Consumer Grade Drones Grow in Popularity

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The government is still wary of them, but filmmakers, journalists, wanna-be nosey-pokers, and the kid in most of us, all clearly want hobby level consumer-grade video drones.  Proper names for commercial and military drones include unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), remotely piloted vehicle (RPV), remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), and remotely operated aircraft (ROA).  We created some specialty mapping software for use in U.S. Air Force drones, and are excited about potential custom applications that will evolve for civilian use. Several have already been developed, including aerial surveying of crops, acrobatic aerial footage in film making, search and rescue operations, inspecting power lines and pipelines, counting wildlife, and delivering medical supplies to remote or otherwise inaccessible regions.

Remotely piloted hobby-class aircraft that can carry cameras into areas that are otherwise difficult to traverse, just sounds like fun! Imagine exploring hidden vistas from a distance, digitally capturing up close and personal video that can provide whole new insights and perspectives we have yet to imagine.

Enter the Bebop consumer grade quadcopter drone from Parrot.

Parrot Bebop Drone

Bebop is equipped with a built-in 14-megapixel camera that can pan and tilt while shooting 180-degree vibration-free High Definition video which can be streamed to a phone or tablet via an app. The quadcopter also has a gyroscope, accelerometer, altimeter, magnetometer, ultrasound, vertical camera, 802.11 AC Wi-Fi and four antennas for connecting and streaming continuous footage to your mobile device/controller. This is a big upgrade from the much-loved Parrot AR Drone. It’s essentially a flying camera that can even pipe imagery directly into an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, taking flying in the clouds to a whole new level.

The drone’s electronics include a GNSS chipset that uses GPS, GLONASS and GALILEO data for autonomous flight and return to take-off position. Its Lithium Polymere 1200 mAh battery takes around 2.5 hours to charge and supports 12 minutes of flight time, which is on par with other consumer grade drones on the market. The quadcopter is controllable up to 1.2 miles away via Wi-Fi, and has built-in GPS so you can find it later if you crash it.

There’s some great software onboard, too. Thanks to the 180-degree field of vision captured by the fish-eye lens, the software captures more video than it needs. It then cuts out what it doesn’t need in real time, which allows the angle of view to remain fixed even if the drone is swaying in the wind. This capability gives the Bebop a unique selling point over competitors that rely on more traditional camera and gimbal rigs.

Parrot Skycontroller

Along with the Bebop, Parrot is introducing the Skycontroller that extends the Bebop’s range to 2 kilometers. The tablet or smartphone used to control the drone just mounts in the middle of the controller. Using an assortment of antennas and boosters, the controller boosts the controlling tablet’s signal by 36dBm. The Skycontroller is basically a fancy Android v4.2 analog controller with a tablet mount so you can view photos and videos while you navigate with virtual, onscreen controls.

The Skycontroller can also output the field of view streamed from the drone to an Oculus Rift headset for a virtual reality experience. You’ll still need a controller, but you’ll be able to fly the Bebop from a first-person point of view and simply swivel your head to pan the camera.

Exploring hazardous sites from a safe distance, digitally capturing damage after a weather event, or just exploring on a sunny day all become possible as these drones grow in popularity. The applications are going to be countless, and Parrot’s advancement of consumer drone technology is undoubtedly going to be well received. This is Parrot’s third-generation drone, and the Bebop builds upon the fun consumers have had with the earlier AR Drones, adds a high-def camera with pan and tilt, and extended the range of the vehicle.

Pricing for the Bebop is in the $400+ range: DJI has a direct Bebop competitor with a built-in camera priced at $400, and a couple of advanced units priced at about $1,000. And camera toting drones from Helipal and DJI run around $400, excluding the cost of the GoPro camera itself.

Update 12/10/2014: Best drone videos of 2014

What excites you about the Internet of Things? Are there other new gadgets or uses emerging that are just going to completely disrupt how things are done? Share your excitement with us in the comments section below.

Updated April 28, 2015

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