Quadcopters That Fit in Your Pockets
Small is beautiful
No doubt some of you have bought quadcopters as gifts for your nephews, daughters and grandchildren in the recent holiday season. Last year was really the year of reckoning for these gizmos, graduating from research projects to DIY kits and even commercial offerings that included delivery drones. Owning a drone or a hobby quadcopter is no longer an expensive affair.
Soon enough we saw regulators intervening as they must in the interest of security and aviation safety. It therefore appears that the experimental days of drones are over. The technology is here to stay. Now it is a matter of ironing out differences, issuing licenses and putting together a framework for full scale commercialization. It's not going to happen quickly but it will happen for sure.
While quadcopters come in a variety of designs, sizes and prices, there is a class of them that are small enough to be affordable to the average hobbyist. They can be interesting remote-controlled gadgets for kids to play with. Fitted with a mini camera, they can be a handy scout for your backyard while you monitor the video stream from your living room; or for that special view of a wedding banquet right from above; or to capture the beauty of the Taj Mahal with eagle eyes until the authorities start complaining.
Nano quadcopters by nature have their limitations of power, battery, communication range, altitude climb and outdoor operations. They do have a number of advantages: cost (< $50), indoor operation, low noise, stability and acrobatic tricks. Plus, they are ideal for experimentation without spending a bomb, particular if built on an open source model. Having said that, there is an alternative opinion that nano quadcopters are probably not ideal for beginners. Just a couple of months ago, Gizmodo published a nice review article on drones meant for beginners.
I am personally thinking of getting my hands on one of these. Before I intend to soar with no middle flight, it is proper to survey what's out there. So here's a modest list I have compiled. I am certain that it will quickly go out of date since new models are getting launched almost on a regular basis. Moreover, I am no expert to give reviews on any of these. Instead I have given links to blogs and reviews.
Since battery technology hasn't improved much, most of the nano quadcopters can manage at best ten minutes of flight time and require 30 minutes to recharge. A lot of them operate on 2.4 GHz band but the communication protocol is usually not specified. This means that the flying machines talk to their controllers using a proprietary protocol. Perhaps we will see some standardization happening in this space in time to come. Bluetooth Low Energy appears to be a suitable choice since newer smartphones already come with BLE. In fact, Crazyflie's quadcopter already has BLE connectivity.
Nano quadcopters generally have a hard time carrying a camera and even if they do, I am doubtful if images and videos will really be sharp. Getting the quadcopter to be perfectly still when hovering is a prerequisite to a sharp picture. Those that carry a camera are typically mini sized, which means they are bigger than the palm of your hand.
Of the many nanos, Zano promises control from your smartphone and... the ability to control a swarm of drones! Instead of BLE, they propose to use Wi-Fi. They have just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising over two million pounds! Can they delivery? We'll have to wait and see.
The one I am partial to is Crazyflie simply because it is open source and a development platform. Developers can build cool hacks on top of the bare bones it provides. It exposes debugging capability. The website also features some of the hacks that people have done. At $180, it's a lot more than most others in this list.
|Skeye Nano Drone||http://www.trndlabs.com/product/skeye-nano-drone/|
|Estes Proto X (aka Hubsan Q4)||http://quadcopterhq.com/estes-proto-x-review/|
|Syma X12 Nano||http://quadcopterhq.com/syma-x12-nano-review/|
|Blade Nano QX||http://quadcopterhq.com/blade-nano-qx-review/|
About the Author
Arvind Padmanabhan graduated from the National University of Singapore with a master’s degree in electrical engineering. With fifteen years of experience, he has worked extensively on various wireless technologies including DECT, WCDMA, HSPA, WiMAX and LTE. He is passionate about training and is keen to build an R&D ecosystem and culture in India. He recently published a book on the history of digital technology: http://theinfinitebit.wordpress.com.