Parrot has released a new drone which ditches conventional quadcopter design in favor of a fixed-wing configuration. Dubbed the Disco, Parrot’s latest offering resembles a B-2 stealth bomber and takes off with a simple toss in the air.
Fixed-wing RC aircraft are notorious for being hard to learn and pilot when compared to their multirotor counterparts. They’re also a lot harder to land as well. This is mainly because everything moves faster with a fixed-wing aircraft leaving very little room for mistakes. Unlike multirotors and RC helicopters which can hover, allowing pilots to reassess their situations when things get hairy and uncertain, fixed-wing aircraft simply continue flying, giving pilots very little time to think and respond.
However, with the Parrot Disco, things are a little bit different. Despite its fixed-wing design, the Disco is armed with an array of sensors such as an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, barometer, a pitot sensor and GPS which create a highly autonomous flying experience.
All you need to do to get it flying is to simply toss it in the air and the Disco will automatically gain altitude, self-maneuver and stabilize itself. Once in the air, the pilot can control the Disco like any other fixed-wing aircraft. Should the pilot make mistakes when flying, the autopilot will do corrections to prevent the Disco from crashing. The Disco’s wings can also be detached to make it easier to transport. Detachable wings also help in absorbing impact during crashes to minimize damage on the drone.
Landing the Disco is a bit more complicated compared to taking off. Official videos released by Parrot show the Disco landing on its belly in an open field. In the right circumstances, a pilot may be able to catch it before it lands but we reckon this would require really quick reflexes and impressive timing. Being a fixed-wing aircraft, it’s not surprising that the Disco is not that easy to land. That being said, operating the Disco in very tight urban spaces may not be a good idea.
One advantage of having a fixed-wing design is impressive flight times. The Disco has a claimed flight time of about 45 minutes on a single charge which is significantly longer than what most consumer multirotor drones can offer (15 to 25 minutes). The Disco is also fairly light at 700g and can fly up to 80km/h or 50mph.
The Disco is compatible with the Parrot Sky Controller (shown above) and standard RC transmitters. It is also capable of waypoint navigation that can be plotted via an app on a smartphone or tablet.
To make things even more interesting — the Disco comes equipped with a 14MP camera in its nose that features a built-in image stabilizer. Like many other consumer drones, the camera also provides an FPV (First Person View) feed which means you can get an on-board view from the drone as if you were flying on it yourself. One disappointing thing about the Disco’s FPV feature is the use of WiFi which almost certainly guarantees latency lags.
For a fixed-wing drone that flies a lot faster than most multirotors and cannot hover, using WiFi for its FPV feed is simply a big mistake. Parrot should at least provide the Disco with 5.8GHz FPV.
Being a fixed-wing drone, the Disco is not expected to be a serious aerial photography platform for enthusiasts like the Phantom 3. Despite its built-in image stabilizer (similar to the one used in the Parrot Bebop), aerial videos taken from the Disco is simply no match for aerial photography drones that come in the multirotor guise. For this reason, the Disco is probably aimed at consumers who are looking for a lightweight surveillance drone with a long flight time and adrenaline-seekers who are looking for some fast-flying FPV thrills.
Parrot has not announced any pricing details yet on the Disco. It is expected to make an appearance at CES 2016 and will start shipping some time this year.