If you are having a hard time figuring out if you could be a drone pilot, then you should first check out a drone simulator. This is an application that can be installed either on your computer or smart phone and is designed to simulate a real drone flight. Others use it as a preliminary practice before the actual flight, and others find it as a way to kill time.
Of course different brands offer different simulators, and other indie producers have their own controls. However, the thing that you want to learn in the drone simulator is the concepts and the physics of a real drone flight.
Different kinds of drone simulators provide different kinds of features, so we put together some of the features you should look out for.
Drone simulator basic features
Real physics emulator
All drone simulators consider real life physics properties like wind and gravity. This will reflect on how you control your drone inside the simulator or how easy it is to lift and fly. Almost all simulators provide good quality of physics to realistically emulate the real world, making you feel like you are really flying an actual drone.
Before buying a drone simulator, you should consider if the physics is good enough. If the physics is bad, you will not gain any experience at all. Remember that this simulator is the first step for you to learn to fly drones. If you will settle yourself with a low tier physics emulator, then it will just be a waste of time and money.
Most drone simulators are not for free. Companies tend to sell them, but of course on a lower price when compare to a real drone. Even if it is not that expensive, you should consider the technical support that the company gives. Do they have a support team? Will they answer your questions immediately? Do they have a website or an email address where you can ask questions or leave feedback?
Although problems in the drone simulator rarely come, especially for those well-known brands, it is always safe to keep in touch to the technical team. You wouldn’t know when the bugs will come, so it is quite handy.
This refers not only to the graphics quality of the environment, but also to the content the drone simulator can offer. Most drone simulators give you an option to choose from different pre-made environments that functions differently from one another. This includes different scenarios such as open field, an obstacle course, or a small room environment. Other high-end drone simulators can give realistic representation of forests, lakes, mountains, airports and actual roads that can be seen in real life.
You could also choose from a variety of locations that are also patterned in real life places.
Of course you should not miss the graphical quality of the environment. A good simulator will feature a detailed graphical texture of the environment with varying geological features and terrains. It can also let you be the one to set environmental features such as the amount of wind or day or night. Using that, you can train in a realistic environment that greatly reflects what your actual flight environment will look like, such as the wind disturbance.
Some simulators simulate one real drone. It is rather an expensive one that has prices with over $1000. This drone simulator is to ensure that before you buy that expensive drone, you have quite the knowledge to fly it. It simulates all features of that specific drone from the camera down to the controllers. All parts and functions, you can experience it first hand in the simulator.
However, some drone simulators can give a wide range of models for you to use, may it be a quadcopter, helicopter, or a plane. There are some that features only a quadcopter but with many versions such as one with camera and one with not. Drone model should be identical to the one you will be buying or the one that you have already, otherwise playing a drone simulator will have no effect.
The AR drone simulator
Most drone simulators are installed as an application on a computer, but this drone simulator can also be downloaded on your smartphone, available for both Android and iOS. It simulates the AR.Drone quadcopter coming from Parrot and this is also the first ever drone simulator developed for it.
Also called the ARDrone Sim, it features all available controls for the AR.Drone, giving you the actual experience you can get by flying it and a worthy practice if you are planning to buy one. If you are, then you need to get more familiar with this model, and you can do that by reading our Parrot A.R. Drone in-depth review.
The AR Drone Simulator features ‘The Maze’, a challenge for users to maneuver the AR.Drone that will repeat from the beginning if it crashes. It offers three different levels:
- Outdoor level – you can fly your drone in the outside scene where trees will block your way. Do your best to avoid the trees. Perfect simulation for outdoor scenarios.
- Warehouse level – you can fly your drone in warehouse scene where there are tunnels and other equipment to dodge. You can also try landing into the pallets
- Grand Finale 2012 – you can fly your drone in the course of ARDrone grand finale held at Las Vegas last 2012. It is the simulation of the exact track and you can feel the racing heat as your travels the grand finale course
The latest version of the AR Drone Simulator is 4.1 for Android phones and 4.2 for iOS, where many features are upgraded and gives the game a complete overhaul. The menu system has been updated from the last version as well as a more realistic physics emulator. This can give a more user-friendly interface and a more real simulated environment respectively.
As for the drone model, AR.Drone 2.0 is used in this version with options where you can choose a battery and the power can be viewed from the battery meter. It also shows the damage that the drone has taken in the interface.
Range meter, height meter, and speedometer are also added to completely replicate the real-life drone. Also, a weather system is added where you can choose the weather inside the simulator, to test if the drone can stand a bad or windy weather. With respect to that, a system is also included where you can choose the time of the day, weather it is night time or day time.
Also, you can choose the wind disturbance level inside the simulator. You can see if the wind environment in the real world can be handled by the said model. In terms of controls, the joysticks can be resized with upgraded control visuals. This gives a more friendly approach towards users who are still practicing to fly a drone. In 4.2, the only difference is that it fixed graphic issues associated with Apple phones and tablets and also added MFi Controller Support.
This app supports multi-languages like English, Russian, Spanish, Italian, German, French, Japanese, and Chinese.
AR Drone Simulator is the best way to test AR.Drone 2.0 in your pre-determined environment. It is recommended by many users with a score of 3.9 out of 5 in Google Play. However, this app is not free, but it costs for only $2.5. It supports Android 4.0 and higher, and also in iOS. It is developed by Dangerous Derk Interactive Ltd.
Differences between drone simulators
Most drone simulators are computer based applications, which means that you will need a computer to play the simulation. Those types of drone simulators often need an external controller to properly emulate the controlling system.
Some of them are high-tiered simulators that have an expensive price, designed to properly train users piloting its respective high-tiered drone. Those are used by professionals who use a drone in their professional work.
The AR Drone Simulator, however, can be installed on your smartphone. It is cheap and can be played anywhere. It is perfect for beginners who are still not comfortable in flying a drone and is still planning to have one. It is mostly used as a leisure app, but it can also be a great way to train yourself in AR.Drone 2.0. The AR.Drone 2.0 also uses a smart phone app as a controller so this simulator simulates the real drone effectively.
But if you will be using this drone simulator for training yourself to fly another model of the drone, then it can be a bit hard. The AR Drone Simulator is only effective if you have the AR.Drone 2.0 manufactured by Parrot.
Reasons to buy a drone simulator
Why would you spend a dollar on a drone simulator if you can afford a real drone? Perhaps it may be a waste for drone experts, but then it can be a good start in drone piloting for beginners. Here are some of the reasons why you should buy a drone simulator.
#1. Good practice
For beginners, a drone simulator is a good practice before your actual flight. Almost all first drones will be destroyed eventually, for the first two weeks. Among these, half of them destroy it in the first week, and another half of those who destroyed it in the first week destroyed it in their first flight.
Getting ahead of what you know in drone piloting could cost you more than what you expected.
So for beginners, in order to avoid destroying your drone on your first flight, it is essential to get a good expectation on how to fly your drone. A good way is to engage in drone simulators. Drone simulators cost much less than the actual drone, and it is easy to install and download. With a preliminary experience in drone flying, you can avoid destroying your drone in your first flight. And, to even further lower that risk, we suggest checking out our article that talks about how to fly a drone.
#2. Costs less
Drone simulators are much less than an actual drone in terms of price. If you are thinking to buy a low-end drone for beginners, then it is best to settle on a drone simulator. Chances are that drone you will be buying for practice will be destroyed easily, whereas drone simulator can provide unlimited flight time and unlimited drones to destroy.
Drone simulators are better than a beginner drone if you are not confident in your piloting skills. A beginner drone is fragile and easily destroyed without the proper equipment and features. You don’t want it to be a disposable drone.
#3. Getting you hooked
If you are still unsure of pursuing a drone piloting hobby, then drone simulators can be a good way to confirm it. If drone simulators can hook you up for hours of fun, then purchasing a real drone may be a good option for you.
The reason behind the development of drone simulators is for you to feel how to fly a drone. It disregards your own piloting ability or your real environment. You can determine each aspect of the drone to feel if you are really into it.
If you determined that you are really into drones, then you can now go and buy one. But remember drone simulators are not that exactly the same in real life. There are also external factors that can affect the flight of a real drone.
#4. Constant drone flight
If you are still a beginner, you should be aware that real drones only last for a minute of flight time, 10 minutes at most for common drones. But that small flight time may require a long charging time, maybe an hour or more to be fully charged.
Drone simulators can bridge the gap in between your real drone flights. If you already have a drone and is very sensitive to the small amount of flight time, then a drone simulator can ease your mind.
It is not only for beginners but also for those who already have drones. You can play the simulator while waiting your drone to be fully charged. With it, you can never feel empty in drone flying at all. In fact, it can raise your expectation to look forward in flying a real drone again. Drone simulators liven up your drone hype even if your drone is uncharged.