Parrot showed off a fixed-wing, Linux controlled, hand launchable drone that can fly for up to 45 minutes at up to 50 mph, and offers a new autopilot mode.
Just two months after launching its second generation, Linux-based BeBop 2 quadcopter, claimed to offer a groundbreaking 25 minutes of flight time, Parrot showed off a fixed-wing “Disco” UAV claimed to almost double that with 45 minute battery life. Although Parrot doesn’t mention it on its product page, several CES reports, including one from BGR, claims the Disco can fly at speeds of up to 50mph, far faster than prosumer quadcopter speeds.
Parrot Disco prototype
(click image to enlarge)
There were no details about processors or operating systems, but the Disco uses the same optional Skycontroller control device, as well as Flight Plan app, so it presumably has the same embedded Linux OS and open SDK as other Parrot drones. The Disco was developed with Parrot’s newly acquired Swiss drone company SenseFly.
The WiFi-enabled Disco has the same nose-mounted 14-megapixel, 1080p fisheye camera as the BeBop 2, including its 3-axis digital stabilization. You get a live first person view, as well as extended WiFi range with the optional, $750 Skycontroller.
Built-in GPS lets the craft follow user-selected waypoints. A new Autopilot mode “mimics the flight thrills of a seasoned pilot” with an assisted control scheme in which the computer controls the drone, letting the pilot play with the pitch “without the risk of a bad maneuver or a stall,” says Parrot. A Loiter mode approximates hovering, instructing the drone to orbit around a point of interest. Ground sensors enable the craft to take off and land automatically.
Skycontroller in Autopilot mode
(click image to enlarge)
There’s a reason why airplanes are more commonly used than helicopters, and the same benefits apply to the UAV world as well. By depending on airlift under the wings, fixed wing drones can travel longer and faster on less energy than quadcopters. The problem lies in agility — they can’t hover like quadcopters, but must instead fly in tight circles, and they can’t easily take off and land from a fixed position.
Drone researchers around the world are working on various hybrid fixed wing/rotor designs to mitigate these problems. Last summer Sony showed off its high-end, ZMP-built Aerosense fixed wing drone prototype, which can use its rear propellers to take off and land vertically, and then reconfigure itself to fly like a plane. It can use the same mechanism to hover.
The Parrot video showed no such capabilities for the Disco. However, unlike with the larger heavier, cargo carrying Aerosense, you can toss the Disco into the air manually. The video does not show the Disco landing, so presumably, you’ll still need some open space to land, but it’s said to support “safe, soft landings.” Just in case, both the wings and the single rear 8-inch propeller are detachable for easier transport and repair.
No pricing details were provided, but the Disco is expected to ship later this year. More information may be found on the Disco blog announcement page.