CES 2015: Attack of the ZANO Nano Drones
This palm-sized quadcopter might look like a Hubsan X4 H107C-HD, but the ZANO Nano Drone packs more in its 1.9 ounces than many quadcopters weighing ten times as much. Controlled via an iOS- and Android-compatible smartphone app, it boasts autonomous flying for beginners with no RC experience, a feature typically reserved for larger aircraft with GPS. For FPV and aerial photography, there is a 5MP built-in camera, which can record HD video and take full-resolution stills internally to an SD memory card. For the first-person view experience, you can monitor what you are recording (a presumably dressed-down version) in real time on your mobile device. In addition to video, the app also displays OSD telemetry data, such as battery life and altitude.
At first glance, the characteristic most likely to strike you is an odd-looking LED array below the camera. It turns out this apparatus serves a dual purpose. Normally it acts as a full-color (RGB) 8 x 8-pixel resolution display that can show icons or animations—presumably created through the app. But it can also be set to output white light to help illuminate the subject when recording or taking photos in low-light conditions.
As with most multi-rotors, flight stability relies on a collection of sensors, such as gyros and accelerometers. In addition, the ZANO features IR collision detection, helping it to avoid collisions when it’s in an autonomous flight mode. For users who do want manual control, the "Free Flight" mode provides onscreen joysticks to give you a similar experience to flying with a traditional transmitter. A "Follow Me" setting will cause the ZANO to track your every movement, homing in on the signal from your smartphone for guidance. It can also return to you automatically if the signal gets weak or the mobile device's battery drops below a critical level.
Now, we come to what is arguably the ZANO's most notable—some might say horrifying—feature: "Swarming." A single mobile device can be used to manage multiple micro quadcopters— although I can't tell you exactly how many. Presumably, each copter would be left to more or less find its own way, based on some procedural algorithm, with only minimal explicit directives required from the pilot. While a swarm of buzzing drones might send shivers down many people’s spines, it could turn out to be a pretty useful feature, especially when capturing aerial video of a live event from multiple angles.
The battery in the ZANO is estimated to last 10 to 15 minutes, though this figure will vary a great deal due to wind resistance, the amount of maneuvering you do, how fast you fly, and other factors. Because it relies on a mobile device's Wi-Fi, the range will be relatively short; ZANO estimates up to 100'. It might be possible to extend this if ZANO decides to release a Wi-Fi range extender similar to what several other companies offer for their Wi-Fi-operated flight control systems.
ZANO expects to release the quadcopter sometime this month. How soon it will start to roll out to retailers is still unknown. Though I can't tell you when you'll be able to get your hands on one, it's a pretty safe bet that resellers will want to get their hands on inventory.
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