Many people's first introduction to commercial drones may have been the AR Drone by Parrot. Originally marketed as a futuristic RC toy you control via WiFi with an augmented reality iPhone AP, the AR Drone is a consumer-grade, $300 quadrotor with an HD Camera, the first of its kind that has been mass produced.
Parrot, the company that develops and manufactures the drone, have sold 300,000 ARs since 2010 (to put the number in perspective, the FAA estimates 1/10 that number of commercial drones will by flying in the national airspace alongside manned aircraft by 2020). It's also developed a user base that is constantly tweaking the drone and figuring out new uses.
Videographers have rigged the AR Drone with higher-end cameras and found ways to extend its range. Occupy activists have tried to hack them to broadcast live video of protests. They've also been tested as potential platforms to conduct drone journalism at The University of Nebraska's Drone Journalism Lab.
Yesterday, Pix4D, a company that specializes in making software that converts aerial shots from drones into 3D photomaps, announced that it would be receiving a $2.4 million investment from Parrot.
"With the fast technological advances in miniaturized autopilots and digital cameras, lightweight autonomous flying platforms are increasingly used to generate up-to-date and detailed environmental maps and geographical information data," Pix4D said in a press release. "Furthermore, recent changes to the regulatory framework for civilian drones will drive UAV adoption and help address the soaring demand for GIS data."
Christoph Strecha, CEO of Pix4D appeared in a recent video along with Jean-Christophe Zufferey, CEO of senseFly, who also received funding from Parrot. SenseFly produces the "Swinglet Cam," a micro drone system designed for photomapping missions.
In the video, Strecha said it would be "interesting" for his company to step into "To produce games, to produce augmented reality that can be done with quadrotors for the consumer market."
The investment from Parrot, who made quadrotors accessible to average consumer, begs the question as to whether the consumer electronics manufacturer will attempt to do with GIS photomapping what it did to commercial drones. Could a $300 drone mapping system be far off? Would journalists adopt such a device for their reporting? How about city planners, environmental researchers, and construction companies -- would they adopt it as well?
Pix4D hasn't responded yet to questions, but I will update if they do.
Joint video announcement by Pix4D and senseFly
A drone-generated photomap of Port Au Prince, Haiti, generated by Pix4D software.