Review: Parrot Minidrone Jumping Sumo
Although Parrot's toy division is best known for the AR.Drone quadricopters and their smaller sibling Rolling Spider, the company is venturing into somewhat new territory with the release of Minidrone Jumping Sumo ($160) — an edgier rival to Brookstone's $150 Rover and Rover 2.0 tanks. On paper, Jumping Sumo looks like a far superior alternative to the Rovers: it has a more daring design, two different wheel configurations, and the ability to vault 31 inches into the air at the touch of a button. But just like Rolling Spider, it's not a complete improvement over what's come before; it's a different machine with its own pros and cons.
Whereas the Rovers were traditional tanks from their tread designs to their controls, Jumping Sumo is best understood as something new — not quite a car or a tank, but rather a robot that moves using wheels rather than feet. Between a pair of oversized plastic wheels, there’s an impressively lightweight central plastic core in your choice of three colors, which can be further customized with packed-in body stickers.
The core has a tight slot to hold an included rechargeable battery, two “eye” lights, a power button, a front-facing camera, a micro-USB port for recharging, a tinny speaker for making small noises, and a partially metal rear bar.
Jumping Sumo has a top speed of 4.5MPH when rolling in a straight line, and is controlled fairly intuitively by Parrot’s FreeFlight 3 app using a Wi-Fi connection. Pairing and re-pairing are pretty easy thanks to some smart Parrot software tweaks. Within the app, a button press can make the rear bar retract into Jumping Sumo’s body, then rapidly fire into the ground with enough force to push the toy into the air — an impressive sight that thankfully doesn’t kill the toy’s battery; moreover, Sumo automatically recovers from jumps by re-orienting itself, typically without obvious damage to its chassis. When it’s not being used for jumping, the bar acts as a stabilizer for the camera, dragging across the floor with a rubber “foot” to reduce scratching of the bar. Two replacement feet and a micro-USB to USB cable are included in the package as the toy’s final pack-ins.
Jumping Sumo’s considerable industrial design strengths are offset by engineering weaknesses. Unlike Rolling Spider, which abandoned the original AR.Drone’s easily damaged foam chassis for hard plastic, Jumping Sumo’s wheels are coated in foam and seem destined to wear down fairly quickly. By contrast with the Rovers, which have rubber treads that maintain traction on various surfaces, Jumping Sumo basically stops when it hits uneven or rough terrain. It can move quickly on concrete, wood, or tile, but if it hits grass or a plush carpet, it’s probably going to require manual extrication.
The rechargeable battery issues we noted with Rolling Spider are here, too: expect to take 90 minutes to completely refuel Jumping Sumo, and to stop using the toy each time it’s required for the battery recharging process. While Sumo’s 20-minute battery life is considerably better than Rolling Spider’s, there’s still a disappointment factor given that its recharge time is over four times as long as a play session. Parrot plans to offer $20 replacement batteries, but they’re not yet in stores, and no standalone charger has been announced, either.
Another arguable issue is the lack of independent wheel control: the wheels can’t turn or move separately, so Jumping Sumo moves solely in straight lines with one forward/reverse-only controller, awkwardly spinning in 90-degree increments with a second controller. We’d normally say that it would only be natural for a toy like this to drive with car- or tank-like motion, and treat this as a design flaw. However, there’s an argument to be made that Jumping Sumo isn’t so much about driving as performing precision stunts; think of it like a mobile robot rather than a vehicle, and it might make more sense. Parrot lets you physically push the wheels inwards to make Jumping Sumo narrower, or pull them outwards to expand the wheelbase, but the thin wheels create such noticeable jitter and shakiness in the narrower configuration that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to even offer the feature.
Macro buttons integrated into FreeFlight 3 are arguably the best features of Jumping Sumo. Two ever-present buttons let you hop up or forward, and Parrot has demonstrated the toy’s ability to reliably vault from narrow platform to narrow platform on command. If you’re willing to build an environment of your own to challenge Jumping Sumo — say, a set of tables or chairs that it can jump from — you’ll have a lot more fun than just trying to drive it around on flat surfaces. An additional set of seven buttons can be called up on the screen to make Jumping Sumo spin, shake, and spin-shake, amongst other cute displays of pre-programmed manueverability. You can also watch live video, record videos, and take still pictures with the FreeFlight 3 app, and though the quality isn’t fantastic, the 640x480 video resolution and roughly 15FPS frame rate are all acceptable for a toy at this price level.
Considered in totality, Jumping Sumo is a good alternative to iOS-controlled tanks and cars we’ve tested, though “differently-abled” enough that you need to understand what you’re really getting for the $160 asking price. If you’re looking for a toy that can drive anywhere or communicate with people a few rooms away, Jumping Sumo’s not for you; Rover does this, and more, with a better steering system. But if you want a fast little stunt robot that can roll, jump, and spin in 90-degree increments on a dime, this toy will fit the bill. Jumping Sumo is best-suited to tinkerers who will get as much joy out of unpacking it as building or locating an environment to challenge its jumping abilities. It’s worthy of our general recommendation and flat B rating.