Parrot AR Drone 2.0 Quadracopter – OMG!
November 4, 2012
Seriously if you can get your hands on one of these do it! I’ve driven and flown other RC models before and helicopters are the hardest to learn to fly but this thing takes all the hard work out of it and makes it easy to learn and become quite proficient quickly and with very little damage.
Yep this thing is built like a tank, well almost! It’s airframe is made of graphite composite surrounded by a dense polystyrene outer safety cell and comes with a full ring type polystyrene indoor hull that protects the 4 properller blades from damage. Speaking of the blades these are also quite sturdy and flexable and after a few hours flight time mine have a few nicks and scrapes but overall are intact. I’ve crashed my drone at least 2 dozen times complete with a couple of high speed flips and burrows and I’ve only managed to crack the outer indoor hull once which I repaired with epoxy glue and tape.
This thing hovers automatically. If you take your hands off the controls it immediately stops in its tracks and goes into auto hover mode which is great if you get into trouble. Just let go and it stops even at high speed with a sudden correction in the opposite direction and just stops mid-air! It’s unbelievable at the smarts this thing has which is helped by an array of sensors built into the electronics. Did I mention this has 2 cameras on board? The forward facing camera is a 720p HD camera and there is a SD camera in the belly you can use for arial recon and the brains uses the belly camera to lock onto targets to hover over. There is also an ultrasonic transmitter and receiver as well which tells it how far it is off the ground up to 3 meters. Top this off with a full gyro and some other neat stuff and some very smart software this is quite a powerful piece of kit and yet at under $350 retail is a bargain for what it can do compared to many more expensive RC helicopters and even quadracopters!
I’ve gotten about 3.5 hours total flight time on my drone so far. Battery life is on average about 10-12 minutes but if you start doing some funky spins and flips (yes I said flips!!!) or your flying in high winds the battery life drains considerably. You can get aftermarket batteries which can almost double the flight time. Suffice to say it pays to pick up a few spare batteries and chargers. Batteries retail for about $50 and chargers about $40 and it’s a good idea to buy one charger per battery as these packs take up to 90 minutes per charge and it pays to at least have a 2-1 battery to charger ratio so you always have a pack ready to go!
Ok getting back to flips. Yes this drone can flip itself left or right or front or back completely in a 360 degree flip and recover mid-air and keep flying. You need to be at least 1 to 2 meters off the ground to do this especially in high winds otherwise the drone tends to bump the ground when it comes out of the flip but usually can keep flying. All you need to do a flip is get it up high enough off the ground and activate the flip command in whatever direction you want and away it goes! The controlling apps you can get for the AR Drone can be programmed to do other stunts as well but the flip is especially built into the firmware as Parrot have obviously spent a lot of time and parts working out how to get this drone to do this!
Speaking of the controlling apps, this drone is controlled using your iPhone or iPad or Android phone using either the factory Parrot apps or many aftermarket apps which have more features including a dance app that allows you to sequence many preprogrammed dance moves into a sequence to control 1 or more drones in a dance routine. Quite cool to watch! The app connects to the drone using 802.11n WiFi networkin using an adhoc network and range depends on the device you use, channel, and other interference around but I found I could easily fly 30-50 meters without getting out of range. You can also use a WiFi range extender/repeater to help extend the control range.
But what happens if you get out of range you ask? Well Parrot thought of this too and whenever the drone loses its control signal will immediately halt and hover. If it is above safe hover height (3 meters due to ultrasonice range) then it will slowly lower itself down until it detects something underneath and will then continue to hover until you come back into range or it runs out of battery at which point it will auto land when it gets down to an emergency level. This also works when in range if you get down to below 5% battery it will immediately land before it runs out of enough power to safely control itself in a landing.
Below is a short 5 minute video I compiled with my first few hours of flight including some spectacular crashes and stunts:
So after a few hours of flight I have to tell you I am totally addicted. I plan on getting some spares soon especially a new hull and props just in case but I plan on putting this drone through its paces over the next couple of weeks including some outdoor flying on an oval around the corner from my home. There is an extensive modding community for the AR Drone complete with aftermarket parts, software and other mod ideas to make it more fun to fly.
I totally recommend anyone who is into flying or RC models to check the Parrot AR Drone 2.0 out. Stay tuned over coming days as I post other articles and ideas on the AR Drone as I get more into this addiction err i mean hobby