Over the past few years, the form factor of the consumer drone has become fairly standard. Almost every popular offering currently on the market takes the shape of a quadcopter, with four rotors on a body supported by two legs for takeoff and landing. But today Parrot introduced its latest drone, the Disco, a fixed-wing aircraft that looks more like a stealth bomber. To take off, you simply toss it in the air and stand back.
"Parrot Disco is the first wing-shaped drone you can pilot with no learning process. Its autopilot and its many sensors (accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, barometer, Pitot, GPS) permanently control its flight," says the company's press kit. "You throw the flying wing, it gains its altitude and turns autonomously, and turns in the sky until you take control of it. During the flight, the autopilot prevents any false maneuver which could bring the flying wing down. Parrot Disco is as easy to pilot as playing a video game." So far, there is no word on pricing, although it will be available sometime in 2016.
The Disco weighs 700 grams, or roughly 1.5 pounds. It has a top speed of 80 kilometers per hour, about 50 miles per hour, which is much faster than most of the consumer drones on the market. The fixed-wing design gives better battery life than a quadcopter, with Parrot promising 45 minutes of flight on a single charge. You can operate it with Parrot's SkyController or a standard RC controller, or you can plot out a flight plan with the app and let the Disco do all the navigation.
The design of the Disco raises lots of interesting questions. Do you have to be in a large, completely open space to launch it? There is no mention of sense and avoid technology that would let the Disco take off in an area where it might have to dodge trees or power lines on the way up. And it's designed to be simple enough for anyone to use, so takeoff and landing don't seem to have a manual option. Does that mean you need to be on forgiving terrain to land safely?
Parrot says the Disco has removable wings, which should allow it to become more compact for transport, and may also help to disperse impact if a landing is too rough. The video showing automatic landing is basically just a recording of the Disco taking a belly flop into a soft pile of hay.
Disco has the same 14-megapixel camera in the nose as the Bebop, with the same three-axis stabilization. Like the Parrot, you can hook it up to FPV glasses to get a drone's-eye view of the world while you fly. But like the Bebop, it also relies on Wi-Fi for its live stream, meaning you probably won't get a very crisp picture, and your signal will often drop when you're more than a couple hundred meters away from the aircraft.
There are tons of small fixed-wing drones being used by the military and industries around the world. And there are a bevy of fixed-wing drones at a consumer-friendly price point as well. Still, Parrot is calling Disco the "first ready-to-fly fixed-wing drone." That's not exactly true. There are a number of fixed-wing drones available to the average consumer that can be launched by hand and autonomously navigate a path, for example the LA series from Lehmann Aviation. But it's certainly true that this design hasn't yet had its breakthrough product, something like the Parrot AR or DJI Phantom, which convinces a mass market of consumers it's safe, easy, and reliable enough to put under the Christmas tree.
CES 2016 Hands-on with Parrot's new Disco drone