While the company’s 2015 Airborne and Jumping drone lineups were iterations on 2014’s Jumping Sumo and Rolling Spider, Parrot has broken a bit of new ground in its drone lineup this year with its Hydrofoil drone ($160), a new hybrid robot drone designed to allow users to take to the water with speed and agility.
To create the new Hydrofoil drone, Parrot has essentially taken a basic 2015 Airborne drone and added a detachable hull, allowing the flier to function as the propulsion system for a water-borne craft. As with its Airborne and Jumping drone lineups, Parrot offers the Hydrofoil drones in two color options with unique names: Orak (black) and New Z (white). Other than the colors and included decals, however, both provide the same capabilities.
One of the interesting things about Hydrofoil is that the box should really have come labelled as “Some assembly required,” as unlike its Airborne and Jumping brethren, the Hydrofoil hull comes in a set of styrofoam and plastic parts that have to be assembled. A T10 screwdriver and nine screws are included, and to be fair the assembly process isn’t difficult at all – it’s basically five steps and the entire process took us about 5-10 minutes – but it’s definitely something that we weren’t expecting after using Parrot’s prior drone models. The good news is that it’s something you technically only need to do once, although the construction is such that you can disassemble the hull if you want to put it away for easier storage.
On the other hand, the actual drone portion of the Hydrofoil comes in a single piece, and again is basically just a simple Airborne drone, without the “night” or “cargo” features of the dedicated model. While the drone is specifically designed to be flown by itself, Parrot has not included the removable polyamide hull found in the Airborne packages, so you’ll be more limited to flying it only outdoors. The airborne drone clips onto a plastic mount on the Hydrofoil hull, and it’s fairly easy to attach and remove, but the clip is plastic so users will need to be careful in doing so. It’s also important to note it’s a manual process; you won’t be able to motor out to the middle of a lake and then take off into the air.
As with the company’s other drones, Hydrofoil is controlled via Parrot’s Freeflight 3 app, which recognizes the drone as a Hydrofoil and offers the user an option of airborne or water-borne modes. In airborne mode, the Hydrofoil drone flies identically to the other Airborne models, and uses the same Bluetooth 4 connection to communicate with your iOS device. As with the Airborne drones, you get the lower power consumption and easier setup advantages over Wi-Fi, but you’ll likely prefer to use a USB connection to your Mac or PC for transferring photos and updating firmware for the considerably faster performance.
In Hydrofoil mode, the user is presented with a more basic set of control options, essentially providing a slider on the left for acceleration and another on the right for turning. Once you power up the props, the airborne drone angles up into a vertical position so that the propellers drive the Hydrofoil forward, and the foils lift it out of the water as it gets going, allowing it to reach speeds of up to 5.4 knots (6 mph). The Hydrofoil can also make pretty tight turns – even on the spot – simply by varying which propellers are spinning. We actually found it to be a clever design to simply use the airborne drone as a propulsion system, and of course it has the added advantage that the user is getting both an air and water craft in the same package. Sadly, since the same airborne drone is used, Hydrofoil suffers from the same battery limitations as the rest of the Airborne series – expect to get only about 7-9 minutes of use on a single charge, then spend 25 minutes to recharge the battery after only 9 minutes of use. The battery will also only charge while inserted into the drone. Further, while the new drones support rapid charging, Parrot has not seen fit to include a charger in the box, so you’ll need to either charge from your Mac or PC, or supply your own AC-to-USB charger. Parrot does sell a battery and charger combo for $23, so any serious users may want to take that into consideration, but for any serious use you’ll still likely find yourself either only playing with the Hydrofoil in short stints, buying several extra batteries, or simply spending more time recharging the device than you do actually using it.
Hydrofoil is an interesting device and it’s somewhat challenging to figure out exactly where it fits into the family, particularly since the floating nature of it makes its use more niche – not everybody is going to be looking for a boat drone, and while we appreciate the fact that it can be used in airborne mode, it lacks the indoor hull and some of the bonus capabilities of the actual Airborne drones, while still being saddled with the exact same battery life and charging issues. Essentially, with Hydrofoil you’re paying a $30 premium for the ability to use an airborne drone on the water, but getting a more basic airborne drone in the package. That may be worth considering it if you think you’ll be using it frequently enough in a water mode or don’t care about the more advanced airborne features, but it’s a much tougher call if you’re looking primarily for an airborne drone, as you can get a much better flier for less money simply by omitting the hull. This has sort of left us questioning whether a better approach would have been to simply sell the Hydrofoil hull as an add-on to the existing Airborne drones, rather than as a separate product. Ultimately, the Hydrofoil drone should be seen primarily as a watercraft with the bonus ability to fly the drone in airborne mode on the side, and in that sense it’s still a lot of fun for anybody who wants to use it in the water and is willing to accept the battery and charging limitations for what they are.
Company and Price
Model: Hydrofoil Drone
Compatible: iOS devices running iOS 7.0 or later