Last week I met in London with Pascal Perrin, Parrot’s Head of Global Consumer Product Marketing, and the French company’s International PR Manager, Fabien Laxague. They were in town to demo Parrot’s latest drone: the 4K-shooting, insect-inspired ANAFI.
I arrived with plenty of questions and an open mind. Parrot’s made some interesting moves in recent times. I had wrongly assumed that adapting the Bebop 2 and Disco drones for business use was a sign of things to come, that the company was moving the way of 3DR and shifting exclusively into the commercial drone market. Plus, it had been a while since the French manufacturer released something to compete directly with DJI.
However, after seeing the ANAFI in action up close and running through its many unique features, I left convinced that this little drone has what it takes to shake up the consumer market.
DroneLife also has a unit to review, so look out for that in the near future.
In the meantime, we thought it would be interesting to publish some of our conversation with the guys from Parrot. In particular, both Perrin and Laxague had some interesting things to say about the ANAFI’s lack of obstacle avoidance: a feature that has become standard across the DJI range of drones in recent years.
For many – including us on the day of the product launch – it was a notable absence from Parrot’s latest drone. But the guys explained why maybe it’s not such a big deal after all.
Why Doesn’t the Parrot ANAFI have obstacle detection / collision avoidance?
I asked the guys from Parrot about the thinking behind this omission. Since DJI is the company’s main competitor in the consumer space, and the new(ish) Mavic Air – arguably the closest direct rival to the ANAFI – has a bunch of obstacle avoidance tech, it seems like it could be a dealbreaker for buyers.
So was it about keeping the drone’s weight down, keeping the price low, or keeping the drone as compact as possible?
“It’s about the consumer,” Fabien told me.
“We spent a lot of time listening to consumers to understand their priorities, how they want to use the drone and what they are looking for. And so the priorities with ANAFI were flight time, portability and the camera,” said Perrin.
Juggling these things was, understandably, a delicate balancing act. “To have something so small, so lightweight and with a 25 minute flight time, we needed to make a choice.”
Beyond the Practicalities: Does Collision Avoidance Make Pilots Complacent?
So yes, it’s true that Parrot would have had to sacrifice some of the ANAFI’s best features to find space for obstacle detection technology. But the company also believes that its customers won’t see that omission as a big deal. A hugely impressive 25 minute flight time, excellent portability and an outstanding camera add up to a compelling proposition, no matter what the safety features.
But beyond those practical aspects, there also seems to be a philosophical difference between Parrot and, say, DJI.
The guys from Parrot were keen to stress that flying with Parrot is about taking responsibility for your drone and being focused at all times.
“We want to have consumers that are responsible for their flights,” said Parrot’s International PR Manager, Fabien Laxague.
“This is key: we don’t want people flying everywhere” – here he makes some wild/crazy gestures with his hands… you get the point.
“We want pilots to be focused on their flight all the time and comply with the law. We encourage our pilots to be aware of their environment. We release a lot of videos and tutorials to explain how to fly,” he continued.
When starting up the ANAFI for the first time, users are also taken through a quick guide to flying safely and controlling the drone. So we shouldn’t see any of those tragic videos in which new drones are unboxed for the first time and crashed straight into the Christmas tree.
“This is the main part of the story. If people are learning to fly correctly, they will do that all of the time.”
The implication here is that obstacle detection systems in consumer drones may be creating a generation of drone pilots who are more complacent behind the controls than they should be – that they are too comfortable. Understandably, the guys from Parrot didn’t want to comment on that either way.
But Laxague did say, “You can’t rely on the technology all of the time.”
It’s certainly an interesting way of looking at things. Maybe automated obstacle avoidance does create complacent pilots who don’t fly as carefully as they should. And maybe it does stop us from making the kind of mistakes that we can learn from.
However, the bottom line is that it also prevents accidents. Whether you’re a professional pilot, a complacent one or a combination of the two, a system that has your back is invaluable.
This is particularly that case when you’re flying with an automated follow-me mode. It’s unlikely that your eyes will be on the drone, so either you have to trust the technology or fly somewhere with zero chance of a collision. We don’t all have access to spaces like that.
Ultimately, obstacle avoidance systems in consumer drones are about making expensive technology idiot-proof and removing some of that sense of dread pilots get whenever an obstacle looms into view. In most circumstances, a responsible pilot shouldn’t need to rely on such a system to prevent an accident.
So sure, you can’t afford to be reckless if you’re flying Parrot’s new ANAFI. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Look out for our ANAFI review in the next couple of weeks.