Flying drones can become addictive

September 02, 2015

Max The Magnificent-September 02, 2015

I have to admit that I've been wanting to lay my hands on a drone for a long time, but the ones I've been looking at until now have been a tad on the expensive side. Also, I've had the sneaking suspicion that once I'd actually tried flying one I might quickly get bored and want to move on to something else.

Furthermore, niggling away at the back of my mind is the memory of the one time I actually played with a drone -- the result wasn't pretty. This all took place toward the end of last year when I toddled down to the local radio control (RC) hobby store to pick up some parts for my Animatronic Robot Eyes project. The guy behind the counter was playing with a teenie-weenie nano-drone just a couple of inches across. He made it look so easy.

I can’t remember what I paid for it, but I took one of these little scamps home with me. I charged it up and -- since it was a quiet, breezeless day -- I took it outside. Things went well for the first few seconds, but then I began to lose control. I over-corrected one way after another until, eventually, the little rascal shot up into the air, zipped over the roof of my house, and disappeared into the nether regions. That was the last I saw of it (sad face).

But "time heals all wounds," as they say. I've been hearing a lot of good things about the Sky Viper Drones from Sky Rocket Toys. The folks at Skyrocket have just launched four new models, and these little beauties really are incredibly reasonably priced (the drones, not the folks at Skyrocket).

Now in their third generation, all Sky Viper Drones feature extreme performance capabilities, exciting one-touch stunts, 6-axis digital stabilization, and variable modes of flight sensitivity. Using the supplied 2.4GHz controllers with long range spread spectrum, you can control the Sky Viper drones up to 200 feet away (if the drone flies outside the range of its transmitter, it will automatically land itself and wait for you to retrieve it).

Well, I finally took the plunge. For the last couple of days I've been playing with two of these little beauties -- the Sky Viper Nano Drone and the Sky Viper HD Video Drone -- and I have to tell you that this is really, really fun.

I started with the Sky Viper Nano Drone as shown below. The first thing to note about this is that -- unlike my original drone from the RC hobby store -- the instructions that come with the Sky Viper drones are (a) In English, (b) Understandable, and (c) Intuitive.

In the case of the controls, there are two main joysticks augmented by a bunch of buttons. Pushing the left-hand joystick forward causes the drone to rise up into the air; pulling it back causes the drone to lower itself toward the ground. At the same time, pushing this joystick to the left or right causes the drone to rotate counter-clockwise or clockwise, respectively. Meanwhile, pushing the right-hand joystick forward, backward, left, or right causes the drone to go forward, backward, left, or right, respectively.

One thing I really love about these drones is the ability to quickly and easily calibrate them. You start by making the drone rise up a couple of feet into the air and then immediately returning it to the ground. While doing this, you observe what the drone does while it's in the air. Does it drift forwards perhaps? In this case, once you've landed, you click the 'B' ("Back") button on the controller and try again. Similarly, if it drifts backwards you click the 'F' ("Forward") button; if it drifts to the left you click the 'R' ("Right") button; and if it drifts to the right you click the 'L' ("Left") button. It really can’t get much easier than this.

The reason I started with the Nano Drone is that (a) it's the cheaper one and (b) it's harder to control (this is because it's lighter and has less inertia). My reasoning was that once I learned to fly the Nano Drone, it would be much easier (and less wearing on the nerves) for me to fly the Video Drone (the main functions are identical on both controllers; the Video Drone controller just has a few more buttons). Here's a video of me learning to fly the Nano Drone.

Like everything, this does take some practice. I'm getting better each time I fly it, but I'm still not able to control it without thinking. Well, obviously I'll always be thinking, but -- instead of focusing on every detail of what my hands are doing -- I want to get to the stage where my actions are largely automatic.

Once I felt like I had a reasonable amount of control over the Nano Drone, I decided it was time to move onwards and upwards (pun intended). The Sky Viper Video Drone boasts an adjustable HD SkyPro camera that can record 720p photos and video. You can use the included 4GB MicroSD Memory Card to capture a humongous number of photos and/or up to 20 minutes of flight footage at a time! (You can also upgrade to a 32GB MicroSD memory card if you wish.)

The controller has two extra buttons on the front -- one is marked "Photo" and the other is marked "Video." I wanted to try taking a video, but I pressed the wrong button (I hang my head in shame), which explains the following ground-level photo.

Apart from the poor choice of shot, I was actually quite pleased with the quality of this image, but we digress... After I'd worked out which button to press, I set the camera recording and captured this video. It won’t take you long to work out that I still need quite a lot more practice, but I think I'm getting there.

I have to say that all of the folks in my office are really enjoying playing with these drones. I have them sitting on a table in the bay outside my room, and I often see them flying past my door. The next thing we want to do is take the larger drone outside and capture some video of our office building, but we're all rather busy, so that will have to wait until we get a moment's break.

Based on my experiences with these Sky Viper drones, I'm convinced that I will be moving on to more sophisticated versions at some stage in my future -- something that can stream full high-definition video using a shock-mounted camera on gimbals and that can be controlled up to say a mile away. But that's not going to happen for a year or two.

In the meantime, I think that these incredibly affordable Sky Viper drones offer a really good starting point for someone like me who hasn’t had any (significant) experience with anything like this before. The only problem is that all of this has whetted my appetite for more. I now have my sights set on a Sky Viper Video Streaming Drone V950STR, I just need to find out who is selling these little scamps.

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