Smartphone Controls Low-Cost Quadrotor

Aug. 17, 2011
Parrot's AR.Drone electric quadrotor provides a low cost micro UAV platform complete with two cameras.

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1. The electric AR.Drone from Parrot has a 12-minute flying time.

2. The AR.Drone can be controlled by an iPhone or Android app.

Parrot’s AR.Drone electric quadrotor is considered a miniature unmanned air vehicle (UAV). At only $299, it has half a dozen microcontrollers. It is also much less expensive than UAVs like the Draganflyer X6, though the larger six-motor/propeller Draganflyer X6 supports a significantly heavier payload (see “UAVs Conquer The Skies” at

The 1000-mA lithium-polymer battery provides the 380-g aircraft with 12 minutes of flying time (Fig. 1). It is driven by four 15-W, 28000-rpm brushless dc motors. Each motor has its own 8-bit microcontroller.

An impressive single-board computer controls the AR.Drone. It runs Linux and includes a 468-MHz ARM9 microcontroller with 127 Mbytes of double data rate (DDR) memory. Also, it has 802.11b/g wireless support, a USB socket, and a host of peripherals.

There are two on-board cameras: a forward-looking 15-frame/s VGA camera with a wide-angle lens and a 60-frame/s QCIF down-looking camera. An ultrasound sensor acts as an altimeter with a range of 6 m. The internal guidance system includes a three-axis accelerometer, a two-axis gyroscope, and a one-axis precision gyroscope tracking yaw rate.

The AR.Drone has interchangeable foam hulls. The ducted fan is useful for indoor operation. The aircraft is built using carbon fiber and PA66 high-resistance plastic.

Pilots can fly the the AR.Drone by Wi-Fi using a device like an Apple iPhone or an Android smart phone (Fig. 2). A 16-bit Microchip PIC24 processor runs the autopilot, providing a stable platform using the sensors including the altimeter. It can automatically handle takeoff and landing.

The AR.Pilot control application provides camera views and can incorporate augmented reality. The AR.Race application combines piloting with multiuser competition support. Parrot has also developed standalone games based on the AR.Drone.

Parrot provides an application programming interface (API) for controlling the AR.Drone. It consists of an AT-style command set sent via Wi-Fi using standard network ports. The control application, like the iPhone and Android applications, runs in a basestation. The AR.Drone is already being used for research projects at a number of universities. Some are using the Microsoft Kinect to recognize body movement to control the AR.Drone.



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