Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 and DJI Phantom comparison

Thinking about upgrading your AR.Drone to a more capable quadcopter? Have a look at this informative side-by-side comparison between a Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 and a DJI Phantom. The DJI doesn’t come with a camera but you can use it in combination with a GoPro. The DJI Phantom can be bought for around $450 at the moment of writing. That is excluding the GoPro.

If you want an integrated camera you could go for the more expensive DJI Phantom 2 Vision which has an integrated camcorder but is double the price (~$1.000).

MAVLink and QGroundControl

MAVLink is a very lightweight, header-only message marshalling library for communicating with micro air vehicles. MAVLink was first released early 2009 by Lorenz Meier under a GPL license. The MAVLINK Common Message Set describes the various message headers. You can integrate MAVLink with the Robot Operating System (ROS) in order to control your micro air vehicle.

QGroundControl, the open source Micro Air Vehicle Ground Control Station / Operator Control Unit can be used to operate your Drone. It is based on PIXHAWK’s Groundstation. Further development is now done in a joint effort with the community. Have a look a the QGroundControl video to get an idea of its control interface.

Parrot GPS Flight Recorder for AR Drone 2.0

Parrot is planning to release the GPS Flight Recorder add-on for the AR Drone 2.0 on July 20th. The flight recorder connects through USB and will allow you to geolocate your AR.Drone, keep track of its position and store videos (4 GB onboard = 2 hours of video) in its built-in flash memory. You will be able to point to a location within the limits of the Wi-Fi connection on a map and the AR Drone will automatically fly there. Pressing the Return Home button will make the AR.Drone come straight back to its take-off point in a straight line. Flight recorder mode will allow you to track your AR Drone’s flight in 3D. Micro Air Vehicle Communication Protocol (MAVLink) support will make it possible to program a detailed flight plan with QGround Control, available for Windows/Linux/MAc OSX.

AR.Drone surveillance with 3G connection instead of wifi

Researchers from the computer science department at the Stevens Institute of Technology have added a 3G-radio to an AR.Drone. Because of the mobile hookup the AR.Drone can be controlled from a greater distance than the normal wifi connection and can be maneuvred into the range of a wifi-network. It could then attack that network and gain access to the network with the onboard software. And once it has gained access it could be used to issue commands to a botnet, acting as a command-and-control-server, powered by a small solar panel. Because the attackers would dial-in to the AR.Drone through the 3G-connection and the drone would us wifi to hookup to a third party network it would be much harder to find out who was responsible for the botnet attacks. You can read further details about the SkyNET project in the paper that was presented by the researchers at the USENIX Security Conference in August. Spooky stuff if you ask me.

AR.Drone RC mod extends flight range to 1.5 – 2.5 kilometers

The flight range of the AR.Drone is limited because the wifi range is limited to somewhere between 30 – 100 meters depending on where you fly and whether you have line of sight.

The flight range of the AR.Drone can be drastically extended to 1.5 – 2.5 kilometers by using RC equipment. The 2.4 GHZ RC hack instructions describe how the range can be extended in full detail.

The actual flight range will depend on the RC transmitter & receiver used. According to the tutorial it has been tested to work with Spektrum DX6i and Spektrum AR6200 DSM2 6 Ch Rx Ultralite. The Spektrum DX7 with the AR6200 (2.4Ghz), Futaba 9CH with Assan module and X8R7 (2.4Ghz) and the JR790UL spcm Rx (72 Mhz) have also been tested to work according to the tutorial. You will need a 5 volt BEC (Battery-Elimination Circuit) to power the Arduino and the RC-receiver since the AR.Drone’s battery is 11.1 volt. This will cost you around $10.

The wifi signal is passed from the RC-receiver to the AR.Drone through a small Arduino compatible device called YellowJacket ($55). The YellowJacket is based on the Arduino mini and comes with on-board wifi. You will need an USB breakout board ($14) as well to be able to program or transfer the Arduino sketches to the YellowJacket.

This is not a cheap hack. You could buy an extra AR.Drone for what you will have to shell out for this hack. And you have to feel comfortable with a soldering iron, programming an RC-controller and command line stuff. Like most hacks discussed here this is not for the faint-hearted.