Fixed-wing drones have been a popular choice for things like environmental conservation and surveillance, and now Parrot is looking to expand their appeal in the consumer realm as well. On show at CES this week, its Disco drone does away with the popular quadcopter design in favor of a speedy wing-shaped model that can simply be tossed in the air to take flight.
Parrot had a big influence on the rise of quadcopter popularity with its iPhone-controlled AR Drone in 2010, and is now hoping its seemingly user-friendly Disco can bring it similar success. The aircraft bears some resemblance to eBee, an industrial UAV built for things like crop and wildlife monitoring by senseFly, a Swiss firm that happens to be owned by Parrot.
Disco can fly for 45 minutes and can reach a rather zippy 80 km/h (50 mph), a speed matched by few consumer drones – 3DR's Solo drone, which can hit 89 km/h (55 mph), being one. It also features the same 14-megapixel camera with 3-axis stablization of Parrot's Bepop 2 quadcopter, and can stream vision back to a set of virtual reality glasses to offer immersive first person flying.
Fitted with an eight-inch propellor and an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, barometer, pitot and GPS, Parrot claims the Disco is simple to fly and involves no learning curve. Throwing the drone into the sky sees it gain altitude automatically and it will then circle above until the pilot takes control. It features an auto-return home function, automatic landing and the wings are removable to make for easier transport.
Disco is piloted by either a standard RC remote control or the Parrot Skycontroller, which works in tandem with a smartphone or tablet. This second option will also allow users to plot autonomous flight paths through the companion app.
With its top speed and lengthy flight time the Disco boasts some impressive numbers, but to compare it to other consumer drones is a little like comparing apples and oranges. Fixed-wing drones have certainly proven useful for monitoring crops or wildlife, applications where they're needed to fly more or less in straight lines for long periods of time, but we're yet to really see these capabilities translate to the consumer space.
Here the agility and maneuverable cameras of the quadcopter design have reigned supreme. Parrot does have form in breaking down such barriers, however, so it will be interesting to see if Disco can come to the party.
There's no real detail yet on pricing or availability, only that it will launch sometime in 2016.
You can see Disco in flight in the video below.