oculus setup in our brief hands-on time with the Bebop Drone. But even with all this extra tech, the Bebop is simple for newbie pilots to get the hang of. Parrot didn't reveal a price, but its AR.Drone 2.0 is $300, and the Bebop is similar but more advanced. The Bebop Drone and Skycontroller will take to the friendly skies sometime in Q4 of 2014.