Why even think of hovering when you can soar in the unimaginable depths of skies? Parrot’s Disco is the best thing that could ever happen to drones!
Most of the drones that are being developed for consumers all over the world, are either quadcopters or hexacopters. Manufacturers have been developing unmanned aerial vehicles with multiple rotors that are equipped to takeoff and land vertically. Parrot has been developing drones since its flagship model AR.Drone in 2010. However, Parrot decided to change its course a bit with Disco. Disco is a fixed wing drone that boasts a flight quite different from the rest of the pack.
Parrot has not ventured into a domain they don’t have any experience in. The company has been developing fixed-wing drones for commercial as well as agricultural purposes for quite some time now. This drone, however, is not for farmers or land mapping purposes. It has been designed especially for passionate drone aficionados, hobbyist cinematographers and even those who fall in other categories overlapping these two. We decided to give it a try and see how Disco performs in contrast with other quadcopters on the market.
The drone boasts a wingspan of 45 inches and a depth of 22 inches. The device is 1.6 pounds heavy and consists of Expanded Polypropylene (EPP) foam and carbon tubes to make the structure formidable. The lone propeller at the rear has been fitted to give the drone the much needed lift in the air. The winglet tips on the wings emerge in the upward direction to ensure that the pilot is able to better manoeuvre the machine.
Parrot’s Disco makes use of the similar 14 megapixel camera that was developed by the manufacturers for the Bebop 2 version. However, this one has a number of software enhancements that have gone a long way in improving the image quality a fair bit. The camera is connected to the electronic box called as Control Hub and Universal Computer Kit (CHUCK). This kit also contains a connector for the 2,700mAh battery. This machine provides a 32GB internal memory integrated into it and does not cater for memory expansion.
You can connect it directly to your PCs and Macs using the Micro-USB port. However, you can only transfer your data through this connection and can’t use it to charge your device. The battery comes with its own charger that also requires a wall outlet. The integrated sensors include ultrasound, altimeter, camera and speed. The navigation system comprises a three axis gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer and a Global Positioning System (GPS).
This tremendous machine includes a SkyController 2 and CockpitGlasses headset. The radio controller is very small in size as opposed to its forefathers which make it a lot easier for you to keep and transport it. The transmitter uses batteries itself and seems to provide a longer life span as compared to its predecessor. The headset follows the same tradition as that by others and make use of the handheld mobile devices to display videos and images in 360 degrees. The device provides support for some of the most popular smartphones in the market.
However, just to keep things straight between us, all devices powered by iOS or Android and with screen sizes varying between 4.7 and 5.5 inches will be compatible. The app has been redesigned and renamed to the FreeFlight Pro and is responsible for controlling and confirming the setup process.
In contrast to DJI and Yuneec, Parrot does not utilize its own wireless signal and prefers to stick to WiFi in 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands. The newer radio transmitter offers a better wireless connection but with a limited range which was quite evident during our tests.
Setup and Freeflight App
In order to get it ready for takeoff, one needs to trigger it on using the power button protruding at the front, syncing it with the FreeFlight Pro app (iOS or Android) via WiFi (the app will automatically locate the drone itself), and SkyController 2 to set it up for the mid-air adventure. In the beginning, we came across rather eccentric issues involving the connection of the controller. We had to restart the app several times before it was able to perform our required tasks and since this happened on multiple occasions, so it was kind of taxing.
The radio controller comes with a dedicated slot and container for handheld mobile devices so that the display screen and the app can be reached for modifications or recording or capturing video footages. A live view of the drone’s camera can be watched on the app directly, a feature similar to other drones on the market.
Before you begin your mid-air adventure, you can configure your controller’s settings in accordance with your preference via the app. The default flight mode is Flat Trim which is by far the easiest way and the recommended one for the novices.
Taking off was the easiest part of the entire flying experience. Once we pressed the takeoff/landing key, the motors started, and as soon as the required motor RPM had been achieved, we just needed to throw it forward similar to a Frisbee. Meanwhile, the drone gained the required height gradually all by itself. The sensors onboard in this regard are quite remarkable to say the least. We even tried to throw it upside down just to gauge if the drone was able to adjust its direction and to our amazement, Disco did reorient itself rather too smoothly. It flipped around all by itself and took off as it normally would do.
The Disco has been programmed to attain an altitude of 164 feet or 50 meters. It then adopts a Loiter Mode holding pattern, flying in circles of 196 feet diameter continuously until the pilot overrides the trend manually on the radio controller with a mere flick on either of the joysticks in any direction whatsoever. You can use the thruster on the left joystick to increase the speed of this impressive device to an optimum speed of 50mph. This, however, can carry the drone out of the control range quite swiftly. Hence, it is always advisable to increase the speed in short bursts only particularly when the drone is gaining or losing altitude. We should note here that one can adjust or modify the Loiter radius and height by using sliders in the FreeFlight Pro app.
Technically speaking, the control range offered by Disco is as long as 1.2 miles and slightly less than 500 feet when it comes to altitude. Remember, this is in strict compliance with the FAA rules and regulations. We succeeded in taking it at a distance of about 1,500 feet away from ourselves. But we found out that had we not been stationed at an elevated platform, we would have had lots of difficulty in locating the device and we would have had been inclined to press the Return to Base button. Triggering this mode ensures that the device comes back closer to the original location of its takeoff.
Hence, we consider the optimum distance rather cautiously since without being present in an open, clear field, such a huge control range can prove to be a bit dodgy. By default, the geofence to box is switched on while pilots can always switch it off to remove restrictions on the distance travelled by the device.
When we saw Disco for the first time, we observed that its fixed-wing design meant that it flew like an airplane moving in the forward direction always. Quadcopters on the other hand can move in any direction whatsoever, they can fly sideways and also go in the backward direction. This machine, however, does not perform any of the above mentioned antics. Hence, the Loiter Mode was the only solution to put the drone in the autonomous flight mode in order to modify configurations or take a moment or two to think where should one head to next!
The Disco, as discussed earlier, needs to be in the line of sight of the pilot and hence demands a lot more concentration and focus on part of the pilot. This makes its flight a lot more interesting. We always kept on wondering if we were flying too low for the trees or could we rely on the camera view to bring back the machine within our line of sight or if there were any chances of a skirmish taking place with a passing bird!
As far as getting a hang of the basic movements related to this device is concerned, it is not that complicated, to be honest. However, when and how to use the requisite controls appropriately needs one to master his/her skills and this takes its time. We may consider it a similar experience to getting to how to get your car to consume gas most economically in traffic jams and tight parking spaces. The more you get acquainted with your vehicle, the more you will be familiar with its physical constraints and how to reduce the probability of accidents. We did come across a few crashes with our Disco as we could time its turn properly or weren’t able to gauge its turning radius and upward direction appropriately.
Whenever you are flying a drone for the first time, crashes are inevitable and are a part of the game. Quadcopters can be made to change their direction if the pilot performs with agility. When it comes to Disco, you have to be more quicker than that. It can suddenly change its direction at a right angle or even come to a halt mid-air.
What makes the flying experience associated with Disco really attractive is the disparate approaches that can employed to make it fly. Drone enthusiasts can make use of the SkyController 2 only, the controller and a handheld mobile device or controller and CockpitGlasses with the smartphone inside. The direct feed from the drone’s camera is projected in front of your eyes by the head gear. Hence, the pilots are left with reliance on their perception by touch when it comes to controlling their device. We made some other individual put on the head gear while the drone was controlled by another bloke with the controller using a lengthy wire to ensure that the smartphone stayed plugged into the radio controller all the time.
Flying this superquick device in densely populated areas was always too much to ask for and so we always preferred to have an open and clear field as our flying zone.
This was probably mostly due to our aim to ensure that we landed the device as smoothly as possible. Remember, landing a drone is by far the most difficult thing you come across in your flying experience. The Disco requires approximately 150 feet ahead and to drop down to 30 feet or lesser, if it is to land properly. If the device is not able to get low enough, the autonomous takeoff feature is triggered on and machine attains the secured height automatically. Grass is the best surface to land your drone on!
Hence, we took no chances whatsoever with concrete, asphalt or other roughened up surfaces. Obviously, there is no question of even thinking to land your drone on snow, sand and water. But this machine is an all-terrain and all-season drone! If you are a professional dronie who has loads of experience behind his back, you may be able to ensure that your device lands properly in myriad weather and surface conditions. But for rookies, it’s a big No!
There is another option that you get with this machine. The device can perform a corckscrew landing via the FreeFlight Pro app. Keep in mind that you need to have at least 260 feet of area around you if you want to make this trick happen.
In addition, Parrot allows a number of other radio controllers to be compatible with Disco. However, in that case, you will have to rely on complete manual control and you won’t be able to resort to the Loiter mode or any other automatic feature but for the takeoff. You can map out your flight routes by purchasing an in-app upgrade for just $20 called as the Flight Plan. We weren’t able to try this feature out so we can’t really say if it’s good or not. But a blend of these features certainly enables the pilots exercise impressive degree of control over the device and you should go for this unique feature.
FPV, Images and Battery Life
It was fabulous experience to fly a drone equipped with the First Person Viewability alongside the head gear. One feels as if sitting inside the drone’s cockpit by seeing from the eye of the drone itself. Since, the live video feed is being run by the smartphone, so you won’t be getting a very high resolution. However, we don’t consider it much of a disadvantage. One can trigger on the See Through Mode to get out of the FPV mode and with the help of the smartphone’s rear camera, view the real world. It was quite electrifying to be honest but with a latency of about 250ms, we felt as if everything was taking place in super slow motion.
As soon as the Disco gets whizzing into the air, it starts capturing video footage. So, you don’t need to press the video recording button to get the recording going. The video footage is pretty decent at 1080p high definition and still photographs are pretty impressive too. The Disco boasts the same image sensors and lens as the Bebop 2. Physically, there does not seem to be a lot of difference, but the manufacturers certainly have done some software tinkering to enable the auto white balance get adjusted quickly. In dim light conditions, the video and image quality suffers but since this is not a recommended device to be flown in poor visibility, so this does not matter a lot.
You get 32GB of onboard memory which is quite good. Moreover, you can always transfer your video and image data to your smartphone or desktop computer via WiFi while being on the flying zone. The micro-USB lets you transfer your data to your PC or Mac while you can always delete it from the internal storage to make room for fresher newer data.
The battery lifespan appears to be better than that of other currently available drones on the market. With a fully charged battery, we were able to fly Disco for a whopping 47 minutes. During our adventures, we made five takeoffs and landings and also indulged in video recordings at several junctions during our voyage. Weather conditions have a role to play in the battery life scheme of things. But most of the quadcopters can’t even survive for even half the amount of this time in even ideal weather conditions.
A one year support and assistance warranty is offered by Parrot in addition to a 15 day return policy when you make a purchase directly from the company. If you purchase it from a retailer, you will then be subjected to their own individual return policy which does not have to be in line with that of the company’s.
The Disco is an amazing device that provides an awesome flying experience. However, it does have its cons. It is a fixed wing drone that does not include a landing paraphernalia. In contrast to quadcopters, it does not fly at acute angles or land on surfaces that are rugged and rough. However, it flies very smoothly while its video footage is quite exhilarating due to its smooth movement in the forward direction.
With this context, you have to make the right decision when choosing the flying zone. Fields and parks lined with grass are the best way to go. This is not a device that has been designed to fly in densely populated areas with lots of building structures. When it comes to quadcopters, they can always be flown in densely populated areas since they can hover or fly at a slow speed. This lets them take a picture or shoot a video ahead of time. When it comes to Disco, you can’t go to all the places that you wish to or even fly with any auto-pilot video recording modes such as Cable Cam or Orbit. This certainly does restrict the video capturing options.
What are the Alternatives?
You won’t see a lot of fixed wing drones in the market a lot. So, this device certainly has a place of its own when it comes to its different design. When one thinks of quadcopters and hexacopters, there are a number of alternatives on offer. For an amount slightly less than this, you can get the DJI Phantom 4 which is a quadcopter that shoots videos at 4K. Similarly, DJI Mavic Pro performs the same feat and boasts a smaller size and frame.
GoPro has recently launched its Karma Quadcopter Drone which comes alongside HERO5 Black Camera for just $1,100. Not a bad deal, eh? Falling in the same price range, Yuneec’s Typhoon H is a hexacopter with a retractable landing paraphernalia that ensures that the camera gets an uninterrupted Field of View for 4K video shooting.
Parrot’s own Bebop 2 is another alternative option since it utilizes the same camera, radio controller and head gear as that used by the Disco. You can purchase Bebop 2 with the FPV package for $1,000.
How Long will it Last?
The Disco comes bundled with the SkyController2 and CockpitGlasses for just $1,300. Considering the current drone prices and also taking into account the inherent deficiencies portrayed by this device, it is safe to claim that it is more suited for the passionate drone aficionados and novices who would definitely have fun with it. If you aren’t anyone of these two categories, then this machine is not meant for you!