A Flying Video Game
Flying using AR.Freeflight app in a light canyon breeze.
Apple iPhone users may not have flash support to take care of our desires for animated video games, but thanks to a company called Parrot, we now have the AR.Drone. The AR.Drone is a stealthy 4-rotor electric quadricopter which you control with your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. It features a wide-angle forward facing video camera, and a high-speed downward facing camera. Marketed as A Flying Video Game , the AR.Drone can make the Wii look outdated. The AR.Drones live video transmission to the iPhone allows you to fly solely by looking at the screen and not the model hence the name Drone . Its designed to emulate sitting in the cockpit of the model. The AR.Drone has so many cool features that its sure to please anyone who enjoys video games and/or radio control flight.
Top view of the AR.Drone wearing its indoor hull. It offers full protection of the rotor blades when flying indoors.
The AR.Drone is about the size of a two by two ceiling tile and weighs less than a pound. They pack a lot of features into a small package including: two gyros, an ultrasonic sensor, a three-axis accelerometer, one-axis yaw precision gyro and four powered rotor blades. It is constructed of carbon fiber and high resistance PA66 plastic. Thanks to a built-in computer it even creates its own 802.11b/g Wi-Fi network. The model is controlled using the AR.FreeFlight application for the iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. They indicate that Android support is coming soon. The software also features image processing software for augmented reality which can be used by application to recognize colored tags on other AR.Drones for combat games.
TIPS FOR SUCCESS
The AR.Drone comes complete in the box including the helicopter unit, a full foam hull designed for indoor flight to protect the rotors specified, an outdoor hull, and the flight battery and charger. When I looked at the manual, I saw a photo with the image of the video that the AR.Drones camera sends back to the phone. I was immediately intrigued and could not wait to test this unit out.
I started by charging the included LiPo battery and while I waited for it to charge, checked out some videos of this model on YouTube. (find.helipilotonline. com/051104) This thing is awesome , I thought to myself as I snarled at the charger as if to make it finish faster. Finally, the battery was charged and it was time to see what this thing is all about.
Since the AR.Drone is controlled by the iPhone you have to install the AR.FreeFlight app from the App Store. If you perform a search in the App Store for AR.FreeFlight it comes up and is available as a free download.
Before connecting the battery to the model, the Wi-Fi feature on the iPhone needs to be turned off which is accomplished by going to the settings menu, select Wi-Fi and make sure it is in the off position. To prepare the AR.Drone, I removed the protective hull and installed the battery. I reattached the hull and placed the model on the floor and waited for the status light to turn green. At this time, the Wi-Fi feature on the iPhone needs to be turned back on. Once this is done, AR.Drone shows up as an available network. Select that network and launch the AR.FreeFlight application.
Once the connection has been correctly established, live video starts to display on the iPhones screen. There are several controls and icons on the apps screen that are important to understand before you start using the model.
Front view of AR.Drone showing the front VGA CMOS camera. The outdoor hull is in place.
Launch/Land Pressing the Launch/ Land icon on the screen activates the AR.Drone for flight. The rotors will power up and within 10 seconds the model will begin to enter a stable hover at about three to four feet above the ground. Its amazing how the model will hover in one spot seemingly forever without any input from the pilot. Some pilots take months to learn how to do this with a traditional radio control helicopter. By pressing the Launch/Land icon again, the model will descend and land followed by powering itself off.
Motion Activation Pressing and holding this icon on the iPhone activates the motion sensors inside the phone. Once activated, the phone movements become the commands that control the models flight. Think of it as the cyclic controls on a conventional helicopter. For example, if you tilt the phone to the left, the AR.Drone will fly in that direction, if you tilt forward; the model will begin forward flight. Removing your finger from this icon puts the AR.Drone back into autopilot mode resuming a stable hover.
Rotation/Elevation Think of this icon as a virtual joystick . By holding your thumb on the screen and sliding it up and down controls the height of the AR.Drone. Sliding your thumb left and right will rotate the model in the corresponding direction, much like the tail rotor control on a conventional helicopter.
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.
Emergency/Reset This button should only be used during an emergency. If it is pressed during flight it will lock all of the propellers and the AR.Drone will fall. This button will also serve as a reset to enable the model to start flying again.
On the bottom of the AR.Drone you can tap into the USB connection easily. The entire electronics and battery package is shock-proofed by being suspended by about 1/2-in. thick soft foam. It actually floats inside the chassis.
Battery Indicator This is a very cool feature. It monitors and displays the remaining battery life onboard the AR.Drone. It shows as a percentage as well as graphical battery indicator.
Camera This button flips through the alternative live camera views from the AR.Drone. There is the main full screen view of the front camera, then when I press the button again the main image relocates to the top left as if it is a picture-inpicture and the main video is from the vertical camera. Pressing a third time just shows the video from the vertical camera.
Settings The settings button allows you to make adjustments to the way you fly the AR.Drone. You can adjust the sensitivity, speed and trim settings from this menu.
Flying the AR.Drone is just plain cool. I am not sure how else to describe it. The resolution of the video was excellent. When I read that you can fly this just like a real drone , right from the screen, I was skeptical, but the resolution was clear and detailed. My first few flights were up and down our office hallway, and I was not relying on the camera, I was watching the model as I flew it to get used to the controls. Once comfortable with the controls, I sat down at my desk as I piloted the model up and down the hallway right from the iPhones screen. The first flights were not perfect. It takes a bit to get used to the field of view from the camera so you know how close you are to walls and obstacles, but thankfully the protective hull acted as a well-needed bumper protecting the blades (and walls) from damage.
The responsiveness of the motion controls (cyclic) were surprisingly good, very much like a conventional fixed pitch rotor radio control helicopter. Being used to flying with a standard transmitter, it was pretty neat to fly the AR.Drone by moving my iPhone. The up/down control took a little getting used to. The unit has an ultrasonic sensor that keeps track of the distance the model is from the ground. When you command it to climb or descend, it does so in 4-inch increments. If you fly the model outside, once you exceed 20 feet, the ultrasonic sensor is no longer used and the AR.Drone enters manual flight mode at which time the altitude controls have a more real time feel to them.
AR.D rone with forgiving EPP indoor hull. It takes a beating well and has saved many potential prop-marks on my walls.
One of the best features on this model as it pertains to flying is the autopilot mode, especially for beginners. Any time that you find yourself in trouble you simply release the controls and the AR.Drone will automatically enter a stable hover. The Wi-Fi range on the unit is about 150 feet (50 meters). Should you fly out of that range, it will again enter autopilot mode until you are close enough again for it to regain signal. The onboard battery meter will start to flash red when you are running low on power. When this happens, simply press the land button and it will automatically settle into a nice landing and power off.
AR.Drone with the outdoor hull.
It is my understanding that Parrot is in development of a new app called AR.Flying Ace. Real dogfights will soon be possible when flying two or more AR.Drones on the same Wi-Fi network. With AR.Flying Aces recognition software, the application targets the other AR.Drones thanks to the special cockpit colors on the outdoor hull and special stickers on the indoor hull. There is a demo video on the companys website giving you more information on this new app. (find.helipilotonline. com/051104)
The AR.Drone without any hull. The EPP-clad carbon composite frame does a great job protecting the internal electronics and battery.
HELICOPTER: AR.Drone Parrot
MANUFACTURER: Parrot SA
DISTRIBUTOR: ARdrone.parrotshopping.com, Amazon, Brookstone
FLYING WEIGHT: 14.8 oz. with indoor hull, 13.4 oz. with outdoor hull, 9.5 oz. with no hull and no battery
DIMENSIONS: 141/8-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
INCLUDED AND ALREADY TUNED TO ITS CONTROL SYSTEM:
- Ultrasound altimeter good up to 20 ft.
- 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.
- 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 axis accelerometer
- 2 axis gyro
- 1 axis yaw precision gyro
- ARM9 468 MHz
- DDR 128 Mbyte at 200MHz
- Wifi b/g
- USB high speed
- Linux OS
MINIMAL FLYING AREA: Very small room
COMPONENTS NEEDED TO COMPLETE: Your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch
The AR.Drone has so many cool features and with a price tag of less than $300, it is well within reach of the average hobbyist, or gadget junkie. It does require considerable practice if you want to become a AR.Drone ace pilot. Fortunately, this unit is tough, walking away from even the worst crashes with nothing more than a minor scrape in the hull. Best of all, the AR.Drone automatically stabilizes itself when you release the control buttons (or get a phone call!). Letting go of a traditional helicopters controls can result in a trip to the local hobby shop for new parts. Hopefully soon the AR.Drone might support recording of the video from its cameras. Barring that, this is still one of the coolest RC models that I have seen I a very long time.
Parrot SA, www.ardrone.parrot.com (877) 972-7768