Demoing With Drones: Tips and Warnings
Lately, I have had the pleasure of speaking and sharing my experience of programming AR Drones with Clojure. However, doing live hardware demos has not always been a smooth ride. In fact, it can be fraught with peril. I thought that I would share some of the tips and tricks that have helped me, as well as help make you aware of some potential pitfalls.
Traveling with the AR Drone
Do you need to take your drone with you on the plane to the demo? The box that the drone comes in is a very nice carrying case, however it is too big to take on as a carry-on. I found that taking the hull off, and packing it into a plastic box worked well. It was small enough to pack under the seat of even the smaller planes. I took the battery out and packed it in my checked luggage.
Before the Demo
Put colored masking tape on the floor : If the floor is featureless, the drone will have a hard time staying in one place while it is hovering. Put down some strips of colored masking tape in the area that you want to demo the drone.
Charge the spare battery: Make sure that you have at least 2 batteries charged and ready to go. If there is an extra plug nearby, just plug in the battery and charger until you are ready to present.
Beware the network interference: In some larger venues, like hotels, the network traffic will make things break. In particular, receiving navigation data back from the drone. There are possible strategies for mitigating this – the only one I have tried so far is to bump up the timeout on the UDP connection. Other things that you may want to try would be to auto-reconnect after timeout. Also limiting the amount navdata you need might also work.
Backup videos – Having backup videos of your demo actually working is essential. It is safety net that will allow you to sleep the night before. Like they say, “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst”.
Rehearse – If possible, go through your drone demos in the space sometime before the talk. You will get a feeling for issues that might occur – like network troubles.
Front row drone catchers – Enlist the aid of your audience. Show the people in the front row how to catch a drone safely and hold it at a 90 degree angle so the engine cuts out. That way, if the drone starts going off in unplanned ways, you will have help.
Cross your fingers and have fun – Good luck. Hardware demos are a lot of fun. Hopefully, everything we work as planned, but if not – at least it was interesting.