All posts by Sally French

DJI at CES 2017: new limited edition Phantom 4 deviates from the iconic look

DJI has a new lineup of products at CES 2017, including a new limited edition Phantom 4 to commemorate the Chinese New Year.

dji phantom 4 limited edition chinese new year cesIt’s the same drone, but a new color scheme. DJI’s new, limited edition Phantom 4 was designed by Martin Sati, featuring images of a phoenix, and drawing on air, fire, water and earth as elements in the art. The Phantom 4 Chinese New Year Edition will sell for $1,199  and ship Jan. 23. It will be sold exclusively at Apple Stores, DJI Flagship Stores, Tmall DJI Store and the DJI online store.

osmo mobile silver ces djiDJI at CES also announced  two new Osmo product extensions — the Osmo Mobile Silver and Zenmuse M1. The $299 Osmo Mobile Silver is an enhanced version of the Osmo Mobile, with a run time of 4.5 hours. The $169 Zenmuse M1 allows owners of the original Osmo stabilizer to mount a smartphone. Both products will ship in the end of January.dji ground station pro

DJI also announced a new aerial mapping app called Ground Station Pro (or GS Pro). It’s designed for professional operators to plan autonomous flights with a few taps. The 3D Map Area function allows the aircraft to generate flight paths after the operator has set their required flight zone and camera parameters. The aircraft will then follow this route throughout its mission. The image data captured during these flights can be input into 3D reconstruction software to generate 3D maps, while the mission itself can be saved for re-use.

The app is designed for iPads and is free.dji crystalsky

At DJI’s CES booth, it is showcasing two variations of its CrystalSky prototype, an ultra-bright monitor developed specifically for outdoor aerial imaging operators. With 2000 cd/m² of brightness, it’s more than four times as bright as most mobile devices. It is expected to be released later this year.

Kimon Selfie Drone, CES, and the rise of bizarre press releases in my inbox

It’s CES 2017 this week, and that means my inbox is full of new drone products being announced!

A lot of it is good stuff — stay tuned for some really exciting news later this week. But a lot of it is downright ridiculous — or worse — pitches itself as something it is not.

Keyshare Technology today announced the launch of their Kimon “selfie” drone in the US market.  Its camera supports 4k/25fps video recording and at a price point of $399, seems reasonable for a consumer product. I look forward to reviewing it.

But here’s the sticking point: it calls itself “the first successful mass market selfie drone,” according to the press release screenshotted below.

Press release I just got for “first successful mass market drone.” Really?


As someone who gets lots of press releases about new product launches, my No. 1 pet peeve is this: drone marketers billing drones as the “first something or other” when they clearly are not.
Continue reading Kimon Selfie Drone, CES, and the rise of bizarre press releases in my inbox

Parrot Disco review: incredible technology — if you can figure out a reason to use it

While most drone manufacturers are focusing on making compact quadcopter drones, Parrot is taking a completely different approach.

Parrot, known for making one of the first ready to fly drones back in 2011 with the AR.drone and most recently the light, foam Bebop drones, has now created a ready-to-fly fixed-wing drone — the Disco.

The $889 Parrot Disco (price reduced from $1,299) is an autonomous fixed-wing plane. It flies just like a plane — moving forward at all times. (That’s in contrast to most drones you would think of which are multicopters — typically four propellers that allow the drone to hover and move in all directions).

It can land and take off, maintain altitude and stick to a flight path autonomously. It can fly for up to 45 minutes at a time at 50 miles per hour — and sometimes even longer if you are flying with the wind. Flying into the wind? It can resist windspeed of 24 mph. It has a 1080p camera with 3-axis digital stabilization to get smoother video.

Parrot recommends that you have at least two football fields of space to safely operate the drone.

And that leads me to my big question with the Parrot Disco. Why would you use it?

parrot disco flying
Four baseball fields = too many potential lamp posts in the way of my flight path.

You need A LOT of open space to fly this drone. I flew it over a series of four baseball fields. Even still, my drone crashed when I turned it and it hit a huge stadium light.

It’s a fixed wing drone. So, unlike a multicopter, it can’t hover, rise straight up, or navigate into tight spaces.

We’ll get back to that later. For now — let me tell you everything that this drone is about.

Parrot Disco Flight Control

Flying the Disco is certainly an interesting experience. You press the takeoff land to get the motor started, and then you throw it like a baseball into the air. However, the throwing took a couple of tries to nail down. The first time, I threw it way too low and the drone basically took a nosedive right into the dirt. (Protip: aim high!)

Once in the air, the drone climbs up to altitude (164 feet) on its own. The sensor technology here is super impressive.

When the Disco is in the air, the drone flies in “Loiter mode” — basically a 196-foot diameter where it flies in circles until the pilot overrides that by moving the joysticks. (Both the diameter and altitude can be adjusted on the Parrot Freeflight app).parrot disco drone girl

This makes it pretty easy to control once you get the hang of it — and it’s quite fun to fly! Something about flying a plane vs. a multicopter has this exhilarating feeling.

The one major issue about flying the thing is you need open space — a lot of open space. You can’t make sharp turns, so if you are flying into a patch of trees and don’t realize it soon enough to turn (the Disco makes fairly wide turns) well…

Parrot Disco design 

The structural design of the Parrot Disco is truly incredible.  At less than 1.5 pounds, it’s super lightweight.  It is made from EPP (expanded Polypropylene) which feels like foam and and is reinforced with carbon tubes. The wings pop on and off super easily. That’s excellent for if (okay, when!) your drone crashes. Rather than the wing breaking, it more than likely will easily pop right off — which means that when you’re ready to fly again, you can pop it back in. This was very brilliant design, and something I hope more drone manufacturers will incorporate to eliminate damaging the drone during crashes.

It’s also ideal to have easily removable wings for storage.  While the Parrot Disco wingspan is nearly four feet (45 inches), the whole thing can be compacted into a much smaller box for storage.

parrot disco wingspan
Wingspan! Almost as tall as me.

Parrot Disco Skycontroller 2

The controller for the Parrot Disco is an update on its former Skycontroller — this time called the Skycontroller 2. The controller allows you to connect to your smartphone with the FreeFlight Pro app, so you can see what the drone’s camera sees in real-time. The Skycontroller 2 range is slightly more than a mile, according to Parrot.

Just like most  multicopter RC transmitters, the Disco controller has two joysticks — though for multicopter users, they’ll have to get used to the joysticks controlling different flight patterns! The controller also has features like geofencing (this is software that puts a virtual fence in the air) — useful for making sure your drone doesn’t travel too far away.

parrot disco takeoff controller
A neck strap for the controller could have come in handy here.

Parrot Disco Camera

The Disco has a 14 megapixel, HD camera and 32GB of memory. It’s pretty high quality. Check out my YouTube video to see what the video actually comes out looking like.
Because of the aforementioned turning radius and need for open space though, you’re going to need to be flying fairly high — over treetops/light posts/other obstructions to fly this, unless you have very precise piloting skills. That means you’re going to get soaring, wide shots from your drone. They are cool, but they also get old.
With my multicopters, I’m able to get incredibly precise, tight shots: flying underneath the pier and panning up over the waves, hovering over a uniquely designed fountain and then flying straight up, or following me as I bike along a windy trail. You won’t get any of these shots with the Parrot, which makes me wonder what sort of use case a photographer would have for this drone.
I do like that the videos appear instantly in the app on my phone, which means I can upload them instantly to my social networks or text them to friends without having to mess around with uploading the contents of an SD card to my computer.
Parrot Disco FPV headset
The Parrot Disco drone also comes with a FPV headset, dubbed as “Cockpitglasses”. I love that they also work with the Bebop 2 if you have one!  The FPV headset allows you to see what the Disco sees, following the Disco’s flight path with a display of radar and telemetric data. I never used these myself because I wanted to be able to see the drone in my line of sight while controlling it. But, if you had a third person beyond yourself and your spotter, it would be fun for them to be able to wear them and be a part of the drone flight!
Parrot Disco Review: final thoughts
From an engineering standpoint, this is one of the finest pieces of technology I’ve ever reviewed.
The app works wonderfully, and it’s a very cool experience to pilot an unmanned airplane.
However, for $889, I cannot understand why someone would buy this, unless they lived on a huge parcel of flat, open land and had a good chunk of disposal income.parrot disco
Flying the drone takes a lot of effort — it’s not something you can zip around your backyard (unless it’s huge). Parrot’s press announcement for this product was at a golf course in Palm Springs — and it makes sense. You are going to need a lot of wide open space. Even a light pole in a baseball stadium could be enough of an obstacle to crash your drone. So if you live in the desert this could be great — otherwise it will be difficult to find a place to fly.
The video possibilities are certainly cool, but they won’t provide the versatility of shots if your primarily purpose for getting a drone is photography.
And while the drone is relatively easy to fly once you get the hang of it — it is still significantly harder to fly than a multicopter. This drone really is for someone who loves to fly (and not just take pictures).parrot disco review
But at that point, I would rather just have a traditional RC plane, which you can buy for a lot cheaper than $889. (Most good quality, FPV RC planes range in price from $100 to $300).
While I had so much fun flying this drone for review, I’m not sure what type of customer I would recommend this for purchase.
If you have one (or want one!) let me know why in the comments. In the meantime, happy flying!

Got a new drone? 7 things you need to know before getting started

So you got a drone. Congrats! Now what?

There’s a lot you need to know about getting started before you even get your drone in the air (sorry). From registering, to getting a license, to knowing where you can fly, here’s everything you need to do before you get to the fun part — flying!

  1. Register it. Is your drone more than 0.55 lbs and less than 55 lbs? You need to register yourself as a drone operator with the FAA. The process is easy. Simply visit the FAA’s drone registration website and create an account. You’ll have to enter your address, phone number and email. You’ll also have to pay the $5 registration fee. From there, you’ll receive a Registration number, which you need to simply need to affix somewhere on your drone. I recommend writing it with Sharpie on a piece of masking tape, so you can easily remove it should you decide to sell or give away your drone. (The registration number is tied to the pilot, not the drone). Continue reading Got a new drone? 7 things you need to know before getting started

IDE 2016: here’s what you missed

The third annual International Drone Expo (IDE 2016) at the Los Angeles Convention Center saw not just a drone conference, but a drone race too.

53 of the world’s top drone racers competed. The pilots battled each other on an extremely tight and technical course, with multiple gates and a huge structure fly around.

Didn’t make it to the International Drone Expo?

Ken “FlyingBear” Loo from San Francisco ultimately won the race. 2nd place went to 11-year-old Ashton “Drobot Racer” Gamble, and third place went to Jarod Rhodehunter Rhodes.

It’s not often you get to go to a conference and get a drone race on top of it, but it is a great reminder why we’re all here – for the fun of drones!

I also checked out the show floor, which had some pretty crazy new things, including a human carrying drone. It basically looks like a motorcycle mounted on a massive drone.

I also led the women in drones panel with some fabulous trailblazers in the industry.

See you next year Los Angeles. Happy flying!

‘Better than fireworks’: people react to drones flying over Disney World

When you wish upon a star at Walt Disney World, you might end up with drones flying over Disney World instead.

300 drones are flying over the skies at Disney Springs, the Orlando, Fla. theme park’s shopping district.

Intel and Disney partnered up to create the ‘Starbright Holidays’ drone light show, the first ever large-scale drone performance in the U.S. The drone show occurs twice every night at 7 and 8:30 p.m. and lasts six minutes, with 10 different scenes and songs.

So how does it all work? Disney released its own behind-the-scenes, making of the drone light show video.

The drones  take off over land, and then fly out over the water adjacent to the entertainment district for the performance, before returning to land to descent. Water taxis and ferries that typically operate in the water temporarily cease operation while the show is in progress.

And here’s what people are saying about it: Continue reading ‘Better than fireworks’: people react to drones flying over Disney World

More than half a million drones registered in first year

This time last year, the Federal Aviation Administration implemented its web-based drone registration system.

Existing drone owners were required to register by Feb. 19, 2016 or face up to a $250,000 fine. Owners of drones weighing more than 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds are legally required to register their drones. (Which means that yes, 1.1 pound Barbie drone needs to be registered.)

During the last year, the system has registered more than 616,000 owners and individual drones. It has now been more than a year since the drone registration site has been launched.

To register, hobbyists pay a $5.00 fee and receive a single identification number for all the drones they own. They must place that identification number in a place that is visible on every drone they operate. (Register your drone here!) Continue reading More than half a million drones registered in first year