While you may feel nice and comfortable taking your copter or drone out to your local park or school for some afternoon flying, you should do yourself a favor and check your local laws and make sure you aren’t risking some serious fines by flying where you are not supposed to. The reality is that most cities have very strict regulations on where you can fly and where you can’t. Many cities actually forbid the flying of model aircraft of sUAV’s (Sport unmanned aerial vehicles).
Probably one of the easiest things to do and yet one of the least done tasks is to balance the props on your heli or quad. If your rotors are not balanced, one blade will be heavier than the other which will cause an excessive amount of vibration. This vibration will cause extra wear on motors and bearings, make sensors less accurate, and make getting good video almost impossible.
The AR Drone is very simple to fly but does not fly like anything else on the market. If you are going to move up to bigger or more advanced quadcopters you are going to need a different set of flying skills. In this article we are going to start learning how to fly them and help you get your copter off the ground.
The first thing you need to know is that flying a quad is exactly like flying a R/C helicopter. The controls are exactly the same so if you have helicopter experience, you can easily fly a quad while flying a quad is excellent practice for flying a helicopter.
Flying an AR Drone indoors is more challenging than flying outdoors. In this article I am going to give you some pointers to help make your indoor flights more enjoyable. Be sure to read the summary at the end – you may not want to even attempt indoor flight with this machine!
1. Soft materials will absorb the ultrasonic pulses from the altitude sensor
The two discs on the bottom of the drone are the ultrasonic sensors. Using these sensors the AR Drone attempts to keep its altitude steady. Different materials like carpeting, sofas, chairs, coffee tables, etc will all reflect or absorb these ultrasonic noises differently. You may be flying along just fine and then go over a table and all of a sudden the altitude changes radically. Generally you should try to fly about halfway between the ceiling and the floor just in case you get a quick altitude change up or down.
2. The AR Drone needs to see contrast underneath
The bottom camera is looking directly down in order to try to maintain its XY position. In order for it to do this well, there needs to be some contrast on the floor (hence the high contract design of the box).. You can lay down strips of carpet tape or masking tape to help the drone to position itself if you are having a lot of drifting issues.
3. The AR Drone will try to suck itself to the ceiling
The props on the AR Drone are sucking in air and pushing it down at up to 19.5mph. This is a lot of suction power on the top of the drone. You always want to stay at least three feet from the ceiling or you risk the drone trying to suckerfish itself to the ceiling. If this should happen to you, don’t worry it will come off immediately as the drone will do an emergency shutdown and plummet to the ground, hopefully landing on something soft and not an expensive vase.
4. Fly with the indoor hull indoors
While those spinning rotor blades are very cool to see out in the open, it is just good safety practice to use the indoor hull when indoors. This will not only protect your drone, but animals, children, and especially wives, do not like to be hit by spinning rotor blades. Flying in close quarters also means the inevitable bump against something and you don’t want to have to replace a set of rotor blades prematurely.
5. Turn down your controls
Its usually a pretty good idea to dial down your controls so that you limit your speed and altitude climbing to a minimum. The AR Drone generally responds pretty good and the more twitchy the controls are set, the more likely you are to hit something. This is why I use AR Drone Flight for Android. AR Drone Flight allows me to create multiple profiles so I can quickly switch between Indoor and Outdoor settings.
In a general sense, the AR Drone or any mid-size quadcopter is too large for regular “room flying”. You simply don’t have enough room to let the machine perform! If you do a lot of indoor flying, consider a micro-sized drone like the Hubsan X4 or the obstacle avoiding Walker QR.
Hang out in any AR Drone forum long enough and you will hear people asking why their drone doesn’t doesn’t fly as smooth as the YouTube videos they have seen. Videos show fast forward flight with smooth transitions to full stop or other smooth maneuvers. However, when you fly your fast forward flights end almost in a backflip and sometimes a scary loss of power. What is wrong with your AR Drone that it doesn’t behave the same way? The short answer….it’s probably you.
What I see quite often with new users is while the drone is in forward/reverse or left/right flight, a new owner will take their finger off the tilt control. This action will cause the auto-pilot to kick in and try to stop the drone as quickly as possible. For example, if you are in fast forward flight and just take your finger off the controls the nose will pitch up very sharply as the drone tries to come to an immediate stop. Usually, it will just recover and all will be good. However, on some occasions, things can go terribly wrong. With the bottom not pointing at the ground anymore, the altimeter can get confused and the drone will think it is too high, shutting down the motors. If the drone is too low, it might stall and hit the ground. If you have the altitude limiter off, it can think that it is transitioning into blind-flight mode and take off vertically, causing a fly-away.
Is there a solution to this? There sure is. Instead of pulling your finger off the tilt control, keep your finger in place and tilt your device in the opposite direction. Surprisingly enough you can stop an AR Drone extremely quickly while keeping it completely under control.
The main message here is “don’t panic” and always think ahead about what you are doing. As soon as you start moving forward, think about when you are going to want to stop instead of thinking about where it is right now. This kind of control is actually pretty hard to learn when flying around your house or a small backyard. Once you get the drone out to a decent sized area, at least 75′ x 75′, you will have enough room to really to learn the controls.
The sad truth is that some people have experienced their AR Drone seemingly having a mind of its own, turning all SkyNet on its owners, and heading off into the wild blue yonder to, most likely, hook up with other rouge AR Drones to create a Borg-like conscience so that they can return and make us their slaves. All kidding aside, losing a $300 drone is not a happy moment for anyone. Let’s take a look at why these occur and how can we prevent them,
The most common situation is with the altitude limiter turned off, your drone gets somewhere around 15-30 feet off the ground and decides to race for the clouds.This happens when the drone’s ultrasonic altitude sensor can no longer sense the ground and is transitioning from its guided mode to blind-flight mode. The exact height that this occurs will vary based on the ground the drone is over. Grass and soft surfaces will usually cause it to occur lower while harder surfaces like asphalt will generally have it occur higher.
If you see your drone start accelerating towards outer space, the important thing is to not panic. Stop all other controls and except for DOWN. Press and hold down and after a few seconds it SHOULD calm down and begin to descend. Unless you are over some exceptionally soft surface, I would not suggest hitting the emergency button as you usually do not end up with an optimal landing from 40-50′ above the ground and shutting the engines off. The AR Drone will drop like a rock as it has zero glide path, hitting the emergency button is all but a last ditch effort.
How to minimize risk of a fly-away
John over at Drone-Apps has written up a piece on this recently with the following suggestions:
- Don’t fly in Wi-Fi saturated areas. Try to be the only network around if possible.
- Don’t fly in the dark. (the bottom camera can’t track anything)
- Don’t fly over large solid colored surfaces, like a clean well-groomed grass yard or a giant piece of unmarked asphalt.
- Give your drone a break between flights, let it cool off.
- Set your altitude limit at around three meters or below. (above this altitude, the drone doesn’t know how high it is)
- Switch your ultrasound sensor to a different one when flying around other drones.
- Don’t test the range. If flying from the iPhone or iPad, stay within about 20 meters.
Note – there has been some improvement in the new 2.0 AR Drone model and fly aways may be easier to avoid. If you are just buying your first AR Drone, don’t get tricked into buying a 1.0 model at a discount of refurbished! This model is far inferior to the newer one.
The new AR Drone models have an accessory GPS which would seem to solve a lot of these problems when coupled with the proper additional software. This GPS allows your drone to follow a pre-programmed flight path which could, of course, include a return to base!
Below is a photo snapped from an AR Drone 1.0 which it was in flyaway mode – way out of range of the iphone! Luckily, it was retrieved, but yours may not be – so follow the guidelines above!
Note – if you want to fly your AR Drone this far away and NOT have it be out of control, consider one of the R/C Mods (MiruMod) listed on our Modifications Page.
Probably the most common repair you will need to do is to replace your propellers, shafts, and gears. The good folks over at www.dronetuner.com have done up a nice video on how to replace these parts and offer up all of the replacement parts on their website as well. Be sure and check it out and make sure to give their video a thumbs up for their efforts.
The AR Drone uses a Lithium Polymer battery cell that is actually an excellent choice for system like the AR Drone. Lithium Polymers have a high discharge rate and a high energy storage/weight ratio. The downside is that they can cause you all kinds of grief if you don’t take care of them properly.
The charger that comes with the AR Drone is a good balance between cost, safety, and performance. A good charger will generally run you close to $95 and can charge the AR Drone batteries in about 15 minutes versus the 1.5 hours the included charger takes. The reason the included charger takes so long is that it does not charge at a high current rate. This helps to keep the batteries as cool as possible when charging.
Battery Maintenance and Charging Tips
Do Not Charge Immediately After Flight
This is very important as the batteries will be quite warm after an extended flight and putting them directly on the charger can create a potentially hazardous situation. If lithium batteries get too hot, they can catch fire. Make sure you let them cool down before charging by letting them sit. A good rule of thumb is to let them set for twice as long as you ran them. So if you just did an 8 minute flight, let them sit for at least 16 minutes.
Do Not Fly Immediately After Charging
Similar to the above, you want to keep the batteries from getting too hot and yanking them off the charger and slapping them into your AR Drone is not a good idea. Let them rest for 10-15 minutes after pulling them from the charger.
Inspect Batteries Before Every Flight/Charge
If you see any damage to the batteries, do not use them…period. Any damage to the cells will drastically increase the odds of the cells failing, and when I say failing, I mean bursting into flames and burning your house down. Take these batteries seriously. Keep a fire extinguisher or a pail of sand handy when charging.
With proper care and maintenance, your batteries should last a good long time and keep you flying as much as possible. Just keep in mind a few simple tips to ensure that you take care of them and they will take care of you.
You will find more general information on LiPo batteries in this article link.
1. Set Flat Trim
Before every flight and after and non-optimal landing, be sure and set the Flat Trim to ensure the AR Drone understands what “level” is so that it can be as stable as possible.
2. Have a High Contrast Ground
Always make sure there is a big high-contrast pattern underneath the Drone before you take off. Carpeting is NOT a high-contrast pattern, you both very dark and very light patterns. The Drone uses motion tracking with its underside camera to stabilize its left/right/forward/back position. It uses the on-board sensors to stabilize its altitude, but the bottom camera doesn’t have enough resolution to track the pattern of a carpet. That’s why you see people taking off from the box. Parrot made that “H” landing pad on the box for a reason, it just happens to make an excellent pattern that the AR Drone can easily track. Without a high contrast pattern, the AR Drone can end up floating around versus staying put in one position.
3. Turn the settings down
Before your first flight, go into the applications and turn down some of the settings such as yaw, tilt, and climb. This will slow down to reaction of the AR Drone to your inputs making it easier to fly and less prone to accidents. As you improve, speed up the settings.
4. Stabilize before flying away
After you use the take-off button and the AR Drone lifts into the air, be sure and let it just sit there and hover there for about 10 seconds. This allows the on-board systems to get used to the environment and be ready to fly around.
5. Let it land itself
It is usually a good thing to let the AR Drone land itself by pressing the Take-Off/Land button. It really does a good job for you.