Toy Drones Fly to New Heights
Although it seems like they’re becoming commonplace in the R/C aisle, the concept of a flying R/C is actually still quite novel in the category. The progression from ground R/C to difficult-to-fly helicopters to slightly more stable quadcopters led us to where we are now: within constant search of how to make this still-challenging play pattern more fun.
Truthfully, a company could add lots of bells and whistles into a drone, but that still doesn’t mean a consumer will pick it up off the shelf. Since flying an R/C tends to be more difficult than controlling one on the ground, there is already an initial reluctance for a consumer to purchase a drone.
However, with new features added in to promote user accessibility and easier-to-use controls, such as one-touch stunts; auto-launch, -land, and –hover; and more durable bodies, drone companies are looking for ways to add to the user experience and make it less intimidating for beginners, but still fun for more advanced fliers.
“With a drone, you’re still having to manage height and altitude with all that, so it just becomes that using two thumbs at the same time is definitely more of a challenging thing than using one thumb,” says Jared Wolfson, senior vice president of marketing, licensing, and entertainment at Skyrocket Toys.
And now that most companies are incorporating a lot of flight assist features that allow users to concentrate less on the complicated maneuvering and more on the in-flight experience, they’re starting to delve further into more advanced technology, just like the high-tech features that are found in hobby and professional grade drones.
The biggest challenge for companies competing in the drone category of R/C toys is to figure out how to balance all of the high-tech features with a price point that is reasonable for consumers. “The challenge we’ve had out there in the past is that the new technology costs a lot of money and in order to kind of cheat that technology, people have really scaled down the benefit that you get from it and it just really hasn’t had a good pay off,” says Wolfson. Skyrocket, like other companies in this toy space, is blending the real-life technology and still giving consumers the lower price point they’re looking for, meaning: Drones are becoming much more than just “a flying R/C toy.”
GPS & GEOFENCING
Wolfson says that the company combats issues of high-end technology versus consumer-approved price points by building Skyrocket’s hardware and software at the same time. Using the same Cleanflight system that is very familiar to drone enthusiasts and professionals, Skyrocket is able to map out exactly what they want to build and integrate it all at the same time, instead of having to go back and overcorrect any issues.
By building the hardware and the software at the same time, we get ahead of issues such as where you’ve got a really expensive GPS module, but it doesn’t necessarily work with the other parts. Then you have to add other costs to get it to properly work,” says Woflson. “We’ve layered that all in at the beginning. We know what we want to achieve, and we cost-effectively, yet very meaningfully, implement it all together at the same time.”
One of Skyrocket’s newest products in its Sky Viper line, the v2700 GPS, features built-in GPS technology that battles two major issues for quadcopter pilots, especially beginners: controllability and fly away. The GPS allows the drone to know where the controller is in relation to the drone itself, so it adds in new safety capabilities, such as geofencing. With this new feature, users can draw a zone around themselves and their drone, and the drone won’t fly outside of that virtual fenced-in area.
Additionally, it offers the ability to add in a one-touch return to home button. “The flight range on the GPS drone right now is about 2,000 feet, which is a big distance. So if you have it out on the far end of that range, it’s harder to see,” explains Wolfson.” With a one-touch button that returns to home, you can press that button and because it knows where it is in relation to you, it’ll fly all the way back to where you are and land.”
FPV DRONE RACING
There is nothing trendier in the world of drones than drone racing, and thanks to partnerships with professional leagues like the Drone Racing League (DRL), companies such as Toy State can bring the drone racing experience right into consumers’ homes.
Toy State’s Nikko line will introduce the official DRL-licensed Nikko Air Race Vision 220 FPV Pro drone, which gives users a first-person view (FPV) in real time.
“With the technology we’re bringing, you’re seeing a real-time view of what that camera on the front of the drone is seeing, so you can have that traditional racing experience, just like the professional pilots that you see in the DRL events,” says Andy Friess, president of Toy State.
With very little competition on the market, this FPV drone uses a 5.8 GHz connection with the camera, so there is no delay between the drone and the FPV goggles.
In addition to providing a realistic racing experience, DRL will also feature Nikko Air exclusive courses on its flight simulator, allowing users to practice their piloting virtually in between being able to take their drone out for a spin.
“It’s one of those really neat twists in this type of product that you do have that virtual playground where you can go and practice and do all the things that you would be doing outside, just on your computer instead of out in the open air, which gives you a lot more practice time,” says Friess.
LASER TAG & GAMING DRONES
NKOK figured out a way to take a technology that they already use in their line of toys—laser tag—and incorporate it into flight. Using an infrared connection that allows the drones to engage and interact with each other, NKOK’s Battlecopters turn flying drones into a multiplayer experience.
“That’s the biggest development. It’s no longer one person at a time doing their own thing, it’s expandable infinitely,” says NKOK designer Kevin Greene. “You could fill up an auditorium with a hundred of these if you had them and everyone would be able to be engaged. It’s the next evolution of drones where more than one person is not only flying at the same time, but interacting.”
The Battlecopters feature three levels of piloting difficulty, allowing them to be more accessible to a wider range of fliers. Players are challenged to fire their laser at the other drones. Each time a drone is hit, the controller unleashes vibrations and sound effects, and the drone does an aerial maneuver. On the third hit, it descends and must be repowered up to rejoin the battle.
The addition of laser tag ability expands the R/C play pattern to a social—as well as competitive—experience for the pilots.
As far as what’s next, we know that as an ever-surprising and developing category, flying R/C will never cease to go above and beyond our expectations.
“In these technology-based toys, you never truly know all the frontiers that are going to come next, which is exactly the exciting part of this type of category,” says Friess. “There are so many things in the flying space that are virtually untapped. If people just keep an eye on it, they’re going to be excited with what they see coming out over the next couple of years.” »