RCU Review: Greg Covey's Amp'd Issue 18: Parrot AR.Drone

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    Contributed by: Greg Covey | Published: October 2010 | Views: 24039 | email icon Email this Article | PDFpdf icon




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    Issue 18
    Article By Greg Covey

    Print Issue 18 "Parrot AR.Drone"

    The Parrot AR.Drone is the first quadricopter that can be controlled by an iPhone, iPod Touch, or even an iPad. It is a groundbreaking device combining the best of many worlds, including modeling, video gaming and augmented reality (or AR). Equipped with two integrated video cameras, ultrasonic altimeters, gyro sensor, an accelerometer, and an intelligent autopilot, the AR.Drone is incredibly easy to fly both indoors or out.

    In this month's issue of AMP'D, we test the AR.Drone, and meet the gamers head on, as they invade the world of R/C!

    Augmented Reality

    For those not familiar with AR, or Augmented Reality, it is an environment that includes both virtual reality and real-world elements. For instance, an AR user might wear translucent goggles; through these, he could see the real world, as well as computer-generated images projected on top of that world.

    In the Terminator movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger?s character sees the world with data superimposed on his visual field. These virtual captions augment (or enhance) the cyborg?s scan of a scene.

    An augmented reality system is one that combines real and virtual elements, is interactive in real-time, and is registered in three dimensions. In James Cameron's 'Avatar', we transported to the world of Pandora using augmented reality.

    The Parrot AR.Drone uses both cameras to create Augmented Reality video games.
    The AR.Drone software includes AR functions such as detecting other AR.Drone in flight, detecting and positioning markers on the ground and on the walls.

    How it Works

    Thanks to the AR.Drone's on-board Wi-Fi system, you control it using an iPhone®, iPod Touch®, or an iPad®. Although it was initially designed for the Apple platforms, other platforms will be available in the near future.

    The quadricopter is made with carbon fiber and high resistance PA66 plastic. Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (or MEMS) and video processing are used to ensure very intuitive piloting.

    Four 15-watt brushless motors spin the plastic gears and high-efficiency props that were specially designed for the AR.Drone. A 3-cell, 1000mAh LiPo pack provides powered flight for 10-12 minutes.

    The device features a number of sensors, including a front camera, a vertical camera and an ultrasound altimeter. Once paired with your iPod or iPhone, the two integrated video cameras, ultrasonic altimeters, 2-axis gyro sensor, 3-axis accelerometer, and intelligent autopilot provide incredibly easy flight to a distance of about 150 feet. On the bottom of the AR.Drone, the vertical camera, in combination with the ultrasound altimeter, provide stabilization up to about 20' even in a light wind. The front camera uses a 93° wide-angle diagonal lens to stream live images to your iPod or iPhone.

    Note that safety is designed into the AR.Drone as it will stop all blades if anything (including a finger) gets caught in any of the four blades. Further, the iPod application, called AR.FreeFlight, has an Emergency/Reset button right on the screen. When pressed, the AR.Drone locks all four rotating blades and falls. The AR.FreeFlight app is the official piloting application for the Parrot AR.Drone and is available for free at the iTunes app store.

    The iPod Touch® is a music box, pocket computer, and a great portable game player. It includes a built-in three-axis gyroscope. When paired with the built-in accelerometer, the gyro makes the iPod touch capable of advanced motion sensing such as user acceleration, full 3D attitude, and rotation rate. A perfect controller for the AR.Drone!

    In the Box

    The AR.Drone comes well packaged in a custom box that can easily be used for storage or travel. Two hulls are included; an indoor hull with safety bumpers that protect objects it touches from hitting the propeller blades and a lighter outdoor hull that drops the flying weight about 40 grams.

    There is nothing to assemble and the battery pack comes ready to plug into the balancing charger. The LiPo pack charging connector is E-flite/ElectriFly compatible.

    A multi-language manual and Quick Start Guide get you up and running fast!

    The AR.Drone is connected to the iPod Touch or iPhone by an ad hoc Wi-Fi link. The AR.Drone creates its own Wi-Fi network and the iPod can then connect to it just like with any Wi-Fi network.

    The connection with the AR.Drone is secure because it is paired with one iPod at a time. However, you can delete the pairing by pressing the "Unpair" button on the bottom, so that it can be controlled with another iPod Touch or iPhone.

    In the video below, I tested my AR.Drone for the first time in my backyard. I was amazed at just how stable it could hover and how easy it was to control with only one hand.

    AR.Drone Introduction Video

    Download and Watch in Windows Media Player here!


    Demo Flights

    At the 2010 NEAT Fair, I met up with Bryan Spears of Parrot N.A. and we held some joint demos in my tent area. The goal here was to introduce the R/C world to the AR.Drone and solicit feedback about the recently released product.

    Overall, the AR.Drone was very well received. While the younger R/Cers had less issue with the Apple controlling devices, the older hobbyists were less comfortable with the iPod Touch and requested that traditional receivers be used for their existing transmitters.

    Since we were not allowed to fly in the pit area, we accepted an invitation to fly in the large 30' x 30' tent hosted by the Bergen County Silent Flyers where they offer small model seminars after the noon demos.

    Bryan put on an interesting demo, going around pipes and tables, while handling questions. I manned the camera and recorded one of the demos.


    AR.Drone NEAT Fair Demo Video

    Download and Watch in Windows Media Player here!


    After the tent demo, we walked over to the parkflyer area and Bryan gave another demo outside. This time, he demonstrated how the AR.Drone can lean into the wind for compensation and provided a full-speed pass down the flying area at about 15mph.

    Scott from SKS Video was there to capture it for the 2010 NEAT Fair event video.


    The AR.Drone is a groundbreaking device combining the best of many worlds, including modeling, video gaming and augmented reality. Although it was initially designed for the Apple platforms, it will be mated to other platforms in the near future.

    The AR.Drone is so incredibly easy to fly that even children will pilot it instinctively, using the iPod or iPhone, without any learning curve. Note that safety is designed into the AR.Drone as it will stop all blades if anything (including a finger) gets caught in any of the four blades.

    Another major feature not mentioned above is the use of several AR.Drones on a network. Thanks to its own generated Wi-Fi network, players can create a game party where others players can join and play against each other. The multiplayer game, named AR.Flying Ace, makes it possible to have a battle (or dogfight) between multiple AR.Drones. The hulls are available in three different colors to easily identify your AR.Drone. This game incorporates the augmented reality concepts, especially for modeling missile fire.

    The AR.Drone is available at Brookstone stores or on-line at Amazon.com and ParrotShopping.com. Whether you are a gamer, or an R/Cer, or both, the Parrot AR.Drone is an exciting flying creation. The technologies used both in this product and the Apple controlling devices take us one step further into the realm of augmented reality.

    When you fly electric, fly clean, fly quiet, and fly safe!


    Special thanks for contributions by:
    "Papa Jeff" Ring and Bryan Spears


    This section of AMP'D covers some of the questions that our readers have sent in and I thought would be interesting for others.

    Bob F. asks:

    Hi Greg,

    First of all, "Thank You" for a great web site that is highly informative and a great learning tool. I have three sons that I have introduced into this great hobby and it has been a pure pleasure.

    I have been reading about flying boats and all the info out there and links are dead or antiquated. The ones on your page are out of business except Air Hogs and I am looking for plans or kits that are not over blown in pricing and actually work. Can you give me some direction to look?

    Hi Bob,

    Thanks for the kind words. You are correct in your observation about the flying boats. The fad has pretty much gone its path.

    For the current all surface craze, and much better flying kits, check out Model Aero below. The Polaris and Aquacat kits fly very well. Mine uses the U.S. Coast Guard decals.

    Good luck!

    Ask questions by e-mailing me at greg@rcuniverse.com


    E-flite UMX Beast BNF

    Spektrum DX8 8CH Transmitter with AR8000

    SKS Video Productions XFC 2010 Airplane Edition

    Print Issue 18 "Parrot AR.Drone"

    Comments on RCU Review: Greg Covey's Amp'd Issue 18: Parrot AR.Drone

    Posted by: rc6 on 10/03/2010
    It flies great, I saw it fly at the NEAT Fest. -austin
    Posted by: Greg Covey on 10/11/2010
    A good replacement battery for the stock 3.7oz 3s 1000mAh 10C pack is the ParkZone (PKZ1033) 3.5oz 3s 1300mAh 15C pack. More capacity and lighter weight.
    Posted by: rc6 on 10/13/2010
    good to know. -austin
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