YouTube User rginatl has a great video on changing the rotor bushing on your AR Drone. This is something you will need to do as part of regular maintenance unless you are switching to bearings. Be sure and check out the video and drop him a thumbs up for his effort.
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.
Unfortunately I don’t use an iOS device so I can’t talk about the different apps that are available for iPhones/iPads so if you know of them, please post a small review in the comments. For Android devices there are at least 10 apps available at the time of this writing. I am only going to mention a couple of these as some of the paid versions don’t seem compelling enough to recommend that you shell out money for them when perfectly good free apps are available.
AR.FreeFlight by Parrot (Market Link) Free
This is the official application from Parrot and is probably the one app you should start off with as it comes from the company that makes the drone.
ARDrone Flight by MeavyDev (Market Link) Free
ARDrone Flight is my personal favorite for two reasons. First off, it allows you to record the video from either camera or even both at the same time. Secondly, I can change the tilt control to be an on-screen joystick just like the altitude/rotate controller.
There are a few others that are looking promising and other free apps that have really bad reviews. If you are just starting out, I suggest starting with one or both of these here.
If you are an iOS user, please post some good apps in the comments.
The AR Drone does not come with much in the way of a manual and many new users find themselves wondering what to do first. This will be a complete step-by-step guide to get you up and flying as quickly as possible.
Step 1 – Charge the battery
Unfortunately you cannot just unbox the AR Drone and run out and fly it. You have to charge the battery first. Expect this to take about 1.5 hours although it will probably be a little shorter than that.
Step 2 – Prep The Drone
On the top of the chassis and on the top and bottom of the hulls are clear plastic sheet covers, you will want to remove these to make sure the hulls seat properly onto the chassis.
Step 3 – Install the Apps
There are actually multiple apps available for both iOS devices and Android devices. Search your appropriate app store for AR Drone and find the official Parrot AR Drone app, and maybe a few extra apps if they look interesting to you.
Unlike a helicopter, you don’t just turn up the throttle until the drone takes off, you press the Take-Off button on the application. When you hit Take-Off, the drone will do a quick self-test, do a quick rotor test, and then climb about three feet off the ground and just sit there waiting for you to control it. The control “stick” on the right side of the application controls your altitude and left/right rotation. You only need to touch the screen and move your finger around the controller area for this control to function.
On the left side is a press-to-activate control for left/right and forward/back tilt. To use this control you simply touch the screen there and then actually tilt your phone/tablet to make the drone tilt in that direction and start moving in the direction of the tilt.
To land, maneuver to the spot you want to land, get you altitude as low as you would like, and press the Take-Off/Landing button.
Step 5 – Install the battery
Once the charger is showing a green light, the battery is charged and you are ready for your first flight. Place the drone on your launch location, the box works really well for this, and I will explain why in just a moment.
Step 6 – Connect to Drone
Once the AR Drone powers up, it will start broadcasting a WiFi SSID that you need to connect to from the device you are going to use to control it. Connect to the ardrone WiFi network and then launch the AR Drone controller application. If you are properly connected, the app will launch and display the image from the drone’s front camera. At this point you are ready to take off, but before you do, you might want to read the next section.
Step 7 – Flying the Drone
When you start off, your AR Drone will be in a limited functionality mode. In this mode you are going to be limited on speed, range, and altitude. On the bottom of the drone is a down facing camera and two ultrasonic sensors. When you are below about 10′ or so off the ground, the ultrasonic sensors are acting like sonar and redetermining the altitude off the ground. This system helps to keep the AR Drone at a constant altitude to help make sure your drone doesn’t go flying away or take a nasty header into the ground. No matter how much you try to push it, it simply won’t go outside of these limitations. Once you are comfortable flying you can go into the application’s settings and disable the limiters.
Step 7 – Have Fun
The AR Drone is the easiest aircraft to fly you will ever have experienced. Take your time to learn it, practice with it, and improve your flying skills until they become second nature and then unleash the beast by using the outdoor hull in a wide open space and push it to its full potential.
Thanks to Doug Rowe for help with this guide