In many ways, the Parrot AR Drone, released in 2010, foresaw the current boom in consumer quadcopters. Although there had been an active geek culture building and programming quads prior to that date (2005 on), the AR Drone fired up the fancy of many and was well covered in the press. Brookstone was the initial primary vendor and it was sold as as a “flying video game”, although I have little idea of what they meant by that! It turned out that the original AR Drone was not quite ready for prime time…lots of problems, including flyaways, inability to control, easily damaged parts, etc. were reported. Customer satisfaction was not high – yet they kept selling and interest remained high.
In mid-2012, Parrot released the new AR Drone 2.0 which addressed many of the shortcomings of the 1.0 model and added a higher resolution camera. At the Consumer Electronics Show in early 2013, Parrot announced various upgrades to the AR Drone, including a GPS module and longer lasting batteries. Together these may make the AR Drone capable of fully autonomous flight (that is, following a series of waypoints you place on google maps, etc.).
AR Drone as a First Quad?
With all these features and a relatively low price, beginners may be enticed to start with this full featured aircraft – however, you keep the following in mind:
1. A beginner cannot reliably fly the AR Drone indoors – the literature may mention it, but anything short of an empty 2-3 car garage is going to feel very small.
2. The AR Drone does not (stock) use a standard R/C Controller, but is instead controlled by smartphone or tablet computer. This generally means shorter range and also that the hours you spend learning and flying an AR Drone will not help you as much if you later switch to a standard R/C type transmitter.
3. Parts for the AR Drone (and larger quadcopters in general) are more expensive – meaning if you crash often and hard (and you WILL crash), it will cost you more to repair than a mini or micro.
AR Drone as 2nd or 3rd Quad?
Maybe! The real key with quadcopters is to get enough experience under your belt to truly know what you want to do with them! If you are interested in “sport” flying and racings, the AR is not for you. It’s specialty is very stable flight in low wind conditions.
A number of third parties have introduced modifications and add-ons for the AR Drone, some of which can make it the equal of any sub-$1000 quadcopter on the market. For example, you can purchase ($80-$150) a modification which allows it to use a standard R/C radio controller. Outfitting a truly functional mid-sized quadcopter in 2013 is going to cost $500-$1000+, so the AR Drone, even with some modifications, is quite reasonably priced.
Easier to Fly!
Those who have a difficult time flying ANY quadcopter with the standard R/C controllers could surely consider the AR as their first (and maybe only) quadcopter. THe AR, as well as some other newer craft (DJI Phantom, etc.) have a lot of built-in intelligence which helps to fly the craft. As an example, the AR Drone will BOTH takeoff and land with the simple press of a button…while most every other R/C quadcopter needs to be manually guided to the ground.
In summary, the purchase of a first quadcopter is something that is best carefully considered and researched. Make a list of what your goals are – and, be realistic about your potential flight skills and repair/modification capabilities. Ask and answer some of the following questions:
1. Do I have a local hobby shop or friend who is willing to help me get started?
2. Where am I going to get the parts – and capabilities – to fix my new quadcopter if it breaks (if you can’t turn a screwdriver reliably, you’ll need a good friend or hobby shop!).
3. What is it I really want to do with the quadcopter? Doing flips and acrobatic moves differs greatly from taking some pics of the local parts and mountain views.
Feel free to stop by our forums and ask some of the members there….you’ll get the benefit of decades of experience!
The Amazon link below takes you to the AR Drone 2.0 page, where you can see the full specs, get free shipping (in most cases), etc. – and, look at some other quads like the Syma X1 and Hubsan X4…