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Linux-based quadrocopter gains flight recorder

Jun 18, 2013  |  Eric Brown
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Parrot has updated its Linux-based AR.Drone 2.0 quadrocopter with an optional 18-minute battery, as well as a “black box” Flight Recorder option for saving GPS data. The company has also released an updated smartphone piloting app that offers a Director Mode function for controlling the quadrocopter’s video camera.

Parrot claims it has sold over a half million units of its open source AR.Drone quadrocopter since it first shipped in 2010. The 2.0 model, which debuted last year, runs Linux 2.6.32 on a 1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 system-on-chip from Texas Instruments. Measuring 517 x 451mm (20.4 x 17.8 inches), the $300 drone is equipped with WiFi and a 720p video camera, and can be remote-controlled from Android and iOS apps (see farther below for more details).




AR.Drone 2.0 indoors, outdoors, and in Nevada
(click images to enlarge)

 

The newly shipping add-ons, which were announced back at CES in January, were unveiled at the Paris Air Show 2013, which runs through June 23. First up is a longer duration, $70 1500mAh battery option that can keep the AR.Drone aloft for up to 18 minutes at a time. This is 50 percent longer than the default battery, according to Parrot.

The company also released a $130 GPS-equipped Flight Recorder option (pictured on the right and below), which saves GPS coordinates and other information collected from a flight to a 4GB USB drive. The device, which can also store up to two hours of 720p video, includes the ability to convert the GPS-localized flight data into a 3D map, tracking the flight within two meters of its exact location. Users can analyze the 3D flight path using AR.Drone Academy maps, and share the maps with other users on the AR.Drone Academy community website.
 



AR.Drone flight recorder

 

New smartphone piloting tricks

The Flight Recorder also enables a new Click & Go piloting mode on the Android and iOS AR.FreeFlight 2.4 piloting app for the AR.Drone. Users can now select a location on a map, and the AR.Drone 2.0 will automatically pilot toward it. They can then send the quadrocopter back to its original location. As with other functions, this is dependent on WiFi range.

The Flight Recorder’s GPS data also improves flight stability when flying at high altitude, claims Parrot. The device is said to be compatible with the MAVLink Open Source communication protocol, which in turn makes it compatible with the open source QGround Control software. QGround lets users create 3D flight plans with multiple intermediate destinations. The Flight Recorder is also compatible with a high-end, open source autopilot package called Paparazzi, thanks to integration work performed by Delft University of Technology.
 

Director mode

In addition to spinning these new hardware options, Parrot has updated its AR.Drone 2.0 piloting app, AR.FreeFlight 2.4 for smartphones and tablets. The $4 update is currently available only for iOS devices, but it will be available for the device’s Android app in September, says the company.

The update enables a Director Mode feature that lets users create smoother videos using nine pre-registered movements, including forward/backward travelling, panoramic, and crane motions. Camera speed can now be modified before or during flight, and new camera settings include white balance, saturation, and exposure.

Director Mode also provides post-production features, including a graph that highlights image vibrations, as well as functions that let you improve image stability on the shaky segments. In addition, Director Mode supplies more video editing features, as well as the ability to update videos to YouTube, Facebook, or the AR.Drone Academy. The AR.FreeFlight 2.4 update also lets pilots attempt to extract their quadrocopters from trees using new random shake and over balance propeller movements.

Finally, last week at the E3 show, Parrot and Nvidia demonstrated the Android-based Nvidia Shield gaming device controlling the AR.Drone 2.0. The Shield uses a special version of 802.11n with 2×2 MIMO support, incorporating multiple antennas for better speed and range. The Shield was able to control the craft at an unprecedented altitude of 610 feet, says Parrot.
 

More on AR.Drone 2.0

The AR.Drone 2.0 is primarily used by aerial hobbyists, but is also being used for educational purposes, thanks to the device’s open source API. The device ships with a variety of mobile apps for multiplayer racing and other rescue and “hunter” games.
The craft runs Linux on TI’s 1GHz, Cortex-A8 OMAP3630 SoC, which includes an 800MHz DSP. Backed up with 1GB of DDR2 RAM, the device is further equipped with WiFi, a USB 2.0 port, and a 720p, 30fps video camera with with a 92° diagonal wide angle lens. There’s also a second, 60fps vertical QVGA camera to measure ground speed.



AR.Drone 2.0 details and dimensions
(click images to enlarge)

 

The drone includes a 3-axis gyroscope, 3-axis accelerometer, and 3-axis magnetometer. In addition, there are ultrasound sensors for ground altitude measurement, and a pressure sensor.

Constructed with carbon fiber tubes, the AR.Drone 2.0 weighs 380gm, or 420gm when fitted with the protective indoor hull (pictured near the top of this post). Eight MIPS AVR motor controllers control the quadrocopter’s four brushless in-runner motors, which run on a combined 14.5 Watts. Other components include bearings, Nylatron gears, and steel propeller shafts.

The new AR.Drone 2.0 options are available now, with the Flight Recorder selling for $130, the improved battery going for $70, and the new AR.FreeFlight 2.4 update (until September, iOS only) offered at $4. More information on the new options may be found at this AR.Drone product page, with more on $300 AR.Drone found at this AR.Drone specifications page. More info on the craft’s open source firmware may be found at the AR.Drone developer zone site.
 

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