Holding the Parrot Disco Fixed-wing Drone – Photo Courtesy of Brian Craig Photography

The Parrot Disco launched a year ago in September 2016, and we had the opportunity to try it at launch time. The experience was a lot of fun, and the technology is quite impressive for a consumer-grade fixed-wing drone.

Since then, Parrot released a Pro version of the Disco in May 2017, the Parrot Disco-Pro AG, an “end-to-end multi-purpose drone solution for small to medium-sized farms and cooperatives” according to the company. The pro version is much more expensive, currently available on Parrot website for $4,999.

Today, the Disco is available on Parrot website for $499 (discounted from $799), and you need to add $199.99 to get the Skycontroller 2 and the Cockpitglasses Vr headset.

Check the complete article with our first impressions, with the photos and video demos we shot during the Disco (first version) launch event, in August 2016.

Editor’s note – we got our hands of the Parrot Disco with the Skycontroller 2 and Cockpitglasses a little over a year ago, at launch time, but never took the time to finalize it until today (11/23/2017). 


Parrot Disco Drone  – Description

(Parrot Disco Drone consumer version – released Sept. 2016 )

Pro: 45-minute battery life – more than quadcopters such as Bebop 25 minutes – and speed 50 mph – in manual mode advanced pilots can fly drone aerobatics while shooting crazy videos.

Con: it takes more time to control even with autopilot assisted piloting and cannot hover still or backward for specific video shots – in FPV wearing the headset you may need to sit down to avoid discomfort

Bottom Line: the Parrot Disco is an impressive lightweight and elegant flying machine, that will provide a different experience than its quadcopter siblings (Bebop, Bepop 2) – although piloting has been made super easy in assisted mode, it takes a little more training to master the landing compared with the Bebop 2. For video maker enthusiasts, the quadcopters offer more control when it comes to shooting still video, slow ascent and fly backward, for a rear traveling.

According to the presentation delivered by Parrot CEO, it is clear that the Disco focuses more on the flying experience while using the drone rather than on the video capture capabilities for content production. Additionally, the wing allows the device to glide and use less power, which enables more flight time on one charge.

Parrot, one of the pioneers in the consumer drones industry, unveiled its first of a kind fixed-wing Disco Drone prototype at CES 2016 in Las Vegas, and Ubergizmo had the opportunity to be among the first to fly it in California in August 2016 just before its official release in the market in September 2016.

Last year, Parrot CEO, Henri Seydoux, introduced the new product with its pricing ($1299) and availability (September 2016). For that price, you got the drone, the Skycontroller 2 and the Cockpitglasses VR headset. A week before the official release, we went to a Golf Course in the desert with the Parrot team to try the Disco.

Today,  you can find it for $599 at BestBuy ($300 discount) or for the same price at Crutchfield. On the parrot website, you can order the Disco today for $499 (previously it was $799) and the Parrot FPV pack (Skycontroller 2 and Cockpitglasses) for $199.99. Or you can buy the Disco Adventurer bundle for (Disco drone+Skycontroller 2+ Cockpitglasses+ Disco backpack) for $699.99 (as of today, 11/23/2017)

The lightweight flying wing (750g) is fast and can reach a speed of 50 mph while flying for 45 minutes on a single charge, according to Parrot. It is a very good performance in comparison to its quadcopter competitors: you get only 25 minutes with the Bebop 2, which is similar to the DJI Phantom 4.

According to CEO Henri Seydoux, the product design enables a super easy flying experience although the technology behind the Disco is very complex. Thanks to its multiple sensors and brain, the device takes off and lands automatically after being thrown like a frisbee.

You fly it using the brand new Skycontroller 2 with a mounted smartphone, and with it, you can also use the Parrot Cockpitglasses FPV (First Person View) headset. Thanks to the 2.4 GHz standard WiFi MIMO connectivity, the Disco can fly up to 1.2 miles (2 km) from your location.

The Skycontroller 2 is a lot more compact than its predecessor, the Skycontroller.

The integrated wide-angle 14 MP camera placed in the nose automatically records in full HD video and streams at 720p.

For advanced drone pilots, a manual mode is available, simply by plugging an RC adapter to the hardware box, labeled C.H.U.C.K. (Control Hub and Universal Computer Kit), it will make the Disco compatible with the majority of RC remote controls.

We spent half a day flying the Parrot Disco, and you can read about my experience with the drone after the key features below.

How does it work?

Key Features

PARROT DISCO

  • Dimensions:  1150 mm x 580mm x 120 mm – Wingspan : 1150 mm (45 in)
  • Weight: 750gr (26oz)
  • Material: EPP foam and carbon  tube
  • Performance: Motor 1280kv – 5V Servomoteur RF Receiver ready SBUS, SUMD, CPPM
  • Built-in GPS : GPS + GLONASS
  • Video capture:  1080p Full HD camera – 185-degree wide angle “fisheye”
  • Streaming video: 360p / 720p
  • Software: Linux & Open source SDK for App development
  • Sensors: Ultrasound / Altimeter / Optical flow camera / Airspeed sensor (Pitot tube)
  • Inertial navigation system: 3-axis gyroscope, 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axes magnetometer
  • Processor (CPU): Dual-core Cortex A9
  • Memory: Internal Flash Memory 32GB
  • Connectivity Access point network, WiFi AC-type, two bi-band antennas (2,4 and 5GHz) Up to 2km with Parrot SKYCONTROLLER 
  • Removable Battery: 2700 mAh at 11.1 V / 25A three cells Lipo removable Battery – average 45min flying on a single charge – 188 g
  • Supported Protocols:

PARROT SKYCONTROLLER 2

  • Dimensions: 200x180x110mm
  • Weight: 500g
  • Controls: 2 joysticks, 8 shortcut buttons
  • Battery Li-Po: 2700mAh, 240 minutes on a single charge
  • Connectivity: USB plug, WiFi MIMO antennas

Parrot Cockpitglasses

  • Weight: 390g
  • FOV: 90°

Compatible with a range of smartphone brands thanks to the adjustable dock for smartphones. Compatible are smartphones with screen sizes from 4,7″ to 5,7″ and a thickness from 6mm to 9,5mm.

Product Design (Excellent)

The vision behind the design of the Disco is simplicity, beauty, and make it look like a bird in the sky. Additionally, the goal is to immerse the user into the flying experience, providing similar sensations as a “bird” would feel when flying in FPV mode. For instance, it is not Parrot first fixed-wing drone; the company leveraged its know-how from the professional drones developed by affiliate firm Senseflly, https://www.sensefly.com/drones/ebee-ag.html

“We like the aesthetics, it does not look like a toy or anything you have seen in a movie, it looks like a modern drone, something of the 21st century,” said CEO Henri Seydoux.

“We did this because we believe that today, there are high expectations in VR, in Google, in the next thing in video game, and in the next thing in technology, and I believe flying is the content by itself [VR content]. You do it for your pleasure, and it is still very difficult, due to difficult conditions such as strong winds, and you need to fly far from your location, not at 20 meters but over the sea and at 500 meters from you. So we did the product for enabling “flying as a pleasure,” something that you will do just like you would listen to music or play video game.”

At 750 g, the device is surprisingly super light for its relatively wide wingspan of 1.1 meters. Made of EPP (Expanded Propylene) and carbon tubes, the compact machine is pretty sturdy, and it resisted two crashes during our trial session.

The two wings are detachable which is crucial for resisting frontal chocks without breaking.

According to Parrot’s CEO, the focus was to minimize the mechanical parts, so there are no mechanical parts in the detachable parts. He claims that “it is not possible to make a product with less mechanical parts than this one.”

Camera (very good)

The fisheye (185 degrees) embedded 14 MP camera in the nose starts to record automatically when the Disco takes off. In FPV mode, it records up to full HD 1080p while streaming in 720p.

You can see the video feed either on your smartphone with the FreeFlight Pro companion application or using the FPV (First Person View) headset, and you can move the lens down during the flight. When I used it, the system was set to record in 720p and stream in 720p.

The video file is stored in the 32 GB internal memory, and you can retrieve it in your computer using a standard USB cable or over WiFi.

The image quality was pretty good in the Cockpitglasses, and you can check for yourself the movies shot with Disco drones on the Parrot website. Please note that there is additional compression in the online videos, so it may not reflect the actual image quality you would get playing the clips on your computer or HDTV.

Battery (very good for a drone)

The 2700 mAh (11.1 V / 25A three cells Lipo) removable battery offers 45 minutes of flying on a single charge. Parrot claims that the battery life can last for nearly 60 minutes when there is no wind and with minimal climbing.

Hardware: processor, connectivity, and sensors (Excellent)

C.H.U.C.K a.k.a. “the brain”

The brain of the machine is located in the red box called C.H.U.C.K that contains the dual-core processor running a Linux-based OS and multiple sensors.

An SDK was available to allow developers access  C.H.U.C.K. via APIs, to create new applications for the Disco drone. Not sure if that SDK is still available for the Disco consumer version since I could not find it anymore on the Parrot For Developers product page.

Model aircrafts makers can buy C.H.U.C.K (as of today, $699 on Parrot’s website) as a hardware component to add an ARDUPILOT open-source autopilot system in their custom model aircrafts.

Packed with sensors to enable Autopilot

The autopilot software provides automatic takeoff and landing, and, assisted stabilization during the flight. This technology requires a lot of sensors and a well-designed algorithm to manage the whole system.

The gyro has a precision of 0,1 per second and is temperature stabilized, which is important since gyros are very sensitive to temperature variation, and the accelerometer has the same precision degrees (0,1 degrees/s). The magnetometer delivers a 10mG precision.

The Disco features a unique component: the Pitot Tube (a.k.a. airspeed sensor)  that measures the airspeed, a crucial data to collect for the Autopilot, alongside the ground speed recorded by the GPS, according to Parrot. (more on that in the Software paragraph) The Pitot Tube placed at the top front of the Disco also acts as the On and Off button, to start the drone.

The GPS delivers a 167 dBm sensitivity with a precision +/- 3 m, and a maximum latency of 500 ms, sampling rate 5Hz.

Last but not least, the flying wing is equipped with two altimeters, a regular one, that provides 5 cm of precision, and the ultrasonic altimeter, which is only used for the automatic landing and placed below the device, with a 3 cm precision, and a 6 m range.

Standard components

Everything has been designed to make the experience “as easy as possible for the customer” said Parrot CEO, Henri Seydoux, so all the components are standards: standards battery connectors, standard USB2 for input/output, standard Wi-Fi (not a custom one) so you can connect to your computer or smartphone.

Connectivity & Skycontroller 2 (very good- compact and easy to use)

On the drone side, the new XS-format Wi-Fi MIMO (2.4 GHz and 5Ghz) has got a “lot of improvement” according to Parrot, it enables 1.2 miles (about 1.93 km) theoretical range for the Skycontroller 2. We did not check the maximum distance we could reach with the Disco. A few Parrot drones users tested the Skycontroller 2 range with the Bebop 2, and one of them could reach 2.1 km (1.3 miles) – see the video here. Another user compared Skycontroller with Skycontroller 2 using the Bebop 2 and he managed to reach almost 2.4 km with Skycontroller 2, losing signal at that range – watch min 27.14 in the video.
The Skycontroller 2, an update of the Skycontroller remote controller, is way more compact than its bulky predecessor and it comes out of the box and not as an option, now in the Disco Adventurer package. Your smartphone, placed on top, acts as the display.

The Skycontroller 2 connects to a smartphone via a USB cable to allow users to pair it with the drone. You can also pair your drone to the controller over WiFi using the FreeFlight Pro iOS app. You can fly the Disco with the Parrot Skycontroller 2 only, without using a smartphone or tablet. You can read more details on the tutorial page.

Software: Autopilot and Freeflight mobile application (Excellent)

The second part of the Disco’s brain is the autopilot, a critical software feature for beginner pilots like myself. The algorithms developed for the C.H.U.C.K unit enable the stability of the Parrot Disco (see the previous paragraph), in fact, the software adapts the flight parameters in real-time.

Automatic take-off and landing

Disco is designed to take off and land automatically in assisted piloting mode. To take off, you just need to throw it in the air, after pressing the take-off/landing button. To land, press the same button when ready.

The Pitot Tube described earlier and used in the aircraft industry, monitors the airspeed which is necessary to calculate and adapt the engine power in real-time to make sure the Disco will take-off properly.

Using the inertial navigation system (accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, and altimeter) and a GNSS module (GPS+GLONASS), the Disco can automatically maintain its speed, direction, and altitude, to simplify the user experience.

Flight Test  (very good even as a beginner)

FPV Flight Test with Skycontroller 2  (great even for a beginner)

The Disco was easy to fly even for a beginner like, however, a fixed-wing drone is more difficult to control than a quadcopter, due to the gliding effect generated by the wing, the landing especially is quite tricky to perform manually.

The take off is pretty straightforward; you just need to throw the wing with one hand like a frisbee, and it takes off, then it automatically climbs up to 50 meters and

For landing, I often had to use the automated home function that automatically brings the Disco back to base and lands it. We had a few crashes, one in the trees, and thanks to the good design, under the shock, the wing automatically detached from the body and did not break. Another pilot did manage to break one wing, with a more powerful shock against a tree. It might be a good idea to buy extra wings upfront ($69 left+right wings) if you plan to fly in an area with trees.

FPV Flight Test with Parrot Cockpitglasses FPV (good – need to seat)

I briefly tried to fly the Disco using the Cockpitglasses, and the experience was great and easy to operate. I had to sit to avoid mild loss of balance and dizziness.

Manual Mode Demo Flight

by Drone Pilot Olivier Deschamps

In the afternoon of the launch event, professional drone pilot Olivier Deschamps delivered an amazing manual mode demo using an RF controller. He managed to perform crazy aerobatics at very high speed for over half an hour!

Unfortunately, the video I shot of Olivier’s performance was not good enough to share here, due to strong direct light in the desert I had a hard time to follow the multiple flips and turns at high speed far in the sky on the LCD screen of my camera.

Check the video captured during the manual mode flight by Olivier Deschamp in the video below posted by Parrot Engineer Nicolas Carrier on his YouTube account:

Performance – Speed & Autonomy (Excellent)

According to Parrot, the Disco can fly during 45 minutes and reach a top speed of 80 km/h, most consumer-grade and lightweight drones today cannot fly more than 25 minutes to 30 minutes. During the flight test, it was not possible to check the accuracy of those numbers, since multiple people were flying the drone, and our Parrot expert had extra batteries available to help us make it through the morning demos. The perceived speed was pretty awesome, and impressive during the manual mode demo by the professional drone pilot.

Conclusion

The Disco with its Skycontroller 2 and Cockpitglasses delivers impressive flight capabilities and image capture features which makes the flying experience super fun. The fixed-wing form factor makes it more difficult than a quadcopter to control the flight path, and I recommend beginners to go to huge open spaces with no trees to start training with the Disco.

Filed in Cellphones >Photo-Video >Reviews >Robots. Read more about drones, Parrot.

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