3D Robotics

Review of the production Parrot AR.Drone

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.

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  • Not sure jailbreaking is the way to go to get video. In the Ar.Drone forums one guy has modified the Linux SDK to capture images which he then stitches together in FFMPEG and it should be possible to get video off it through a more advanced change to the samples. I've personally captured video by mounting a Veho Muvi micro DV camera in the nose of my drone. Quite weighty but it fits snugly and the drone seems to compensate without any issue.
  • Moderator
    Well of course the UK Police heli numbers are very likely to drop after the merge so no doubt they will be after new methods.
  • Great video quality on that vid. Yep - I was aware of Merseyside's (shall we say) 'over-enthusiasm' for robot spy drones - and they are not the only ones - there have been at least one possibly more US police/sheriffs who have been told to put their 'toys' away when the FAA caught wind of what they were doing.

    (Mind you given the repeated vandalism attacks on Merseyside's EC145 police chopper by crims - maybe the Liverpool coppers want to think a bit bigger - Reaper with Hellfires perhaps? ;)
  • Moderator
    I was impressed that one could lift a Go Pro they really are not in the same league as a grown up quad, and actually would require an operators licence in the UK if the person driving used images for hire and reward or law enforcement Tim. As you know Merseyside got itself into trouble for not complying.
  • Hi Chris - yep - its an expensive toy but is closer the price point of a true 'disposable' cheap UAV that the military and police were promised that UAVs would enable.

    Thanks for the review - I'll keep an eye on this site - some interesting stuff going on here!
  • 3D Robotics
    Tim--no comparison. The AR.Drone is intended as a toy.
  • 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.
    See related links to what you are looking for.
  • 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!
  • Chris, would you mind posting some high-res photos of the flight electronics? I'm sure many of us would be interested :-)
  • 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.
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