Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Home » Product Reviews » PARROT AR Drone – RTF Quadrotor for new and advanced pilots/research organizations

PARROT AR Drone – RTF Quadrotor for new and advanced pilots/research organizations

 

Quadrotors, you say. I cringe. I fly a Trex 450 Pro (but am lightyears behind Alan Szabo Jr.). For better or worse I have actually designed and machined my own heli designs and blades. Thats already a fulltime hobby. I didnt think I had the time to tune, tweak, code, research + or x configurations, etc. for a quadrotor.
In our mechatronics course 10 years ago we hacked ultrasonic range finders from old Polaroid cameras, custom built our H-bridges, and hacked a digital compass from a family van for our 8 digital input and 5 analog input autonomous differential drive robot hockey player run by our MIT HandyBoard. We had defense and offense autonomous programs for this single robot. No RC intervention. We played 2-on-2 in a 8 foot long rink and scored. Just that microcontroller back then cost over $300 to buy. Times have definitely changed. The technology we take for granted in the AR Drone is incredible.
I saw the AR Drone demo video on their site. Flying RC helis for years now and still spending thousands on that hobby, I HAD to buy this Augmented Reality quadrotor simply to try it and maybe laugh at its possible lack of performance. It couldnt be that easy…

<p >AR DRONE SETUPSTEP ONE: Opened the box. It came already assembled. True RTF. Put your CA glue away.

STEP TWO: Charged the battery. I plugged in the international-friendly plug of the self balancing charger right into my 120VAC wall outlet. For my helis I have a dedicated 12VDC power source, a Triton charger, and a Team Losi balancer. OK, this was already too easy….

Top view of the Ar drone wearing its outdoor hull. These come in different colors so you can dog fight with other drones. Front view of Ar drone showing the front VGA CMOS camera. The outdoor hull is in place.
STEP THREE: Looked at the instruction booklet in the box. Did not read it. I wanted to see if this was truly as easy to fly as in their demo video.STEP FOUR: Put the battery in. No Deans connectors but a very solid Molex-type connector (snap-lock).

STEP FIVE: Connected my iPhone to its WiFi signal and prepared to either fail miserably or enjoy great success…

The official free software I downloaded from the Apple App Store from Parrot had a button to take off, so I hit it. Wham! Into the air it went 1 meter high and awaited my command. Nice, stable, autonomous hover. In my crowded living room no less.

I didnt read a thing, didnt configure anything, just went for it. And it worked exactly as advertised. No derisive laughing here, just amazement.

In fact, I was so amazed I quickly pushed the EPP hull with a force enough to push a book off a shelf. It slid (still at a 1 meter hover) away and almost immediately corrected itself with a very steep bank in the opposite direction. It shifted about 1 foot. And then stayed there. No input from this Bozo and his iPhone. I tried to break it, but its too smart. A combination of its vertical camera input plus 3-axis accelerometer and 2-axis gyrometer and perhaps its single axis precision gyrometer sensed this disturbance within microseconds and fixed it per the as asshipped Linux-based code.

I literally have answered phone calls on my iPhone while it is controlling the Ar drone. No kidding. Now you have a controller that is also your phone and web browser and more. And while doing all that other stuff, your AR Drone just waits patiently in the air where you put it. I hung up and continued to try to break my new Ar drone.

Alright, onto the next phase of testing… If you visit the Ar drone site you will find all sorts of videos that will show you tests and tortures Parrot themselves put the quadrotor through. Even a nice hard landing in a pond. Even if you do the absolute worst thing to this quadrotor there are cheap replacement parts on their site and quick videos on how to fix it. You dont even have to read instructions. So far I have not found a way to destroy it. They even have 3M EPP tape (soft Expanded PolyPropelene, not hard EPS). Its not an easy thing to find something that sticks EPP to EPP. But they have it ready for you to repair your hull if necessary.

<p >SPECSHELICOPTER: AR Drone Parrot
MANUFACTURER: Parrot SA
DISTRIBUTOR: ARdrone.parrotshopping.com , Amazon, Brookstone
TYPE: Quad
FLYING WEIGHT: 420 grams with indoor hull, 380 grams with outdoor hull, 270 grams with no hull and no battery
DIMENSIONS: 14 1/8-inch (359 mm) shaft to shaft
BLADES: 4 fixed pitch propellers, custom designed for AR Drone
CONTROLLER: iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad (more platforms coming soon)
POWER SYSTEM (out-of-box): 4 brushless motors, (3,500 rpm, power: 15W) Lithium polymer battery (3 cells, 11.1V, 1000mAh)
Discharge capacity: 10C
BATTERY CHARGING TIME: 90 minutes with included self-balancing charger
DURATION: 12 minutes using supplied battery (can provide more than 40 minutes fly time using higher capacity batteries)
<p >INCLUDED AND ALREADY TUNED TO ITS CONTROL SYSTEM:1- Ultrasound altimeter good up to 20 ft.
2- Front Camera that streams live on your controller and at a 640 x 480 VGA resolution will also give a virtual heads-up display on your controller in Ace mode to have real dog fights with 2 Drones. Detection is good from 1 ft to 16 ft of other Drones or 3D tags.
3- Vertical Camera. This is primarily for stabilization of the quadrotor but can also be toggled in the controller display as you are flying / recording video.3- 3 axis accelerometer
4- 2 axis gyro
5- 1 axis yaw precision gyro
6- ARM9 468 MHz
7- DDR 128 Mbyte at 200MHz
8- Wifi b/g
9- USB high speed
10- Linux OS
MINIMAL FLYING AREA: Very small room
PRICE: $299.99
COMPONENTS NEEDED TO COMPLETE: Your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch
<p >DRONE CONTROLSThe absolute best thing about the AR Drone is that you can do almost anything to its software you want. It is open source. In fact, on the AR Drone site one of the major links is to the open source software. Dronehacks.com is a great blog and source for tips on new mods and code to upload into your AR Drone. Because of this open source platform, I have already downloaded 2 applications that while not supported by Parrot do extend this quadrotors functionality substan substantially. It seems more apps for this quadrotor are showing up in the App store every week.

As shipped, the AR Drone AR FreeFlight software will not allow you to record anything during flight. But it has two cameras and a bunch of data coursing through her digital veins. So thats why I fly it with two new applications, DroneControl and FlightRecord. Both present the user with essentially the same GUI but have a few more buttons to play with:

On the bottom of the Ar drone you can tap into the USB connection easily. The entire electronics and battery package is shockproofed by being suspended by about 1/2- in. thick soft foam. It actually floats inside the chassis. Close-up on the bottom of one of the motor assemblies. Excellent design of the integrated landing strut. I have not broken one prop yet as the system shuts down immediately if the prop contacts anything. Coupled with the indoor hull, it is almost impossible to wreck this quadrotor.
DroneControl is fun because it will log the flight time, altitude, and speed in X, Y, and Z axis. You can take snapshots during flight, but not record video. The engineer in me likes seeing the graphs.Flight Recorddoes exactly that. Upon takeoff it starts an MOV file growing in your controller. These can get to be about 100 Megs for the 10 minutes or so of flight. Given the 640 x 480 pixel front camera throwing out 15 fps, the video quality is OK. For what this unit costs and the time you didnt have to spend rigging up a camera to it, it becomes relatively speaking very cool. These videos can be from the front or the bottom camera (can switch sources in-flight) and can be put in your Camera Roll to pull out to your Mac or PC.These are only a few of the Apps for controlling this quadrotor. You can write your own. Parrot actually seems to encourage this with a link on their front page that points right to all the GNU and LGPL compliant drone software all based on the Linux kernel 2.6.27. All patches and toolchains are right there. Essentially, they are saying Go nuts kids!.
<p >TIPS FOR SUCCESS If you are coming from the land of helis and are used to serious crosswinds be careful. I live next to a canyon and it is almost always a 10 mph breeze. Sometimes 30- 40 mph gusts hit. Trex450s have no problem with this the power is there if you are quick enough on the sticks to hover in transient conditions like that. The AR Drone does an excellent job autonomously hovering in about a 6-7 mph transient breeze. That is pretty incredible, but you will soon find yourself at a 60 degree pitch trying to overcome more than that. Understandable consider what you get out of the box here!
AR drone with forgiving EPP indoor hull. It takes a beating well and has saved many potential prop-marks on my walls. The AR drone without any hull. The EPP-clad carbon composite frame does a great job protecting the internal electronics and battery.
<p >CONCLUSIONI love it. For this price what you get is truly amazing. One sidenote: I have not even mentioned this quadrotors ability to dog fight with another AR Drone. Its amazing, see the videos on their site. Unfortunately, my buddies are taking their sweet time to convince themselves / loved ones that they need this quadrotor. So, nobody to play with. That said, Im having a blast just flying it solo. Josh Gray is the president of Custom Entertainment Solutions, Inc. (www.customentsolutions.com ). This company supplies unique animatronics and robotics solutions, robotics to entertainment, commercial, and defense industries.”the editorsLinks

Parrot SA, www.ardrone.parrot.com, 1-877-9PARROT (1-877-972-7768)

Dronehacks, www.dronehacks.com

Words by Josh Gray