The Parrot AR.Drone 2.0: Your Camera in the Sky
By Mark Wynn
Would you spend $300 to be able to take some good quality, low altitude, aerial digital photos and videos of your home, hunting grounds, farm, ranch, hiking trail, shoreline and wherever else (within the law and courtesy) your interests lead you?
Then welcome to the brave new world of drone flight, usually four rotors operating in opposite directions diagonally to provide incredible stability and maneuverability. One of the best examples of this at an intermediate level is the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0.
In early 2013 I was browsing a hobby shop after an artsy movie with the wife. Personal drones were just coming on the market and I knew little about them. Then, I noticed an interesting box from France resplendent with compelling information about something called the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0.
Whoever designed that compelling hunk of full-color cardboard, 22.5 inches square by 5.5 inches deep with a carrying slot, is a marketing genius or a papyrus vampire. Every surface inch beckoned with geek and nerd catnip data. Intuitive, that is what the box made its viewers, because intuitive is that drone's homing signal. If it is intuitive, why heck yeah, who can't do intuitive? The more read, the more intuited. (However, subsequent boxes may be different.)
The box intuited me. I needed to get my eyes in the sky with this drone and its camera. What better way to become not only an aerial photographer, but the pilot of a real flying thingie with my body still safely on the ground? After all, the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 is an immensely stable quadrotor balance of highly sophisticated features and simple intuitive operation. It will not crash unless the operator (I mean, pilot) messes with its safeguards. Or does something stupid, whichever comes first.
Naturally the instructions warn about where and how to fly it; e.g., do not buy trouble by snooping on neighbors or otherwise invading other people's airspace or restricted areas. ("Honest, officer, I was just trying to inspect my second-story gutters without climbing on ladders; that causes more senior citizen injuries than anything else!")
Unusual for electronics today, the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 still is first string varsity 18 months later via control updates on line. It is unquestionably one of the most innovative products anywhere. Pardon (French accent), I mean intuitive.
Let us clear up some limitations right away. It is restricted primarily by the range of the wireless to which it connects. To control it with your smartphone or tablet, you switch from the wireless you normally use to the ardrone wireless of the drone.
The manual says that limits range to about 54 yards (164 feet or 50 meters). If the drone gets out of range or too high, it is designed to descend and hover until the operator comes back within range. It also has an Emergency button to be used sparingly, because it turns off all power and lets the drone plummet to the surface.
The AR.Drone 2.0 is supremely adjustable. With the smartphone and tablet controls, you can tailor settings to what make you the most comfortable and proficient. Parrot designs this to be learned on line at parrot.com with excellent videos.
How could you learn to fly the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 so quickly and intuitively? Consider the specifications, clearly printed on the box in eight languages:
The back of the box has a full-color number-coded cutaway of the AR.Drone 2.0, including Fly and Record in HD, HD Video Recording, Robust Structure, The Most Intuitive Way of Flying, Electronic Assistance, Motors, and Includes (main body, indoor protective EPP hull, outdoor aerodynamic hull, fast life battery charger, stickers and target for augmented reality games and double-sided tape for fast repair).
On another side is Join the AR.Drone Community with video/photo upload and sharing, flight recorder, geolocation, flight hotspots and achievement badges.
With all that, there also is a concise manual inside the box. The main idea, however, is to get acquainted with all the excellent information, videos, photos and tutorials on line at parrot.com. Nothing else is needed, except a usb flash drive to store photos and video and ideally a second battery (Parrot AR.Drone 1.0 lithium-ion polymer rechargeable or later compatible battery).
Granted, I've been a photographer and computer pilot for a long time with various cameras and flight simulators. A new photographer or total ground pounder would have to study a bit more, or might need more convincing to try aerial photography and drone flying. However, taking it slowly and following the instructions in sequence is not too different from learning to drive a car, and much safer.
To fly the AR.Drone 2.0, just download the free application from the Android Google Play or the Apple App Store. I fly mine from either a Samsung smartphone, a Nexus mini tablet, or an Apple iPad, preferring the larger screen on the latter two. When started, like an eager pet, the drone pops up to about three feet high and hovers quietly with a soft whirring sound, waiting for you to fly it as you want.
Basically, it is flying by tilting the control device. If the drone gets out of signal range, about half a football field away, it hovers and waits for you to catch up. However, drones have been caught by high winds at higher altitudes and wafted off, coming down miles away.
The most notorious stray was a drone that one night got away from its operator and came down on the White House lawn. Which reminds everyone the most basic caution is never fly your drone where you could lose it or not be able to retrieve it. Depending on your tolerance for inconvenience and cost, that could include over water, high trees, canyons, mountains, animal preserves and anyone else's private property.
Flight time is about 12 minutes per charge, which takes about 90 minutes. In crowded Northern Virginia, I fly my AR.Drone 2.0 mostly in my small suburban backyard that includes a smaller crowded woods. Fun to weave the drone between the trees, like walking an aerial dog. Occasionally I take it to a state park.
Hunters and other shooters, as well as farmers, ranchers and others in rural areas, can significantly extend their views and perspective with such drones. However, animals wild and domestic deserve the same consideration as humans. It can be not only rude, but counterproductive to alarm or harass them. On line are clips showing drones in flight being attacked by birds, knocked down and trampled in a bull ring by a fighting bull and swatted down by a chimpanzee with a stick.
It should also be noted that smartphone and tablet control smaller screens are not the clearest way to control or view drones. Far better to keep drones in visual range for control, and capture views (videos or photos) on usb to enjoy later on a larger screen.
At little cost and risk, video/photo drones probably are the easiest and cheapest way to free your eyes from Earth and obtain aerial documentation, tethered only by invisible wireless. The on-line drone community takes viewers where most could never go. AR.Drone 2.0 photographer-pilots, along with other drone photographer-pilots from all over the world, share photos and videos of their aerial adventures from the arctic to the antarctic, from every continent, over or near many landmarks, most of them featuring viewing angles not otherwise readily accessible.
Avoid winds over 15 miles per hour. After all, these photo drones are lightweights, the plastic and foam butterflies of powered flight. Winds can change quickly and often increase considerably the higher they are above ground level.
Outdoors and indoors, the drone's protective hull earns its keep, mitigating the inevitable bumps and flops of drone flight. The hull is especially valuable in preventing the rotors from being nicked or otherwise damaged.
As for maintenance, minor hull dings are easily repaired or reinforced with transparent tape. Try to beat that low cost for fixing anything else in your toy bin. If you manage to really trash your drone, spare parts are available on line from Parrot.
Photo-video drones like the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 are here to stay. Your mind is keen and eager, so it is just as intuitive as reading backwards to tes ti eerf yb gniylf ruoy yrev nwo oediv-otohp enord.
Copyright 2015 by Mark Wynn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.