Taking the Parrot AR. Drone from Virtual to Reality


Controlled from any mobile iOS device, an operator can make the AR.Drone swoop, slice, dodge and duel through the air as if it were a video game that came to life. The Wi-Fi-equipped Drone uses multiple cameras and ultrasound technology to perform stunts, navigate obstacles, battle opponent Drones…the gaming possibilities are endless. But before the Drone could rule the air, the design had to get off the ground.

The Mechanical and Design Department at Paris-based Parrot developed a promising concept for a remote-controlled aircraft for gamers. Compatible with iPhone®, iPad® or iPod® touch devices, the remote-controlled ‘quadricopter’ was designed to fly missions indoors and out. But would it perform as planned? Only a fully functioning prototype would tell.

To validate the concept, it was crucial that the prototype parts have the same mechanical characteristics as the final production versions. Strength, weight, load, injection stress—they all affect in-flight performance. And the only way to find out how the Drone would fly was with injection molded parts in the actual materials that would be used for the finished product.

Because of the time and expense involved, traditional injection molding was out of the question. Fortunately there was a low cost, high speed alternative—Protomold, the injection molding service from Proto Labs.


Rapid prototyping helped to quickly validate material choice, which sped up testing and production of the Parrot AR.Drone flying machine.

Parrot’s engineers uploaded their 3D CAD models for the AR.Drone parts to the Protomold website. After receiving an interactive quote, with manufacturability analysis, they placed their order online. And in a fraction of the time conventional injection molding would have taken, a shipment of real, functioning plastic parts was in the Parrot team’s hands.

Design engineer Guillaume Savoye said, “Proto Labs’ engineers made several technical suggestions for improving the moldability of the parts. It saved us a lot of potential headaches. And we were happy with the product we got—both in terms of lead times and the quality of the prototype parts. Validating the concept with real materials as quickly as possible made all the difference in carrying out performance tests and getting our product to market on schedule.”

The AR.Drone is everything its creators envisioned, and, with its open platform, has received the attention of augmented reality game developers.

Its high-powered technology includes MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems), an accelerometer, two gyrometers, an ultrasound sensor and two cameras. One of the cameras broadcasts what the drone is seeing to the operator’s mobile iOS device. This camera plays a crucial role in gaming—for instance, it can recognize an enemy Drone and engage it in combat. The other camera, located under the aircraft, is connected to an inertial measurement unit, which enables the quadricopter to perform incredible stationary flights.


Proto Labs

::Design World::

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