Ever since the original AR Drone came out several years ago, the entire world has been drone crazy – for the first time, the technology exists for the every day person to have their own remote control drone. Naturally this has lead to a lot of talk about regulation and policing these aerial vehicles. While the debate over the larger and more powerful drones will continue, Parrot continues to invent and develop new drone technology – this time with the intent of putting drones into everyone’s hands… literally! Earlier this year Parrot announced they were releasing two new drone types in the near future – one would be a ground based “Mini” drone, while the other would be a smaller scale version of their massive popular AR Drone (and AR Drone 2.0). The latter is called the Rolling Spider, and it is the object of this review.
What I was first amazed by was the size of the the Rolling Spider MiniDrone. It literally can sit comfortably on your two hands held together like you see in many of their ads. I was also really impressed with the weight of the Rolling Spider – the battery makes up about half of the weight of the drone, which will factor in later in this review when we talk about flight times. Included in the Rolling Spider box are the following items:
- The Rolling Spider
- 1 Battery
- 1 MicroUSB Cable
- 2 Wheels + the Connection Bar
- A Set of Stickers
- A Quick Start Guide
The first thing you are advised to do is download the FreeFlight 3 app, which enables control of both MiniDrones and the upcoming Bebop. Upon doing so, you are ready to fly! The Rolling Spider is connected to via Low Energy Bluetooth – while understandable why they did this instead of using a WiFi connection, it does limit your ability to fly the drone anywhere long distance. Basically, you’re going to want to keep it in a 20M range – but not just because of the Bluetooth connection, but because you are also going to be flying the Rolling Spider by sight. Unlike the other drones (including the Jumping Sumo), the Rolling Spider has no live camera feature. It does have a camera built into the bottom of the drone which can take downward facing photos though.
Control is incredible! Parrot has really figured this out and even for such a small device, it certainly performs impressively! The Rolling Spider features a 3-axis gyroscope, 3-axis accelerometer, a pressure sensor (for flight altitude) and an ultrasonic sensor for near ground flight. Together, with the quadricopter blades, it performs like a dream! It even has some pre-programmed tricks that you can perform including front and back flips, u-turns and other impressive acts. Flying it is also a ton of fun as you maneuver between trees, near the ground and high into the sky.
Construction is also very solid – learning to fly had me crashing into walls, trees, cars and people (oops) a couple of times. However, the propeller cutout function results in no damage to the person, the property or the drone. This is certainly a device that is prepared to handle even the worst of pilots! A good rule of thumb though should be to fly in wide open spaces until you really get the hang of the controls and the depth perception.
All that said, the Rolling Spider suffers from one major disappointment – the battery life. As previously mentioned, the Rolling Spider’s weight is about 50% battery, meanwhile those high performance rotors are spinning so fast and in such a crucial fashion that the battery gets ‘zapped’ rather quickly The battery life is rated for about 8 minutes (and requires 1.5 hours to fully recharge it.) In my tests, I found it really depended on how you’re flying – gentle low to the ground flight lasted for 11 minutes. Average flight came in between 7-9 minutes. Aggressive style flight and the battery was gone after 7 minutes. Adding the roller wheels to the drone and those times were reduced by a minute across the board. My recommendation would be to buy TWO additional batteries, enabling you to have 20-30 minutes of flight.
Overall, the Parrot Rolling Spider MiniDrone is a really solid remote control vehicle. It suffers from short battery life, but considering what it’s actually doing and how much it weighs – I really can’t hold that against Parrot. The cost is a little bit on the higher side (the batteries too) – if they could bring it down under $100 (taxes-in) it would be more in line with what many would pay. That said, this is one fun little device, especially for someone who is new to the drone/RC market. In terms of a gift though – that person is going to love it.
I was provided with a unit for my review.