m4s0n501
2011 August - Mechanical Fauna

A.R.Drone Parrot

Aug 11, 2011

Well, I just couldn’t resist the pull of the A.R.Drone quadracopter called the Parrot. I had a problem with the Parrot when it first came out because the quad, a remote control device with serious autopilot stabilization was only controllable by Apple products like the iPhone, iPod and iPad Touch. I have always had a grudge against the iPhone and Apple in general because of their unnecessary high expense and proprietary format.  It’s not that Windows is particularly open, but they don’t drive everyone with a compatible product out of business the way that Apple does. They are much too protective of their brand, to the extent that they destroy competition. That usually causes laconic response to customer demands, which is pretty much Apple all over.

But those who have come to find the incredible value of the Android operating system have hacked their way into creating a series of Android based applications that will control the Parrot. That means that most Android based smartphones and Tablets are able to shove aside Apple and do as good or better job at operating the Parrot. Much to Apple’s chagrin I’m sure, A.R.Drone has embraced the Android offerings –which is only smart, what with Android devices now outsell the iPhone and iPad, which translates into more users and ergo greater sales for the company. Plus that, A.R.Drone is not sitting on their haunches. They have been continual in the enhancement of their quad, making it a very stable platform for low experience pilots.

I would serious suggest that those interested in the Parrot, which sells for $300, step into it by learning their initial skills on single (not coaxial) rotor helicopters, and make certain to spend a lot of time using flight simulators like ClearView. For $20 a potential pilot can get a lot of hands on experience in a widening array of different airplanes and helicopters. That’s not to say that the totally uninitiated will fail miserably should they try to learn small craft flight with a Parrot. The latest version is stable enough that someone who has never experienced anything like it can quickly be flying a Parrot.

It’s also a very capable flight device. The way it operates is by keeping a gyro stabilized and accelerometer reinforced autopilot that accepts pilot controls as general directional information while allowing the quadracopter to actually do the work. This makes for a very stable platform. For those who have good experience and a steady control touch can disconnect the stabilizing brain of the quad and control it movement for movement with their iThing or Android controller.

With the embracing of Android I was a shoe in as a customer, owning both a Motorola Droid 2 and a Toshiba Thrive tablet. I’m not so sure I want to use the tablet, what with its size and weight. Although pretty slim and light as tablets go, it’s still a lot heavier than a smartphone and definitely more bulky. But it would work, and work well.

The A.R.Drone iPhone based app has been shown how it’s done downtown. Where the iPhone and other apple devices will show the output of the two separate on board cameras, it allows no opportunity to record the flight video which is offered in First Person look ahead and also a directly downward looking camera helpful for landing or lining up on a target. The Android apps do allow capture, permitting pilots to share their aerial adventures. My Parrot is due to show up in the next couple of days. An expensive gift, family members chipped in to buy it for me as a birthday gift.

The move to Android (and there is also a Linux based version of the controller software that is joystick operated!) made it a lot easier for more people to get a Parrot. A.R.Drone has made it possible for multiple pilots to play combat or racing games, using color recognition to identify friends and foes via the on-board cameras.  It will no doubt be some time before I am sufficiently adept enough to go play combat or maze games, but I see hours of enjoyment in my future. The Parrot kit comes with two bodies, one which is for indoor use and has a foam chassis that surrounds and protects the Parrot and its propellers. The other is a plain body with no protective shield against inadvertent prop contact with rigid obstacles. But along with a charger and a 1000mAh LiPo battery it also includes four replacement props for those whoops based maneuvers that all newbies manage to inflict on themselves.

I’m excited and anticipating the arrival of my craft. I’ve been wanting one since I coveted the first issue of them which solely responded to Apple devices. WiFi is used as the medium of communication between pilot and the unmanned craft, which gives it a pretty good range.

More to come after the arrival and inevitable first flight which should follow soon after. The Android A.R.Drone applications (there are a few) are all available from Android Market. There are free and paid versions, the paid one going fr $4.99. It’s not a bank breaker. Apple people can get their software from the iPhone App Store. The Parrot website is here.

 

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