TEST FLIGHT: The AR.Drone and the GoPro HERO HD

For whatever reason, I decided to break down and purchase the AR.Drone.  Well, it wasn’t really just any reason, I actually liked the fact that it is a fairly inexpensive quad-copter that you can attach a small camera to, and capture HD footage.

One of the most popular stock footage shots on the site happens to be the wheat field video, that filmmakers and commercial producers have been using in their projects.  I was hoping to follow up on that shot this summer/fall during harvest by doing a flyover of a wheat field, and capture it in full HD for you to use.

All the research pointed me to the GoPro HERO HD – a super compact and nigh indestructible camera that can capture up to 1080p at 30FPS.  I’ve seen the videos of people using the two “toys” together, and thought this would be the prefect solution.

The only trouble I’ve run into at the moment is the actual placement of the camera so the copter is not visible.  The AR.Drone is capable of pulling the weight of the 100 gram camera, but it does drain the battery quickly.  I expect when I have everything worked out, I’ll get 10 minutes of flying time tops.  I almost have the placement issue taken care of, but I’ve also discovered that the AR.Drone doesn’t like the wind very much… and in Western Kansas, the wind blows all the time.  I’ve seen video and have read testimony from people who claim the quad-copter can handle wind up to 20 miles per hour, but strap weight on the top or bottom, and there is going to be trouble.

Here are two test shots I did this afternoon in a nearby park, which sits in a little valley surrounded by trees.  Between three and six feet, the AR.Drone held its own, but I could tell it was struggling to find its balance.  When it went to 12 feet, a gust caught the unit and sent it flying to the ground.  You can tell how hard the wind was blowing by looking at the far the drone is banked as it automatically tries to remain level.

In the second test, I placed the camera on top of the battery pack and sent it aloft.  Once again, at lower altitudes, the Drone did well, but as you will see, the moment the unit started to turn and keep its balance in the wind, away it went.  If you want to see what a crash looks like, watch till the end.

Overall, I’ve had a lot of fun flying (and crashing) the AR.Drone, and know with more practice I’ll get the flyer to handle like a figure skater on ice.  My big concern is the wind.  If I shoot the wheat field early enough in the morning (right around golden hour), before the wind picks up, everything will be fine.  And of course, being in an open field should reduce the potential obstacles I seem to crash into.

How well does the AR.Drone hold up to abuse?  I’ve crashed it into a tree, and had the engine cut off at 15 feet, and the flyer held together.  I have purchased a few back up parts just in case, but for now, everything is good.

As far as the GoPro Hero HD is concerned, I not a big fan of the user interface, but to get a camera this small, with the ability to deliver a stunning picture has me sold.  I only wish I could attach the protective housing on the AR.Drone, as I really don’t want to scratch or damage the wide angle lens on this baby.  The GoPro Hero is designed to take abuse, but is only guaranteed if it is used in the housing.  I plan on doing more tests with this camera attached to a variety of things in the near future and will keep you posted.

For now, it is back to the drawing board, with more testing planned in order to get the beauty shot, I know you are all waiting for.

Stephen Schleicher

Stephen Schleicher is one of those guys that has always loved comics but never got into them until really late in life - like high school in the 80s. He just missed the Crisis on Infinite Earths, but has been around for every major crossover since. Stephen knows his way around video and film production having been a director, producer, editor, and motion graphics artist for projects ranging from small promotional pieces for Wachovia all the way up to regional videos for the Division of Emergency Management. As a prolific writer, Stephen began his career writing for the Digital Media Online community of sites, including Digital Producer and Creative Mac covering all aspects of the digital content creation industry. He then moved on to consumer technology, and began the Coolness Roundup podcast. A writing fool, Stephen also freelances for the Sci-Fi Channel's Technology Blog. When not writing, Stephen shares his knowledge as a tenured faculty member at Fort Hays State University. Still longing for the good ol' days, Stephen launched Major Spoilers in July 2006, because he is a glutton for punishment. Favorite Writers: Mark Waid, Geoff Johns, Paul Dini, Adam Beechen, Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges Favorite Artists: Dan Jurgens, Alex Ross, Adam Hughes, Freddie Williams III

4 thoughts on “TEST FLIGHT: The AR.Drone and the GoPro HERO HD

  • May 2, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    There was a time when only the military had technology like this. Gotta love how tech is advancing and becoming more accessible and cheaper.

  • July 21, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    Ahoy! Looks great, thanks for the info. Have you tried flying with the waterproof housing attached? If so, what were the results?


  • January 12, 2013 at 3:14 am

    I would love to know it the thing can fly with the housing. I’ve been searching everywhere for an answer and can’t find out. I’m going sailing and would love to get a few sky shots of the boat and islands…of course, there’s no way I’m flying over water without the housing.

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