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This is a spin-off from the iPhone discussion found here: iPhone controlled RC Heli. Please see my comments there for more introductory information.

Here are some short video clips that show the Parrot AR.Drone hovering around.

Video #1: http://vimeo.com/8657492

This shows the fully autonomous hovering mode, as recorded in the big indoor screened arena. There is a fellow holding a red/green colored fob that can be recognized by the camera in the drone. From what I saw, it can be set to follow the fob or avoid it. I approached one of the techs and tried to get more information about the gaming features it allows, but the language barrier was an obstacle (I can't speak French).

Video #2: http://vimeo.com/8657681

This shows the iPhone controlled mode. Basically, the iPhone is set as a fly-by-wire navigation control tool. A soft button on the iPhone engages remote control operation. Tilting the iPhone provides pitch and roll, and altitude and yaw are soft buttons. The forward looking camera view is seen on the iPhone display. After I recorded this, I test flew it and found it to be well behaved. I suspect even a 4 year old could fly it with very little instruction.

By the way, the next day I learned that the slow video frame rate seen on the monitor in the background only occurs when video is streamed from the iPhone. When the streaming mode is turned off, I was informed that the iPhone frame rate is 15-30 frames/sec. So, real-time FPV would be practical.

Speaking of FPV, the Parrot guys seem to completely naive about the popularity of FPV. To them, the Drone is mostly a augmented reality game device. Flying by video is not something they think is practical. I tried to explain that FPV is indeed practical and they conceded it was possible, but too difficult. Someone in France needs to show them what we are doing with our model airplanes!

Video #3: http://vimeo.com/8657731

On my last day at the CES event I re-visited the outdoor Parrot demo tent and found the techs hovering them in the parking lot. I don't think they planned to do this, but perhaps they were bored with being confined in the tent. At time 1:15 you can see Henri Seydoux (slowly walking guy on far left side), the Parrot CEO. He paced the area like a nervous dad and hopefully he was pleased by the obvious excitement surrounding the Drone.

I asked one fellow why their CEO got them into developing the model aircraft (they are a bluetooth headset company). All I learned was that he was the single driving force behind the product's development and that he wanted to do something unique. Maybe he's a present or past R/C modeler? Or crazy. :)

Video #4: http://vimeo.com/8657838

They had a couple Drones sitting on a table. I tried my best to get some images of the hardware. Not much to see in the video, but I can say the build quality was nice. These were not hand-made hacks.

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This thing is finally hitting the shelves through the official channel here :)

The price is more than reasonable, $389 being the common low price for online stores on the most popular national price comparator for electronics. It makes it an expensive toy, but the cheapest "decent" quad around, cheaper than the GAUI for example, but with hardware in a whole other category.

I was just forced to get one, especially as I had recently decided to get myself an iThingy in the end... namely iPad. I'm usually an anti-Apple, mainly because of their business/marketing practices, but have to admit that in this device category they're doing better.

So my colleague (who is the opposite and has pretty much everything Apple makes) and I both got one.

Mine hasn't flown so far because my 2nd-hand iPad is only reaching me tomorrow, but we've had a run with my colleague's one indoors, on his iPad and iPhone 4 (snowing outside...)

The control means feels a little awkward at first, seems the smaller iPhone is more conveneient as a remote for standard flight, at least in accelerometer mode. Didn't try the 2-joystick mode yet. But tilting a large pad just feels weird.

The aircraft is VERY stable, especially in altitude with its ultrasonic altimeter. When it's on autonomous hover it really stays pinned where it is. It does take a a large roomy house though if you want to play a bit, with the X-UFO like indoor shell it is quite wide. Also a clean floor is preferred if ultrasonic altimeter is activated, as if you fly over something it will adjust height to keep ground distance constant. That does feel a little weird... and might require a lot of effort from my part as I always have so much mess everywhere :P

If you're looking to do FPV the iPad is heaps better of course, thanks to the huge screen. With these 2 devices at least it's largely possible. Framerate and quality is good, even in low light, and delay was impressively short, I'd say <0.3s. That's quite a bit by absolute standards, but as the thing pretty much flies itself it's not a problem. I've read that older iPhones (3G/3Gs) can lag a bit more with their slower processors. In any case, very fun to fly to the other end of the house in FPV!

One can choose to display the front camera or the bottom one, and also both PIP combinations.

That's pretty much all on the practice side until I get my iPad... so in the meantime, it has seen a litle disassembly... ;)

Pics there: http://s18.photobucket.com/albums/b105/Kilrah/Parrot%20ArDrone/

All very clean, seems the version you saw was very close to final. They've polished the motor assemblies a little, with a black motor and hidden cables, but they look like the same geared brushless sets you saw. I'm still wondering a bit about that choice, especially as the gears make it very noisy. Guess that was the price to pay to have lighter drives and maintain good flight times even with the shell that makes nearly half the weight of the machine. Flight time is indeed very good with about 10-12mins on the 1Ah stock battery. The battery tray will happily take the blue 1300mAh Flightmax packs from UH, of which I happened to have 2pc still in the box, so that's very nice... the supplied charger connects to the balance plug, which is also the same as said batteries, so that's really an easy replacement. I just changed the plug to a Deans type, the original is a Tamiya connector.

The control hardware is really mobile-phone type, not RC-type. The mainboard has a powerful ARM processor (interstingly with Parrot marking, not some generic chip) with its RAM and flash, running linux, a WiFi chip with 2 PCB antennas and a few peripheral components like a power management IC. There are the 2 cameras, typical of the main camera + frontal camera you'd find on a mobile phone, however it can sample both at the same time as the bottom one is used for flight control even when the front one is used for downlink. That could be one of the reasons they needed a customised chip...

A second board holds the sensors, one ultrasonic pair, a 3 axis gyro (the neat new IDG500) and a 3-axis accelerometer, with a PIC24 that takes care of these. 3 connectors are on the mainboard, one for the front camera, one for motor power supply, and one for motor data. Interestingly there are 3 data wires to each brushless controller. I'd have expected a simple I2C link, but it seems more complicated... Parrot implied in a post on their forum that the motors were controlled by PWM, and as the software can read and update the software version on the controllers there must be a digital interface.... so maybe both, I2C for generic data plus a PWM for control, even if it makes little sense.

Will be able to say more when I can test it for real, but for now it looks really decent - the first big question at this point is whether WiFi range is any practical in real life, it already seems like indoor is a little "compromised" by the requirement for a large room, and 50m doesn't seem like a lot outside. The second is support, as even if the device has been available for a few weeks already at some places we so far haven't seen anything of the fun stuff they were showing off. All there is is a "free flight" application that allows you to fly the thing, but no game whatsoever ("will be available soon"), even if it's the main purpose of the aircraft, and the limitations of free flight show quickly...

Additionnally, there have been several reports of the thing flying away on its own, most likely due to a software crash of the main processor, with the lucky people who had the battery being quite low "only" suffering bad crashes, and the other less lucky ones completly losing their quad that had flown away too far for them to find it again. That's where the PWM was mentioned, the Parrot representative was saying that PWMs for the motors are hardware-generated and thus stay in free run maintaining the last orders in case of software crash... and so far all Parrot says is they can't reproduce the issue. They WILL need to add watchdog protection...

We'll see what comes... I feel it's promising, but would really need to be completely open-source on the software side. That would allow LOTS of fun things... I read the header on the bottom has an USB and a serial port, to which a GPS could be connected, as well as a longer range radio modem, or more...

Edited by Kilrah

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We'll see what comes... I feel it's promising, but would really need to be completely open-source on the software side. That would allow LOTS of fun things...

I have a feeling it will become sufficiently open source by the hands of hackers and experimenters. So hang on for that to happen (and help speed this along by publishing your hacks).

From what I saw/heard last year, the A.R. Drone is completely outside the normal product ideas from the engineers at Parrot. It is a very clever design and surprisingly cool, which was unexpected since the design team did not seem to have any model R/C airplane hobbyists in it. To the original developers the Drone was a piece of an interactive game. That said, any mention of FPV at last year's debut was shrugged off as being impractical by the factory engineers that were at the show. Hopefully they have come to realize by now that there is much more that they could do with it!

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It is quite open indeed, as you have complete root access to the linux OS in the remote terminal and for the FTP server... So you can view/edit configuration as you wish. I have been able to reconfigure it to connect to my home wifi AP instead of making its own ad-hoc network, which would be a first step in increasing the range...

The control is open, it's easy to control it from another device, and anybody can program their control apps/games.

But what remains closed is the flight control program itself. All you get is to give it orders to "do this", but you can't change how.

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That sounds like a good start. It would be awesome to see a A.R. Drone with reliable 1000 ft range for FPV flights at the schoolyard or park.

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I'm pretty sure one should get close to it by loading DD-WRT on a router, boosting the output power a little (a lot allow going from 100 to about 250mW) and replacing the antennas with a pair of patches :)

The iPhone/iPad etc also have video outputs, so it might even be possible to connect and use goggles :)

My 2nd hand iPad comes with the VGA adapter, I'll have a try with my Sony goggles.

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I'm pretty sure one should get close to it by loading DD-WRT on a router, boosting the output power a little (a lot allow going from 100 to about 250mW) and replacing the antennas with a pair of patches :)

The iPhone/iPad etc also have video outputs, so it might even be possible to connect and use goggles :)

My 2nd hand iPad comes with the VGA adapter, I'll have a try with my Sony goggles.

iPhone and iPad has video out, but only for certain tasks, as view pictures and videos, you can´t see the main menu or a 3rd party app. For doing this, you have to run one of the jailbreak process and install with cidia an app to give you real video out.

Can´t remember the app right now, but if you have interest, I´ll search.

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Already done ;)

Works perfect with the basic app (free flight) on vga out, using DisplayOut from Cydia to activate the output all the time.

Otherwise if you don't want to jailbreak you can use the "flight record" application on the app store thats made by a 3rd party, allows recording and activates video out. But I haven't been able to try it as it requires iOS 4.2, and I'll leave my iPad on 3.2 until a permanent untethered jailbreak is out for 4.2.

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Already done ;)

Works perfect with the basic app (free flight) on vga out, using DisplayOut from Cydia to activate the output all the time.

I think it would be grand to use this thread to act as a resource for the various A.R. Drone hacks. Is there any chance you've published the details to what you have done? Or, have a link to a site that has?

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I'm currently on a trip in Spain for work, and left the day after I got my iPad... So I haven't been able to tackle enough to warrant any worthy report so far!

But that will come ;)

I have also ordered a few accessories I should be able to include in the evaluation when I'm back...

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I'm currently on a trip in Spain for work, and left the day after I got my iPad... So I haven't been able to tackle enough to warrant any worthy report so far!

But that will come

Muchas gracias.

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I think is better to jailbreak the iphone/ipad rather than use the alternative control app, what do you think kilrah?

Mr.RC-Cam first step, jailbreak your iphone/ipad, here´s a site for doing it with lots of info on different devices.

http://www.iclarified.com/jailbreak/index.php

I´ve done my iphone jailbreak many times using their tutorials.

@kilrah have a nice time here in Spain. ;)

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Of course jailbreak is good, just for all the other benefits it brings.

But the alternative app also has other features the original doesn't, like recording, so I'm sure it's worth it. I actually bought it and only noticed later it only ran on 4.2.

Oh well, I've read they were making progress on 4.2 jailbreak, so I might be able to get to it soon... but because of the organisation here I'll be without my Parrot until after Christmas anyway.

Edited by Kilrah

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Hey all, I got mine on Friday. Just such a rush to be able to fly around so easily. Just a bit bummed that I am back to work tomorrow which means no more flight time till next weekend. :(

Sadly, not many photos from me just yet. I plan to mount an external video recording device but am still thinking on what to use. Not overly keen on the Go Pro....yet.

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The soon-to-be-released Parrot Bebop Drone has a lot of digital horsepower in it! Runs on linux too. The advertised 2km range should satisfy casual flying pilots.

Even if this thing ends up being a useless toy, it is exciting to see the further development of FPV digital video solutions. No matter how good/bad digital FPV video is today, you can be assured it will be 10X better tomorrow. :)

http://www.parrot.com/usa/products/bebop-drone/

bebop_drone-vs.jpg

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Yup, digital video needs a lot of horsepower. BTW, it's compatible with the Oculus Rift Goggles.

They haven't announced pricing. But since a Phantom with DJI lightbridge is over $2K USD, I suspect the fully loaded Bebop will be in a similar price range. Just my wild guess, so don't go telling everyone that's what it will cost. For all I know it could end up being $9.95. :)

EDIT: The basic model is rumored to be priced $1K or less. But no word on the extra cost to the Skycontroller/range extender. But I'm guessing a complete 2km range setup will be under $1.5K USD. Let's see how close I get to that seat-of-my-pants guess. BTW, I also read somewhere that latency is very noticeable, at least on the early demo model.

Edited by Mr.RC-Cam
Added rumor.

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