It’s a drone! It’s a plane! It’s a Parrot!.At CES 2016, the Paris-based wireless technologies company revealed the Disco, a first-of-its-kind, ready-to-fly wing-shaped drone for consumers. Back in January, it was still a project. As of today, Parrot announced the Disco is on its way for $1,300, which roughly converts to £990 or AU$1,700.
Like Parrot’s Bebop quadcopters and line of Minidrones, the Disco is designed to be something anyone can pick up and pilot — and it is. The lightweight fixed-wing aircraft (it’s less than 700 grams or 1.6 pounds) is made from flexible plastic foam with a single rear propeller strong enough to get the Disco up to about 50 mph (80 km) for flights up to 45 minutes. Parrot even gave the whole system a catchy name: CHUCK, which stands for Control Hub and Universal Computer Kit.CHUCK makes it possible to simply toss the Disco into the air and have it automatically ascend to 50 meters (164 feet), at which point it will fly in a circle until you give it a command. Once you’re up, turning left and right is as easy as pushing a direction on the right control stick, and the same goes for changing altitude. The left stick controls acceleration.
AUTOPILOT MAKES FLYING THE DISCO SUPER SIMPLE, BUT LANDING TAKES A BIT MORE SKILL.
So, to get started, let’s take a look at the controller.The controller uses two spring-loaded joysticks, set up in a way familiar to anyone with radio-controlled (RC) aircraft experience. The Y axis of the left controller is your throttle, and the X and Y axes of the right controller are for roll and pitch, respectively. This leaves the X axis of the left controller free: Traditionally, it’s used for yaw, but Disco doesn’t have yaw control, since it uses elevons and doesn’t have a rudder. Instead, moving the left controller X axis in either direction puts the drone into Loiter mode, which is a useful feature to have literally at your fingertips: Anytime you need a breather, just tap the left controller left or right, and the autopilot instantly takes over, circling the drone in place until you take over again (this is called Loiter mode). If you go completely hands off without kicking in Loiter mode, the Disco will reliably return itself to straight and level flight, which is itself a good way to get out of any potentially problematic situation.
There are a bunch of other buttons on the controller, all of them useful:
*Left trigger and dial: Toggles FPV modes and adjusts FPV camera pan
*Right trigger: Toggles phone camera view
*Home button: Push this and the drone will autonomously return to the GPS coordinates of its launch point and loiter overhead. Also works as an “Oh, sh*t” button, since the drone will immediately stabilize and climb to a safe altitude before returning.
*Takeoff/Land button: Initiates takeoff or landing. You can push it again in the middle of a landing that’s going wrong, and the drone will turn it into a takeoff, autonomously climbing to 50 meters and entering Loiter mode.
*A and B buttons: Programmable
A few impressive specs here and there is all well and good, but what might really make the Disco unique is the experience of flying the thing. The first-person view (FPV) capability, where a camera built into the nose live streams the drone’s view back to a set of virtual reality goggles, has been a major factor in the explosive growth of drone racing, and Parrot will be hoping this immersive sensation can have a similar effect here, hooking hobbyists by making them feel like they are right there in the cockpit.Alongside the Disco drone, Parrot is launching a set of FPV goggles called Cockpitglasses that work in a similar way to the Samsung Gear VR headset. Pilots slide their iOS or Android smartphone into the headset which hooks up with the drone over Wi-Fi and displays live vision from its full-HD, 14-megapixel camera with radar and flight data laid over the top.