I was in the City to meet the Parrot Mambo and Swing. These comparatively inexpensive minidrones are said to pack much of the tech found in the premium flying machines. As some who has crashed many a more budget-friendly quadcopter, I was interested to see how much better these are.
Parrot recently announced the release of their Disco fixed-wing drone. Flying under the radar, though, was Mambo and Swing.
The Mambo looks like the kind of quadcopter most will be familiar with. No bad thing.
Up close though, I could tell that the body looked a bit more sorted than others. Rolling the Mambo over I found the camera and, what I was told to be, an ultrasound sensor. These both work to keep the drone level.
The camera can also take snapshots. This might appear to be an obvious statement but that wasn’t what the lens was there for initially. But, the developers thought “there’s a camera, why not let people take photos?”
Grabber and cannon
The neatest thing about Mambo though is that it comes with accessories. These add-ons enable the drone to shoot at things as well as carry stuff.
Here is the Mambo taking pot shots and some cups. I actually managed it too, which is testament to how easy it is to use. It has a 6.5-foot range and the cannon carries 6 BB pellets.
In this clip, the lightweight (2.2 oz.) flying toy uses the Grabber to drop a jelly bean in to a container. The Mambo can carry up to 0.14 oz.
These accessories are powered and controlled by the Lego-esque mount on the top of the drone. The cannon fixes on this directly.
It works really well and is great fun. You could spend all day pestering someone with the cannon and then, at the end, deliver a sorry message.
Parrot boasts that the Swing is “the only [drone] plane with autopilot and a vertical take-off and landing mode.”
Is that statement true? I don’t know. What I can say is that it looks like nothing else I’ve flown – and I’ve seen a flying egg!
The Swing is a pretty clever design. This drone can switch from being a quadcopter to plane – or X-wing fighter, as far as I was concerned. Basically, you get the benefits of both in one rather neat package.
Weighing in at only 2.6 oz it is really nimble and fast – in the right hands.
Flying in quadcopter mode is familiar, especially using the bundled controller. The controller is just like a gaming handset, complete with shoulder buttons. You can use the controller with your smart device to pilot the Mambo too.
The X-shaped wings allow for both vertical and horizontal flying modes. In fact, the Swing’s ability to go back to the vertical position in quadcopter mode is very useful. Not only does it serve as a mid-air brake, the copter mode is better for maneuvering in tighter spots.
In aircraft/X-wing mode the drone can reach 18 mph. The Swing can perform U-turns, half-flips and loops at high speed.
The most daring I got was flying it through hoops.
Autopilot or AutoParrot?
What separates these minidrones from anything we’ve tested of a similar size is their ‘brain’.
Parrot Swing and Mambo are very clever little flying machines. I dare say that these drones have benefited from some of the tech developed for the Parrot Disco.
In the minidrones you get an intelligent automated stabilisation system, as well as automated take off and landing.
These add up to a truly enjoyable out-of-the-box flying experience. No need to chalk up hours of trial-and-error crashing before being able to hover or timidly exploring your airspace.
How it works
The drones are fitted with a 3-axis accelerometer and a 3-axis gyroscope. These measure the motion and the angle of the drones. The autopilot adjusts their position. In the Swing, this also maintains the mini aircraft at a constant altitude in plane mode.
The camera constantly compares the current image of the ground to the previous one, every 16 milliseconds, to calculate the speed. As I have mentioned before, the camera can also take VGA (460×680) photos of the ground or the landscape. The 1 GB internal memory stores up to 400 pictures.
An ultrasound sensor captures the flight altitude up to 13 ft, and at higher altitude a pressure sensor helps to control the drones.
Controller and app
The FreeFlight Mini app is available for iOs and Android. The app puts ‘joysticks’ and buttons on your device and is fairly easy to use. Using this app you can configure the minidrone, even when it is offline, and activate all the accessories on the Mambo.
If you need a stable connection at long distance (up to 60m/196ft), the optional Parrot Flypad remote control is what you’re after. The joypad adds those shoulder buttons too. These can rotate the drones (Swing in quadcopter mode), as well as activate the Mambo’s accessories.
The main thing though is that the experience is so much better when using the Flypad. It comes bundled with the Swing as the shoulder buttons controls the three plane mode speeds. It is an optional extra for the Mambo.
You can get around 7 or 8 minutes of flying time from a single charge. The great news is that the charging time for the ultra-lightweight 550 mAh battery is a mere half-hour.
Mambo and Swing first impressions
I must say that I was considerably impressed by these minidrones.
The Mambo is perfect for indoors flying but can also go outside as long as it’s not too windy. The Swing really needs room to reach its full potential.
The price, given the software, number of sensors and the engineering that has gone in to these is also fair in my opinion.
Parrot Mambo and Swing price and availability
You can buy the Parrot Mambo and Swing minidrones now.
Parrot Mambo – £100
The bundle includes the Cannon, Grabber, USB cable and 50 cannonballs. Go here.
Parrot Swing – £120
The bundle includes 4 Additional propellers, a Parrot Flypad controller and a Smarphone mount. Go here.
Parrot FlyPad controller – £40
For Mambo or as a spare for Swing.