Watching the Rolling Spider take to the air for the first time is hypnotic. After tapping a button on a connected smartphone the mini drone’s four tiny propellers whir into life and the toy is lifted into the air. Then it simply hangs there, glaring at you malevolently with a pair of LED ‘eyes’.
As toys go this is a pretty good trick, but the Rolling Spider from wireless specialist Parrot (before they started making consumer drones they were best known for hands-free systems in cars) is one of a new generation of flying toys that are slicker than any radio controlled model airplane.
The Rolling Spider works via low power Bluetooth, connecting to Parrot’s FreeFlight app (available for Android and iOS with Windows Phone arriving in October) to turn your smartphone into a controller. There's three different modes to choose from and while the Spider isn’t easy to control it’s at least easy not to crash and offers some built in tricks (backflips and barrel rolls) that make you feel more expert than you really are.
This is most definitely an indoor drone mind, and although it has a range of around 160 feet, its miniscule size and weight (just 55g) makes it extremely susceptible to gusts of wind. To keep it safe indoors, Parrot supply a pair of detachable plastic wheels that let it ‘roll’ up walls and keep it from bumping into things with its propellers.
All this means that the Rolling Spider is at the bottom end of the drone market, which goes up through more sophisticated models like Parrot’s own A.R. Drone 2.0 and the DJI Phantom to the larger, custom rigs that are used for professional surveying. (To be clear here: apart from the smaller models used for surveillance, military drones aren’t anything to do with this type of machine – they share a name, nothing else.)
With that in mind, the £90 price for the Rolling Spider is perhaps a little high (especially considering that you only get around six minutes of flight time before you have to recharge the battery for an hour and a half) but the feeling of watching the thing buzz steadily around your living room is pretty unique.