Game of Drones: remote controlled, hovering robot minions are cheaper than ever

Steve Hogarty
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Skeye Mini Drone with HD Camera

Drones! They’re not just for extrajudicial killings any more. On the contrary, the latest flock of these floating, flying hoverbots has recently hit the affordable mainstream, allowing pretty much anybody to flood the sky with their own personal army of whirring plastic tyrants.

To give them their proper – and slightly less terrifying – name, quadcopters now come in a staggering variety of shapes and sizes. More recently they’ve startedDr to incorporate on-board HD cameras as standard, and high-end features such as auto-stabilisation have begun to filter down into cheaper, sub-£100 machines.

Some, like the DJI Phantom 3, manage to pump out enough thrust to lug around a high-quality HD camera beneath its sleek chassis. Others are tiny things, armed with pinhole lenses and largely intended for indoor use, as an errant gust could easily carry it into the upper atmosphere and far away. Countless lost drones are no doubt being scattered across the countryside in ditches and hedgerows, the tattered grot mags of the 21st century.

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The blurred line between cheap plastic toy and professional-grade sky-camera happens somewhere around the £400 Parrot Bebop. It’s an ideal starting point for those serious about hovergadgets. On the other hand, if you simply want to chase a pet or loved one around the living room for a while, the £66 Skeye Mini Drone (or its bee-sized sibling, the Nano Drone) is the way to go.

Having learned thing or two about drones, here are a few words of warning. Firstly, don’t order your obedient robot to fly directly upwards and out of radio range. Its computer brain will panic and try to find you, zooming around in circles before marooning itself on a neighbour’s rooftop, whereupon you’ll spend 20 unsuccessful minutes throwing tennis balls at it.

Secondly, if a drone hovers towards your face with what appears to be murderous intent, it is your duty as a human being to punch it out of the air, thereby reasserting dominance over the machine race. It’s important that these little hovering death-bots don’t get any ideas.

3D Robotics Iris Plus

Using GPS, this drone can be programmed to fly along a predetermined flight path, or to follow alongside you like a friendly robotic cameraman.

DJI Phantom 3 Professional

With an on-board 4K camera, the Phantom 3 produces high-quality aerial photography. It can even find its own way home if it flies out of range.

Parrot Bebop

The best value for money mid-range drone, this powerful blue beast beams a direct live feed from its front-facing camera to your phone or tablet, allowing you to pilot in first-person.

Parrot Rolling Spider

The odd name refers to this drone’s optional wheel-cage attachment, which allows it to bounce and roll up walls in a manner utterly unlike a spider. A sturdy and small, self-stabilising drone otherwise.

Skeye Mini Drone

One of the best quadcopters you can buy for under £100. This palm-sized drone’s front-mounted HD camera is roughly webcam-quality, working best during daylight hours.

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