Further to my article about using drones in schools, I've had a number of questions about which is the best drone to buy. Here is a look at the best drones on the market at the moment (2016) and their suitability for using in schools. Their prices range from £150 to £450 so there's something here to suit every budget and need.
This year, the market for drones has expanded dramatically, with the newest models of drones have amazing features such as 4K cameras and self flying intelligent sensors. Some cheaper drones can be piloted through virtual reality headsets and all of the ones featured here can be controlled by smart phones and take video footage of the flights.
I've looked at three drones (the Microdrone, the Parrot Bebop 2 and the DJI Phantom 3) and have made recommendations at the end of the article based on your budget. So without further ado, lets look at the drones:
As with all the drones in this article, this drone can be flown using your android or ios device. It measures 50 x 145mm and has a rotor diameter of 55mm so its really small, and with its built in rotational motors, you can fly it upside down. It has a flight time of 8 minutes and a range of up to 500ft, making it ideal to use in your school field. The footage from the drone's camera can be watched in real time or stored on an SD card ready to down;oad to your computer, ideal for making a video about your local area.
There are three speed settings for the drone and the drone can be turned, rolled and flipped. It also has a return to home feature which it allows it to return to a preset place.
One of the really cool things about this device is that by using Google Cardboard, you can view live streaming drone footage in 3D in your virtual reality headset. This means you'll have a first person pilots view of what the drone can see in real time. There are also 3D printable designs to make your drone look like anything you want it to, which are available from the manufacturers website.
Further details from the Microdrone website.
DJI Phantom 3
The DJI phantom is three times more expensive than the Microdrone so what more do you get for your money? Well, firstly its really simple to set up and you don't need an phone/tablet to control it (although you can use one if you want to). It has 35 minutes of flying time and is a lot larger, measuring 350mm. Secondly. the build quality is a lot better. The drone feels a lot more sturdy and robust and should easily deal with a few knocks whilst landing. This is helped by its two landing legs which help take the stress out of returning back to land.
The drone includes an 8GB SD card for downloading video footage and has a range up to 4,500 feet. Charging time is around 50 minutes and the lens field of view is 94 degrees which means that you won't see any wide angle footage. The Phantom has a really good safety feature for the beginner: if you let go of the controls then it hovers where it is until you regain control again. The return to home function is really useful too and it allows you to land where you started from - I found that it usually landed within four to five feet of where it started.
Finally, as you're not relying on your phone/tablet to control the drone, you can broadcast your flight live on YouTube or social media, as it happens. Note that the price here is based on the standard model. There are also pro models available which are more expensive and obviously have more features.
Further details about the DJI Phantom 3 are available at the DJI website.
Parrot Bebop 2
I've used a Parrot drone for a few years now at our local school and when they first came out they were a great product for the price. We had connectivity issues sometimes when setting up (and this still seems to be a slight issue with the Bebop 2) although the specifications on the Parrot drones have really improved in the last two years.
The Bebop 2 is slightly cheaper than the DJI Phantom 3 and has the same flight time of 25 minutes, although the range is a lot less. This drone has a lens field of view of 180 degrees which gives you a wide angle view from the video camera. It is quite sturdy and lightweight. The drone is controlled either by tilting your phone/tablet in the direction that you want the drone to fly in or by using a D pad controller on the phone/tablet. Apparently, someone has been able to connect a bluetooth game controller to the Bebop 2 to fly it but I didn't test this out.
On the downside, there is no SD card on the Bebop 2 so it has limited memory and will drain the batteries when transferring the video to your computer.
For more info on the Bebop2, visit the Parrot website.
If you have a limited budget, then I'd wholeheartedly recommend the Microdrone 3. I loved the virtual reality view of the flight and being able to modify the drone to look how you want it. This made me think of a future drone festival similar to kite festivals where, in the not too distant future, people will parade their drone creations in the air watched by admiring crowds of onlookers.
Anyway, back down to earth... If you have a little bit more money to spend, then I'd recommend the Phantom 3. The build quality feels superior to the Parrot drone, the quality of the camera is better and it doesn't appear to have the connection issues that the Parrot does. In a school, things tend to get knocked around and the Phantom is the best product to withstand the knocks.
If you want to see some of the uses that we've put our drones to in order to enhance the school curriculum, then take a look at my article about using drones in schools.