Parrot releases ANAFI Ai – a 4G Enterprise drone

Drone manufacturer Parrot has just announced a new drone. It has a number of interesting features, but the most compelling is its use of the 4G network – allowing it to fly Beyond Visual Line of Sight flights wherever there’s a 4G cellular network.

The release of the drone comes one year to the day after its release of the ANAFI USA, another Enterprise unit. But the new ANAFI Ai marks a pretty bold departure – both in terms of style and features. There are a lot of things worth looking at in the design of this drone, which is very different from anything we’ve seen previously from Parrot.

Let’s dive in.

4G Network

A number of companies, particularly smaller startups, have experimented with operating drones by controlling them over the 4G network. (I know this from personal experience; I once worked with a startup that flew 102 kilometres in Mexico using the cellular network). But to the best of our knowledge, there has not yet been a factory drone from a major manufacturer designed to do this. That’s the headline in the Parrot news release:

ANAFI Ai is the first drone to use 4G as the main data link between the drone and the operator,
which is a game changer for the drone industry. Users will no longer experience transmission
limitationsthanks to ANAFI Ai’s 4G connectivity, which enables precise control at any distance.
For Beyond Visual Line of Sight flights, it stays connected even behind obstacles.

What does the ANAFI Ai look like?

It’s a very different-looking drone. And that’s because it has some very unique features. We’ll get to those later. First, though, have a look:

Parrot’s ANAFI Ai (image via Parrot)

The BVLOS future

With all sorts of work underway to enable safe Beyond Visual Line of Sight flights, it’s pretty clear that BVLOS and automated flights/fleet management are going to be a huge part of the future on the Enterprise front. Long-range inspections, deliveries, surveillance etc. will become the norm rather than the exception. The new ANAFI Ai is positioning itself for that market:

4G is profoundly changing the use cases for drones. With 4G, the data link between the drone and the pilot becomes robust in all circumstances. Already widely and reliably deployed around the world, 4G offers long range transmission at low frequency bands at 700MHz – 900MHz. Additionally, the 4G connection means professionals can operate the drone at any distance. Many 4G operators offer quality-of-service guarantees for first responders, such as firefighters and police. 

In other words, you can operate this drone remotely (providing you have permission), with your only limitations being battery life and a cellular connection.

Briefing with Parrot CEO

In advance of the release, we had an online briefing from Paris with Parrot CEO Henri Seydoux, founder and CEO of the company. The 4G connectivity, he told us, is a huge part of the value proposition of this drone. But the company has also taken, he says, a great deal of care around keeping your data and control link secure. This is what he told us:

The second innovation is to take a lot of care about the cyber-security of the drone. So the drone carries a secure element, a hardwire chip…where you can put the encryption keys for the drone. And a lot of usages are encrypted, including the 4G transaction so it could not be seized by a third party.

Secure

The ANAFI Ai embeds a WISeKey Secure Element – which meets or exceeds a number of industry standards for security. The release says it enables the following:

  • performs cryptographic operations
  • stores and protects sensitive information
  • protects the integrity of the embedded software
  • provides a unique identity to the drone for 4G pairing and strong authentication
  • features a unique digital signing of the pictures taken by the drone

Users have full control over their data. No data is shared by default without the user’s express
consent. ANAFI Ai is compliant with the European Union General Data Protection Regulation
(GDPR) and in some cases goes even further. For example, users can delete all data with 1-
Click, easily maintaining control over what is stored.

What are those sensors near the camera?

Go take another look at the photo above. Specifically, at that grey device that seems to bracket the gold camera. What is it? Well, it’s new. And, in conjunction with the drone, Seydoux describes the product as “A very cool insect with a head full of sensors.”

The Parrot ANAFI Ai in flight…

And so yes, those grey things are sensors. Specifically, they are cameras – and the entire assembly rotates, so that they can not only point downward or forward, but also above – and even backwards. These are not meant for image capturing, but for the drone to sense its environment in a three-dimensional way. Those stereo cameras play a huge role in enabling autonomous flight and building grids for objects that you want to inspect or scan. They’re constantly scanning the environment, at a rate of 30 fps.

What else?

Yes, there is more. On the basic spec front, the drone weighs 900 grams and has a flight time of 32 minutes. It features a 48 MP Quad Bayer sensor and 6X digital zoom, allowing inspectors to see details as small as one centimetre from a distance of 75 metres.

In the briefing Henri Seydoux also emphasized a few other technical features, including that the drone is running on an Open Source platform. Parrot has also apparently put a lot of work into its Software Developer’s Kit (SDK) for this machine, offering a lot of flexibility for Enterprise users (and developers) who want to create new functions and apps for the ANAFI Ai. Here’s what the release says the new SDK offers:

Air SDK: provides a breakthrough technological architecture to run code directly on ANAFI Ai. Developers can program custom-designed autonomous flight missions by accessing all drone sensors, connectivity interfaces, and autopilot features. 

Ground SDK: allows developers to create iOS and Android mobile applications for Parrot drones. All the features of the drone (control, video, settings) are accessible. 

OpenFlight: the open-source core of FreeFlight 7 application. Developers can focus on adding their own features and immediately get a professional-looking App ready to be published on the application stores. 

Sphinx: enables developers to test their algorithm and flight strategy in a photorealistic 3D simulation environment running through Unreal Engine, with accurate physical interaction. 

But that’s not all…

In addition to his obvious excitement about the new product, Seydoux stressed the capabilities of Air SDK. And what can it do? Well, we’ll soon find out. But here’s the capability, along with what Seydoux envisions:

AIR SDK permits users to put software into the drone itself. For people that want to make specific flight missions – for example, an automatic inspection of a windmill. The drone finds a windmill in the scene, and then flies to it and then autonomously flies around the windmill. And this is done with Air SDK, the software that permits the developer to put the software in the drone itself. It’s also secure; when you put software on the drone you own a key, you can be sure the software won’t be modified or corrupted. 

Seydoux believes this will be huge for the ANAFI Ai. Developers could, he says, create software that identifies specific assets, whether it’s a windmill, a cellular tower, a power line structure – and more. Once those parameters are in the software, the drone would be able to ‘recognize’ such structures and proceed with inspection/scanning. (And photogrammetry software Pix4D is part of the Parrot group.) Here’s Seydoux:

The drone is able to create its own flight path. When you have planned your mission…the drone will do it automatically.

He also told us that one app underway will allow the ANAFI Ai to take off from – and land on – a moving vehicle.

DroneDJ’s take

There are a lot of interesting features to this drone, as noted above. With the 4G connectivity and the various SDK offerings, Enterprise operators and developers will be able to add significantly to its capabilities and use-case scenarios. Parrot is one of the original pioneers in the drone sector, and has transitioned out of consumer offerings to focus its drone efforts on the Enterprise/First Responder market.

We look forward to seeing what this drone can do when it hits the market at some point later this year. The retail price has not yet been released.

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