Parrot Anafi USA review: thermal inspection drone – Blue sUAS

Do you want to conduct (thermographic) inspection flights within an urban area? Then the Anafi USA from Parrot is definitely a drone to consider. Because with its weight of less than 500 grams, the drone is currently in Open subcategory A1 (European drone rules). Nevertheless, the drone has a FLIR thermal imaging camera and an RGB camera with 32x zoom. But how does the device perform in practice?

Thanks to Skytools for making a Parrot Anafi USA drone available for this review.

Parrot Anafi USA review: thermal inspection drone – Blue sUAS

Made in the USA

Many drone pilots still associate the French company Parrot with the AR.Drone, which was succeeded by the Bebop 1, the Bebop 2, and later the Anafi 4K and Anafi Thermal. Just under two years ago, Parrot decided to take a different approach: there was insufficient growth in the market for consumer drones, so Parrot focused on the commercial market. The growing criticism from the US government on competitor DJI provided an excellent opportunity to develop drones specifically for the US military, so-called Blue sUAS drones.

The Parrot Anafi USA is the result of that strategy. Building on the Anafi platform, Parrot developed this lightweight (<500 gram) “military-grade” drone, specifically intended for (thermal) inspection work, search & rescue operations, and security applications. The drone is made in the United States. Partly because of this, the Anafi USA can bear the “Blue sUAS” label, which means that the drone can be used by American government organizations.

The fact that the drone weighs just under 500 grams also makes the Anafi USA extra interesting for European users. The drone is in Open category A1 until 31-12-2022. This means that you can also fly it within built-up or urban areas, even if you might briefly fly over people who are not involved in the drone operation.

This brings interesting possibilities: think of roof and facade inspections, tracing heat leaks, inspections of solar panels, etc. The user only needs to register and take care of the basic drone certificate A1 / A3: a minimal investment.

Parrot Anafi USA review: thermal inspection drone - Blue sUAS

First impression and specs of the Parrot Anafi USA

The Parrot Anafi USA comes in a sturdy case. In addition to the drone, we find a controller, three batteries, a charger, a tablet holder, a short quick start manual, a set of spare props, and a memory card. The drone itself resembles the “normal” Anafi but is slightly larger. The arms fold out to the side. The propellers are remarkably small.

The camera module contains three sensors in total: two RGB cameras (wide and tele) and a FLIR Boson thermal imaging camera (infrared). By combining the images of the two RGB sensors in combination with digital zoom, the user can zoom in continuously up to 32x. That enormous zoom range is therefore partly optical, partly digital. The FLIR sensor has a resolution of 320 × 256 pixels. The thermographic data is projected over the visual image. You can also zoom in here.

Parrot Anafi USA review: thermal inspection drone - Blue sUAS

The gimbal is mechanically two-axis stabilized. The stabilization on the third axis is solved by software. Thanks to special stabilization algorithms, the camera remains focused on the subject even with extreme zoom. What is special is that the camera can rotate 90º downwards as well as upwards: handy for inspections that also require looking upwards.

The Anafi USA does not have sensors for obstacle detection. So it really comes down to your own flying skills to prevent crashes from being made (hint: set the RTH height sufficiently). The drone only has an ultrasonic sensor for altitude determination at low altitudes and a sensor for the relative position determination if no GPS signal is available.

Parrot Anafi USA review: thermal inspection drone - Blue sUAS

Parrot Anafi USA Controller

The Skycontroller 3 is exactly the same controller that comes with the regular Anafi. For a drone that costs more than 7,000 euros, the controller is very cheap. In addition to the control sticks, there is a return to home button, a button to move the camera up and down, a second tilt button to zoom in and out, and buttons for taking a picture and resetting. the camera view. Unfortunately, an HDMI output is missing. There is also a switch with which you can change the flight mode.

For further operation and live camera view, you need to install the Parrot FreeFlight6 app on your smartphone or tablet. In addition to the live camera image, the main screen shows the necessary information about battery status, GPS signal strength, distance, and altitude of the drone. At the bottom, you will find drop-down menus for changing camera settings and accessing advanced flight functions. The gear icon provides access to an extensive settings menu. The Skycontroller works for approximately two and a half hours on one battery charge.

Parrot Anafi USA review: thermal inspection drone - Blue sUAS

Parrot Anafi USA Flight performance

The Anafi USA is quickly ready for use: open the controller, attach the telephone (or tablet), fold out the arms of the drone, switch on the device, and fly. The drone makes relatively little noise, and the buzzing sound is acceptable (not whiney). You can choose from four flight modes: film, sports, cinematic, and racing. You can adjust the sensitivity of each mode (turning speed, flight speed) as desired.

The flight time is impressive: more than half an hour in ideal conditions. In practice, you should count on 20-25 minutes, you don’t want to completely deplete the battery. The drone can handle wind quite well, according to Parrot the Anafi USA can be used up to a maximum wind force of 6-7 Beaufort (not tested).

Parrot Anafi USA review: thermal inspection drone - Blue sUAS

The Anafi USA does not have an internal map with no-fly zones. As a user, you must therefore check whether you are allowed to fly at the intended location (as it should be, especially if you fly professionally with drones). You can, however, set a geo-cage: a maximum flight altitude and distance where the drone must stay inside. An excellent solution in our opinion.

Parrot’s choice to use WiFi to control the drone and transfer the live camera image is problematic. During a test flight near buildings, a message about interference quickly appeared, resulting in a faltering camera image. There is a good chance that the presence of Wi-Fi routers in residential homes is to blame for this: they push the signal away, as it were. In ideal circumstances, you can reach more than a kilometer, but near buildings, the range quickly drops to a few hundred meters.

Parrot Anafi USA review: thermal inspection drone - Blue sUAS

Parrot Anafi USA Camera performance

In view of the intended target group of the Parrot Anafi USA, the optical zoom function and thermographic capabilities of the drone are especially closely examined. The zoom range is very impressive: no less than 32x. Parrot achieves this by digitally combining the image of two sensors – one with a wide lens, one with a telephoto lens. It is remarkable how stable the image remains, at maximum zoom. The image quality deteriorates rapidly as soon as you zoom in to the maximum, but that is the trade-off with lightweight optics.

It is possible to record video images as well as regular photos. The maximum photo resolution is 21 megapixels. Videos can be captured in up to 4K resolution. The ISO range is from 100-3200. The supported file formats are JPG and DNG/RAW.

As soon as you switch to the thermographic view, you will see a combination of the visible image and the thermal image from the FLIR camera. It is possible to change the color palette (fusion, rainbow, white-hot, and black-hot). It is also possible to enter a threshold value so that you can easily spot the hottest objects in the picture. It is also possible to zoom in on the thermographic view. The temperature range is -40 ° C to + 150 ° C. But you do not see this temperature range as values ​​on the screen, nor is it possible to select which temperature range should be filtered. Furthermore, it is not possible to save radiometric JPGs, which makes further analysis of thermographic images impossible.

Parrot Anafi USA review: thermal inspection drone - Blue sUAS

Parrot Anafi USA Data security

To qualify for the Blue sUAS label, Parrot has placed extra emphasis on data security. Recordings that are stored in the drone on the microSD card can be encrypted. The communication between the aircraft and the controller is encrypted using 256-bit encryption. As said before, a disadvantage is that Parrot uses WiFi, on 2.4 and 5.8 GHz. Interference is certainly present in urban environments.

Another feat in the field of data security is the fact that the drone does not transfer data to external servers. According to Parrot, the Anafi USA thus complies with the GDPR guidelines. Only flight data can optionally be stored on Parrot servers. Parrot also emphasizes that the firmware cannot be tampered with.

Parrot Anafi USA review: thermal inspection drone - Blue sUAS

Conclusion of the Parrot Anafi USA review

The Anafi USA is a remarkable product. Because the drone is so lightweight, you can fly it in Open subcategory A1 until the end of 2022. This means that you hardly need to invest in training and permits to be able to fly above buildings. This means that all kinds of applications in the field of (thermographic) inspections are within reach. The drone also offers interesting possibilities in terms of security and monitoring. Noteworthy in this regard is the IP53 rating of the drone (splash-proof).

You can really only judge the camera performance in the context of the overall picture. Given the size and weight of the drone, it is quite an achievement for Parrot to combine a 32x zoom camera with a thermal imaging camera. Of course, the optical-digital zoom camera does not achieve the image quality of a “real” (optical) 30x zoom camera such as the Zenmuse Z30, and the FLIR Boson sensor used loses out against a Zenmuse XT2, for example. On the other hand, such specialist payloads can only be used in combination with a drone that by definition falls into the Specific category, if you want to fly it near buildings. Not to mention the cost of such equipment.

The fact that WiFi is used for control is an important Achilles heel of the drone. This gives you a short-range, especially in urban areas. In any case, Parrot could have done a bit more work on the controller: the Skycontroller is just like a toy. The FreeFlight6 app is straightforward. The app does not deserve the top prize in terms of the user interface, but you will quickly find the most important functions. The lack of obstacle detection will not be weighed heavily in the final judgment, as long as you ensure that the RTH height is set sufficiently high.

The price tag of the Anafi USA (€ 7,500 excluding VAT at Skytools) is substantial, especially compared to the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual (or the recently launched DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced), which costs less than 3,000 euros including VAT. On the other hand, the M2ED is a lot heavier, and therefore in the Open subcategory A2 it is actually not easy to use within urban areas.

Parrot Anafi USA review: thermal inspection drone - Blue sUAS

Benefits

  • Lightweight (<500 grams), usable in Open A1 until 31-12-2022
  • Compact and easy to carry
  • Relatively quiet
  • “Best in class” 32x zoom + IR camera
  • Long flight time
  • Camera can tilt down as well as up
  • Focus on data security (GDPR compliant, made in the US)

Cons

  • Poor image quality at extreme zoom
  • Controller is cheap, no HDMI output or mode switch
  • Moderate Wi-Fi connection
  • No obstacle avoidance
  • Thermal camera has low resolution
  • Charging the flight battery takes more than 3 hours

Specifications

  • Weight: 500 grams
  • Dimensions (folded): 252 x 104 x 82 mm
  • Dimensions (unfolded): 282 x 373 x 84 mm
  • Maximum range: 4 km with the Parrot Skycontroller 3
  • Maximum flight time: 32 minutes
  • Maximum horizontal speed: 14.7 m / s (52.92 km / h)
  • Maximum vertical speed: 4 m / s (14.40 km / h)
  • Maximum wind speed: 14.7 m / s (52.92 km / h)
  • Maximum flight altitude: 6,000 m above sea level
  • Optional height restriction and geofencing
  • Operating temperature: -35 ° C to 43 ° C
  • No temperature restriction during ascent
  • Private data traffic between drone and controller/option to share anonymous usage data with secure servers in Europe

Sensors

  • Satellite navigation: GPS, GLONASS & GALILEO
  • Barometer and magnetometer
  • Vertical camera and ultrasonic sonar
  • 2 x 6-axis IMU
  • 2 x 3-axis accelerometers
  • 2 x 3-axis gyroscopes

RGB sensor

  • 2 sensors: 1 / 2.4 ”
  • Digital zoom range: 32x
  • Electronic shutter speed: 1 sec to 1 / 10,000 sec
  • ISO range: 100-3200
  • Video resolution: 4K / FHD / HD
  • Video format: MP4 (H264)
  • Photo resolution: Wide: 21MP (84 ° FOV); Rectilinear: up to 16MP (up to 75.5 ° FOV)
  • Photo format: JPEG, DNG (Digital NeGative RAW)

Infrared sensor

  • Sensor: FLIR BOSON
  • Resolution: 320 × 256 pixels
  • Temperature range: -40 ° C to + 150 ° C
  • Thermal sensitivity: <60mK
  • Photo format: JPEG
  • Video format: MP4 (H264)
  • Video resolution: 1280 × 720, 9fps

Image stabilization

  • 3-camera IR / EO stabilized gimbal:
  • Hybrid: 3-axis
  • Mechanical: 2-axis roll/pitch
  • Electronic (EIS): 3-axis yaw / roll / pitch
  • Gimbal swivel range: -140 ° to + 110 °

Battery system

  • Type: High density LiPo (3 x 4.4V cells)
  • Capacity: 3400 mAh
  • Flight time: 32 minutes
  • Charging connection: USB-C
  • Charging time: 3h20 with the supplied adapter
  • Weight: 195 g
  • Voltage: 11.55 V
  • Maximum charging power: 30 W.

Parrot Skycontroller 3

  • Dimensions (folded): 94 x 152 x 72 mm
  • Dimensions (folded out): 153 x 152 x 116 mm
  • Weight: 283 g
  • Transmission system: Wi-Fi 802.11a / b / g / n
  • Frequency range: 2.4 – 5.8 GHz
  • Maximum transmission range: 4 km
  • Live video resolution: HD 720p
  • Battery capacity: 2500mAh 3.6V
  • Battery life: 2h30 (Android) / 5h30 (iOS)
  • Supports mobile devices with displays up to 6.5 ”
  • USB connections: USB-C (charging), USB-A (connection)

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This article first appeared on Dronewatch.nl and is written by Wiebe de Jager who is also a DroneXL contributor.

About the author

Wiebe de Jager

Wiebe de Jager (@wdejager) is the founder of Dronewatch and author of several bestselling books about drone photography. Wiebe is a certified drone pilot and has a full ROC license.

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