- Nov 30, 2015
"This is not a toy. I can't stress that enough."
Propel CEO Darren Matloff stood six feet from me earlier this week, resting a tiny replica of the classic Tie Advanced fighter in his hand, with the most serious face he could muster as he uttered that phrase. It sure looked like a toy; in fact, it looked like a palm-sized drone I'd be able to fly around my office in a few days. But he was seriously standing there telling me the three Star Wars-themed drones being introduced to the world were not toys.
If not toys, what are they? For Propel, these drones are a huge step forward in being publicly recognized as a leader in the drone world. For the rest of us, these drones are the most fun way you could possibly have to learn to fly any kind of drone like a pro. They are also toys, ridiculously fun toys, but I get where Darren is coming from.
Advanced Laser Battle Drones
The partnership between Propel and Disney is, like all of the truly special Star Wars products released every year, an effort to go above and beyond what consumers would expect. These aren't just drones you fly around one at a time, they're designed with a laser tag-like combat system and a communication platform for gameplay in a public space with up to 11 other pilots. So yeah, not your average drone.
Currently, Propel is selling the Tie Advanced X1 alongside the T-65 X-Wing and the 74-Z Speeder Bike. While one of those things is clearly not like others when it comes to the actual Star Wars universe, these little drones are plenty detailed and can really move when you know how to fly them.
With the safeties unlocked, these drones are capable of 30MPH and can fly for up to 8 minutes on a charge. The drones all light up in ways that line up with the classic designs of the vehicles, and the use of clear propellers on the bottom of the drones makes the designs a little more realistic.
Not only are the drones themselves impressive to look at, the limited edition boxes available with these drones are staggeringly beautiful. Break the wax seal and lift the case up to see a lit display to show off your tiny drone, with its controller safely tucked underneath. It makes a compelling display case, assuming you don't crash your drone a few minutes after using it the first time.
The perfect training system
To complement these drones, Propel has an app that does more than you can imagine. It starts as a simple training app, syncing your phone to the controller and letting you fly around a virtual version of your drone. This game includes 34 different training modules, including advanced flying techniques like in-air corkscrews and firing the lasers at the right time. Using the actual controller you use to pilot the drone makes it possible for you to really learn how to fly the drone without damaging it, and it helps that the game itself is a lot of fun.
The difference between what you can buy now and what Propel is offering here is staggering.
When you aren't training, the app is used as the network for multiplayer gameplay. You can see a leaderboard for all of the action, and get tips for what will make you better next time if you lose. This information all comes from the drone itself, including information on who you are playing against, thanks to new tech called Li-Fi that allows data to be transmitted from drone to drone, and then to your phone.
Of course, you don't actually need to use the app at all for training if you don't want. The controller uses barometric sensors to create a training zone you can enable. This means the drone has a safety floor and ceiling that the user can't pass, so no accidental slams into floors or ceilings. If the drone takes a hit, it shuts off and safely lands. Assuming you don't crash immediately thanks to this safety mode, you can use this to become comfortable with everything you learned in the app before moving on to actual combat.
I'm going to own all of these
Star Wars-themed drones are not a new concept, but the difference between what you can buy now and what Propel is offering here is staggering. These drones look nicer, fly faster, and do way more for a much better price. These drones are available for $179 in a ton of places starting September 1, with several upgrade options planned for drone pilots that would like to really get serious about drone combat.
The bottom line is these drones should be on every holiday shopping list, but hardcore Star Wars collectors need to get on this immediately in order to get that limited edition display.