Parrot's AR Drone quadcopter has been strutting its smartphone-controlled stuff for a few years now, but fixed wing remote controlled aircraft have been a little thinner on the ground – and in the air. TobyRich, a German company specializing in smartphone-controlled gadgets, has now launched its SmartPlane, which it calls "the first smartphone-controlled airplane in the world."
Although the developers of the PowerUp kit that adds smartphone control to a paper plane might dispute TobyRich's claims, the SmartPlane is the first complete package we've come across in terms of a smartphone-controlled RC plane. Built from expanded polypropelene (EPP), the aircraft itself is durable and lightweight, with the engine and propeller offset inside the plane's nose to reduce the chance of damage even in head-on collisions – although an extra propeller is included if a hard landing proves too hard.
The lithium-polymer battery that powers the aircraft is also extremely light, adding just 1 g (0.03 oz) to the weight of the plane. TobyRich says the battery will provide over five minutes of flight time at full throttle, but up to 30 minutes is possible as long as there is plenty of soaring and gliding involved. Recharging the battery via the included microUSB cable takes about 15 minutes.
The SmartPlane connects to an iOS device via Bluetooth Smart (aka Bluetooth low energy), which gives it a range of up to 60 m (200 ft). The plane can only be paired to one device at a time, with a white LED on the plane indicating its connection status. The plane's firmware is also automatically updated wirelessly to ensure the latest version is always onboard.
The use of Bluetooth Smart (and the fact it doesn't have a camera) means that, unlike the AR Drone that connects via Wi-Fi, the SmartPlane can't relay video back to the controlling iOS device's display. What users are provided is an artificial horizon that dominates the bulk of the display with a throttle touch slider below surrounded by gauges indicating remaining battery charge and signal strength. The SmartPlane's 256-level proportional rudder is controlled by tilting the iOS device.
TobyRich says the plane has been designed to stay in the air at low speeds to make it possible to fly indoors without "laser-sharp reflexes." The controller app also includes a FlightAssist feature that automatically makes adjustments and corrections to help stabilize the plane's flight.
The SmartPlane retails for €69 with free shipping within Germany. Buyers in the UK and Switzerland need to pony up an extra €12 for postage with TobyRich looking to extend availability to other regions. The SmartPlane app is available as a free download from the App Store
TobyRich is based in Bremen, Germany and gained permission to shoot some footage of the SmartPlane, fittingly enough, at Bremen Airport. The results can be seen in the following video.
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