This post is the latest in the Drones and Small Unmanned Aerial Systems Special Series, which profiles interesting information, thoughts and research into using drones, UAVs or remotely piloted vehicles for journalism and photography, that Kike learns about during his travels.
A variety of platforms and quadcopters have recently come my way to test, fly and review. I base my reviews on my knowledge of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), which combines practical experience from frequent travels around the world with National Geographic Expeditions and a strong personal interest in the civil applications of quadcopters and other UAVs. The essential tools in my camera bag are upgraded phantoms by DSLR pros, but I am always happy to experiment.
It is important to understand that no machine is perfect, and as artists and creators, we should get out of our comfort zone to improve.
In recent weeks I have enjoyed flying a stylish blue machine. I have started testing an Iris+. I meant to write this article weeks ago, but I felt I could provide a more accurate and objective feedback, if I had experimented with this machine for a while.
My first step was to gather as much information as possible. This drone is developed by an American company, 3DRobotics. After a little research and some flying, one must agree that Iris+ has a very advanced autopilot system, boasting autonomous missions, and GPS assisted flight.
As I recommended on my article “So You Want to Fly Drones?”, I believe you should have at least some flying experience before purchasing an Iris+. But this is just common sense. Flying, like everything else in life, is a process. So the better informed and the more practice you have, the more likely you are to have a quick and appropriate response any circumstances.
The Iris was co-developed by Chris Anderson, who was the editor-in-chief of WIRED Magazine until 2012. In October 2007, Anderson flew a remote-controlled aircraft equipped with a camera over Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which ended up crashing into a tree. Despite a bit of a rough landing, this experience inspired him to co-found 3D Robotics, a robotics manufacturing company which was a spin-off of the website DIYdrones.com. Today, 3D Robotics produces the Ardupilot series of autopilots, which are based on the Arduino platform.
I see this wonderful machine as a great tool for creators and hobbysts, with the ability to customize it, and with many different types of settings. Some cool features include:
Follow Me technology: If you own any GPS-enabled Android device, you will be able to activate the Follow Me function. The drone will be able to follow the GPS signal and keep the camera centered on you, capturing dramatic, targeted footage. So those who wished for a personal cameraman are in luck. The quadcopter locks on you and follows you down your trail or whatever adventure you may be immersed in, as long as you tote a GPS-enabled device. Obviously, at least for now, it will not avoid trees or other objects in the way.
Stability in the air: The Iris+ has exceptional stabilization capability, helping you capture sharp photographs and smooth, balanced films.
Auto Mission Planning: This amazing feature lets you preplan a flight path for the Iris+ from the ground using the Mission Planning application. It’s as easy as taking out your tablet or touch-screen phone, and tracing the path out on a map, that is configuring the waypoints and flight path beforehand. The drone will take off and go exactly where you tell it to. It will follow the path that you set out for it and come back with perfectly sequenced footage, without you having to steer it at all.
Flight Protection: If the Iris+ is running out of battery, it can land itself automatically, or return to a set home point. Your camera and drone will be well protected from falls.
‘Geofence’: Before taking off, you can set boundaries for the flight. If you end up running into one of these boundaries, the Iris will automatically return to its launch point.
LiveView: The 3DRobotics Kit for GoPro includes everything you need to start live streaming a video feed from the GoPro on your IRIS+ or X8+. It is easy to install, even for non-handy photographers like myself. With no tools, it will probably take you ten minutes to put it together. It comes with a 7-inch monitor and a 5.8 GHz 32-channel wireless receiver.
Interview with 3DRobotics Flight Specialist Anton Plauche
from my upcoming book on drones:
“When looking into FPV monitors a monitor that ‘blue screens’ is one of the first things people will tell you to avoid,” said 3DRobotics Post-Production Manager and Flight Specialist Anton Plauche.“This is common in many monitors that accept digital signals where the signal coming in is clean and as long as the signal strength stays above a certain threshold. But if the signal drops below that threshold the video will cut out entirely and you are left with a blank blue screen. The monitor supplied in 3DR’s video feed kit on the other hand handles your downlink as an analog video feed, meaning that the monitor will continue to display the video feed no matter how weak the signal is, even if it is completely static” explains Plauche.
“You can imagine this is very advantageous when flying FPV, for instance if your copter flies beyond trees or encounters a source of interference. Even if your signal is knocked down to 90% static you can still make out landmarks in the video feed and safely pilot the copter back,” added Plauchet. Whereas with a monitor that ‘bluescreens’, flying beyond range results in a total loss of signal and can be dangerous as well as result in a loss of equipment.”
“An interesting feature this kit has is that the monitor allows two channels to work simultaneously. One example of when dual video feeds can be useful is when operating a multi rotor with a 3 axis camera gimbal attached, allowing the camera to be pointed in any direction independent from the multi-rotor,” said Plauche. “In this case a small camera can be placed on the front of the craft for the pilot to view, in addition to a feed from the camera attached to the gimbal so that if the main camera is pointed straight down, for instance, the pilot can still see what is in front of him through his piloting cam.”
It is easy to see that this quadcopter brings to the table all those things that the previous Iris 1.0. didn’t have, plus much more. But it should be remarked that the new Iris runs on the new innovative advanced autopilot system called Pixhawk. Designed by the PX4 open-hardware project and manufactured by 3D Robotics. It features advanced processor and sensor technology from ST Microelectronics® and a NuttX real-time operating system, delivering incredible performance, flexibility, and reliability for controlling any autonomous vehicle.
The benefits of the Pixhawk system include integrated multithreading, a Unix/Linux-like programming environment, completely new autopilot functions such as Lua scripting of missions and flight behavior, and a custom PX4 driver layer ensuring tight timing across all processes. In other words, these advanced capabilities ensure that there are no limitations to your autonomous vehicle.
The flagship Pixhawk module will be accompanied by new peripheral options, including a digital airspeed sensor, support for an external multi-color LED indicator and an external magnetometer. All peripherals are automatically detected and configured.
Did I mention that with the simple switch of a toggle, you can tell your IRIS+ to return to its launch point whenever you see fit?
Many people email me regularly inquiring what is the best quadcopter for me. My answer is that it is your decision to make. As a journalist, my job is to share my field experiences with my readers, so they can make an informed decision of which path to follow in terms of equipment. So if you are looking for a compact and durable platform, an all-in-one autonomous aerial vehicle with the consumer in mind, the Iris might be right for you. The Iris+ comes with everything you need to take off right away.
Flight Time: 16-22 min (depends on payload).
Charging Time: 45-60 min. Battery Type: 5100 mAh 3S
Battery Camera: Go Pro Hero 4 or other brands
Maximum Payload: 400 g. payload capacity
Motor-to-motor Dimension: 550 mm. Weight with Battery: 1282 g.
Autopilot hardware: Next generation 32-bit Pixhawk with Cortex M4 processor
GPS: uBlox GPS with integrated magnetometer
Controller: Any PPM compatible RC unit, Preconfigured FlySky FS-TH9x RC
Telemetry: 3DR Radio 915mHz or 433mHz
Propellers: (2) 9.5 x 4.5 tiger motor multi-rotor self-tightening counterclockwise rotation,
(2) 9.5 x 4.5 tiger motor multi-rotor self-tightening clockwise rotation
Motors: 950 kV
GPS: uBlox GPS with integrated magnetometer
Mounts: Integrated GoPro camera mount with vibration dampener
Optional: Tarot brushless gimble with custom IRIS+ mounting kit
Battery: 5100 mAh 3S
What’s in the box: Ready-to-Fly IRIS+, Transmitter, 3DR telemetry radio, Micro USB cable, Android OTG cable, Set of tall legs for IRIS+, 5100mAh 3S battery, LiPo charger and a Manual with a flight checklist.
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