AR Drone

The unmanned aircraft system (UAS) is being extensively used by the U.S. Military on the war against terror campaign in different parts of the world, especially in the Middle East. To stress the fact that this unmanned flying object is being operated by humans, they are also dubbed as a Remotely Piloted Aircraft. The media popularized this new generation of aircrafts as “drones”.

Drones are not only a military hardware and Parrot AS of France introduced one intended for commercial use. This unmanned aerial vehicle is named Parrot AR Drone Quadricopter.

The AR Drone is lifted by four (4) propellers wherein two (2) cameras are attached.  Its length is about 12 inches and the materials used are plastic and foam.

Some interesting features are:

  • Controllable by iOS operated devices like the iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad. Android devices are also included as well as some Apps for Samsung BADA and Symbian devices.
  • Wi-fi connection.
  • Has the ability to distinguish 3d stages.
  • Perfectly fits augmented reality games.
  • Fitted with ultrasound altimeter for hovering capability.

Technology behind the Game

In the AR Drone, the “AR” stands for augmented reality which is a real time direct view of one’s immediate outdoor surrounding. It can be indirect like live video feed from a location. The real environment is then augmented through electronics by graphics, sound, or video from a computer. The concept is popularly used in Sports broadcast, navigation, and advertising. Nonetheless, it seems that the more marketable concept for the AR Drone is in gaming. Parrot initially came up with the “Drone War”, which is a virtual combat which can be played solo and multiplayer modes. Another demo game is a solo game against a virtual robot.

In a conventional video game, the visuals are software-based like the characters, background and special effects. In AR games, the game takes place in a live and real environment, which is really cool. The player’s attention is divided between the real world and virtual 3D one. Through the flying and constantly moving drone, there is a great variation in the environment. The handheld devices make the platform similar but the visuals, concentration, and actual experience have a big difference.

The AR Drone quadricopter instantly broadcast its Wi-Fi network as it is turned on. Through pairing, the player can connect to it through the Free Flight App. After connecting, the operator shifts into piloting in a cockpit. The live images on the front-facing and bottom-facing camera can interchangeably be seen. Transitioning from one screenshot to the other is easy with the camera cycling button at the top-left corner of the device’s screen. Another button below it allows the operator to instantly change settings that will give you full control of the quadricopter.

Inside the Cockpit

Basic flying is relatively easy, but more challenging moves like climbing and banking on turns in an outdoor flight need more practice sessions. A big button on the bottom right makes the ar drone turn side by side and gain altitude. A smaller button at the bottom left of the screen makes the parrot ar drone move forward, side to side, and backwards. Tilting the device turns the Free Flight App on. During game sessions, shaking the device releases the virtual missiles for enemy destruction.

For an unmanned aircraft like this, there are a number of concerns about its safety, especially when on flight. There will surely be instances when connection to the AR Drone Wi-Fi will be cut. If this happens, the quadricopter will just stop and lands slowly. The ar drone also has auto-correct navigation that prevents it from running into things or flying out of control. The sensor data at the bottom enables it to just hover in place. Physical protection of the ar drone becomes possible with the indoor and outdoor hull set that come with it. If there are accessories or parts that are damaged due to some accidents, Parrot AS maintains an online store where parts like the ar drone replacement propellers can be purchased.

Issues

Because of the Apple enabled control system, flight software, simple design, and its on-board wi-fi system, flying will never be an issue with the ar drone. The slight drawbacks that operators found during flight tests with the copter are the short battery life that could last for a maximum of about 30 minutes only. Charging the drained battery would take about one hour and 30 minutes. Another important concern is the resolution of the two cameras. At 640 x 480, the forward facing camera is said to deliver a video feed of 15 FPS but some motion blur is definitely evident even with this specifications. The bottom facing camera fairs better at 176x 144 and the images that it delvers are clearer. However, both digital cameras are essential to have a precise view of the immediate surroundings. Beyond the height of 20 ft, the ar drone loses its capability to hover and stability becomes difficult. The height limiter allows the parrot ar drone to climb a maximum of 20 ft only because the bottom sensor will not able to detect more than that.

Practicality

When I chanced upon the Parrot Ar drone from online reviews, I instantly compared it with the four-propeller minidrone Libyan freedom fighters used to win the war. It is also not being powered by a conventional joystick, but a tablet computer powered by Windows XP. It’s fascinating to think than what is piloting each copter is just a handheld device. In a different level, these drones are comparable to the billion dollar unmanned aerial vehicles of the military such as the Global Hawk, Predator and Reaper.

The Parrot AR Drone quadricopter controlled by a handheld device is an innovation that simply utilized existing technologies like mobile devices and applications, internet, and a simple flying electromechanical toy. Packaging it into an augmented reality game is another brilliant idea that gamers can easily adapt to. This is because they are already using handheld devices in gaming, and any tweak with the apps, visuals and feature will surely be welcomed with anticipation.

Comments are closed.