I've now had a chance to fly the production-model Parrot AR.Drones enough time to have a good feel for how it it flies under a range of conditions, and how it differs from the prototype that I've been flying for six months. Here's a brief review:

The package: The box comes with the AR.Drone, indoor and outdoor bodies, a 1,000 MaH LiPo battery and charger, plugs for various country electrical outlets, and a target.

Indoor flight: This is where the AR.Drones shines. Press one button, and the props spin up, then shift into high speed for a rock-solid take off. It then hovers at about three feet, waiting for further instructions. In n00b mode (right button), you can rotate and go up and down. In pilot mode (left button), you can fly forward and back, left and right. Combine the two, and you basically have a full range of control.

The optical-flow position hold works best on a textured surface, like a patterned carpet or tiled floor. On a totally featureless floor (concrete or smooth, unpatterned carpet) it can tend to drift a bit.

As you fly over furniture, the ultrasonic altitude hold can get confused. Sometimes it goes up as you fly over a sofa, say, and sometimes it goes down. Sometimes it gets so confused the AR.Drones goes to the ceiling. But in general, it does a quite good job.

Total flight time is a bit less than 10 minutes in my experience.

Outdoor flight: This is not the AR.Drone's strongest suit. For starters, it won't fly higher than 15 feet (the range of its ultrasonic sensor). Also, the position hold really only works when there is no wind. Once the wind picks up, the AR.Drone has to tilt and shakes, and the optical flow camera loses its lock. Sometimes that means it just drifts, other times it will scoot off in a random direction after a wind gust.

But if there is no wind, you can fly as far as the wifi connection will let you (I've tested up to about 100 feet)

iPhone interface:

iPhone interface: The iPhone software is significantly updated from the prototype. As mentioned above, the right button is the equivalent of rudder and elevator, while the left is ailerons (if you'll forgive the plane metaphors). If you release the buttons, the AR.Drone will hold position wherever it is.

My video was laggier than the video shown above; I estimate a .5 to 1 second delay.

One cool thing about the software is that it will update the AR.Drone's onboard firmware if there is an update available (this had to be done with a special USB cable with the prototype).

The current version of the iPhone software is still a bit buggy. About half of the time it falls back to the iPhone's desktop rather than launching the AR.Drone interface.

Gameplay: I haven't tested this. But I do have two AR.Drones, so I'll try to borrow a second iPhone/iPod Touch and give it a try later and update this review.

Views: 1154

Comment by Patrice Mainville on August 22, 2010 at 2:37pm
Got mine this week and I broke it in my first outdoor try!

I made the mistake to still use it after the battery empty warning, and after just a few second, I totally lost the control of the drone. It goes up, like 30 feet and then motor stopped and it fall. The main cross is broken in two peace. And the worst, the main board seem damaged... When I connected it back, I only see motor light red and I can't detect it's network. And I don't know what else is broken. Result, I have order replacement part for almost the price of a new! around 200 Euro!

Also, I find the responsiveness of the touch control, for rotating and altitude control really hard! I may have too bigger finger!

But still, really love the toy!
Comment by passunca on August 22, 2010 at 2:59pm
is it just me or this thing is a bit of a disappointment?
Comment by Patrice Mainville on August 22, 2010 at 3:06pm
don't take me wrong, The only disappointment I have is about the right control on the IPod, otherwise, it's really fun to play with! I was impress by the stability, even outside, that was incredible!

Comment by Roberto Navoni on August 22, 2010 at 3:37pm
HI Chris I think that we can do a better job with Arducopter :)
Comment by Jack Crossfire on August 22, 2010 at 5:54pm
Scooting off in random directions after wind gusts brings back memories. Usually they scoot to the nearest $40 million house or whatever they cost nowadays.
Comment by Hugo Vincent on August 23, 2010 at 1:43am
Chris, would you mind posting some high-res photos of the flight electronics? I'm sure many of us would be interested :-)
Comment by Albert de Klein on August 23, 2010 at 2:58pm
Hi Chris, one thing seriously lacking from the AR.Drone software right now is the ability to record live video from the cameras. If you jailbreak your iOS-device and install Display Recorder you can record them to an AVI and upload them directly to YouTube. I've put an example video up at http://dronehacks.com/. You can play with the settings of Display Recorder to change framerate and video quality.
Comment by Albert de Klein on August 23, 2010 at 3:01pm
Patrice, the main cross seems a vulnerable part - mine broke on the second day. I've noticed that sometimes when you go up it'll become unresponsive after you release the controls and keep going up.
Comment by Patrice Mainville on August 23, 2010 at 3:05pm
The worst thing is that I can't order a new one, I made the order for replacement part, the only place I found is in France. But, they cancel my order. Seem that the Canada is not in their range. So... they told me that the US representative will contact me!
Comment by Tim Robinson on August 25, 2010 at 12:34am
Interesting stuff. I had a little play with one earlier this year (indoors) so the verdict on the outdoor performance is useful. Anyone know how it compares with the high-end (professional) quadicopters now available for law enforcement missions on the market?

NB: You may be interested in my blog post on the AR DRone here: http://www.aerosocietychannel.com/2010/08/uavs-invade-the-toy-store/ - we cover UAVs reguarly in our magazine.


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