This whole video is proof that advertising really does work... I've never owned a Walkera multirotor before, but when I got an e-mail from RC-Fever, promising me a “zero-crash” quadcopter, I just had to give it a try.
It turns out, as I'm sure anyone sufficiently media-savvy to be reading our blog would anticipate, you can crash this bird. However, that doesn't mean that the aircraft itself and its anti-crash technology are without their merits.
First of all, like most small aircraft, this thing can really take punishment. We smacked it into that concrete skate park more times than I would care to admit while we were making this video, and it did great right up until the end – when a particularly hard hit snapped off one of the toothpick-like landing struts.
However, it was bitterly cold that morning, which may have contributed to making the plastic brittle, and a replacement part was $1.45.
If you flew this thing over a more forgiving surface, like grass, I suspect you'd be hard-pressed to damage it with an impact – even if you wanted to.
The ultrasound-based altitude hold worked brilliantly, holding the aircraft at a constant altitude above the ground even as the surface rose and fell away beneath it. Just set the throttle for the altitude you want and forget about it.
The one problem we saw with this system was that when the aircraft got too high – maybe 15 to 20 feet – the ultrasound apparently loses track of the ground and then it just shoots up like a cork. Be ready for that, and realize that you're going to have to take the throttle way, way down to coax it out of the sky. Then, when it gets low enough for the ultrasound to start working again, it inevitably smacks the ground because you've got the throttle set so low.
That aside, I think this altitude hold will be a big help for beginning pilots, because it essentially takes the throttle out of the equation – meaning that they can focus all of their attention on yaw, pitch and roll.
The infrared collision avoidance system is more of a mixed bag. Unlike the altitude hold system, which actually measures the distance off the ground and seeks to maintain it, the infrared sensors respond in more of a binary fashion: they are either on or off, so they don't respond in a graduated manner.
The infrared sensors might be a source of frustration for beginners, because they will have a hard time discerning their own control inputs from the automatic reactions of the collision avoidance system.
Also, you can get caught in a sort of feedback loop where you're fighting the aircraft as its bouncing around, trying to avoid obstacles all on its own. Keep in mind that you can always switch it off if you don't like the results you're getting.
If you're going to buy one of these, I'd suggest getting a couple of additional batteries so you can fly longer before you have to stop to recharge. Also, as I noted in the video, the package does not include batteries for you new transmitter – so if you're planning to start flying right out of the box, make sure you've got some available.
Walkera might want to take a tip from Blade in that regard and include absolutely everything you need to fly. One detail in its favor is that the aircraft arrived already bound to the radio, so once you find those batteries, you're good to go.
Overall, it's a lot of fun (and technology) packed into a small package. We'd be curious to see how a larger quad using ultrasonic sensors for 360-degree collision avoidance would perform. Get on that, guys – then send us one to play with!