Hacking The AR Drone: Intro

Ever since we played with the original AR drone back at CES a few years ago, we’ve been keeping an eye on them. While we all agree there are better quadcopters out there, the price point for a ready-to-fly quadcopter of this size is really great with these.

When the fake video from FPS Russia of the weaponized drone made the rounds earlier this year, we were surprised at how people reacted. Anyone who has messed with quadcopters recognized it as fake right off the bat (not to mention the overly cliche fake russian character).

We won’t be adding a full fledged firearm to this. Mainly because it simply can’t lift the weight (There are ones that can, but we couldn’t justify the cost just for that). We do have some ideas though.

Lets go over the specs of the AR Drone 2.0 first.


The manufacturer is pretty good about sharing information. They have a decent breakdown of the specs as well as a full SDK available for writing apps for the AR drone.

*We’re assuming they mean 1Gigabyte of RAM there on the specs.

As you can see, it has decent specs for the $299 price tag. This is partially due to the fact that it uses wi-fi for control. A decent radio system would greatly increase the distance (and probably response), but would have added another $100 to the price tag.

First Impressions

This isn’t a full review of the AR Drone. I didn’t run it through any tough tests, nor compare it to similar sized and outfitted competitors. I just pulled it out of the box, flew it around a bit, and started thinking about how best to make it preposterously dangerous.

During this time, I found that the Wi-Fi control system works fairly well. There’s not really a discernible lag between motions on the iPhone and motions on the drone. The drone was fairly stable both indoors and out, though it really didn’t like ceiling fans.

I started taping things to it to see how it would respond. As you get too much weight on it, you start to see that the stabilization system twitches attempting to keep it level. This happens long before it physically can’t lift things. It shouldn’t be an issue though as I only noticed it while attempting to hover in place. Battery life is greatly reduced though with any additional weight. This is a pain in the butt because the stock battery only offers roughly 8 min of un-weighted flight on a 1.5 hour charge.

Modifications already done

There is already a strong community of modders out there for the AR drone. Here are some common mods that I found while researching. I’ve included a few links to examples, but there are many more to be found.

Modifications planned

I’ve got some ideas. They’re not all very safe sounding, but don’t worry, I’ll take precautions to make sure no one gets hurt. They’re also not very practical, but sound really fun.

  • Custom airsoft gun (multiple shots possible, c02 powered)
  • audio bug deployment (small transmitter that could be dropped by drone)
  • flame thrower
  • POV light bar (need a super light weight design)
  • laser for balloon popping (yes, indoors with proper eye protection).
  • LED sticky/throwie delivery
  • taser device (probably fry the drone when it hits something)

Let me know your ideas. Keep in mind that if I strip this thing down, I can really only carry 100-150 grams comfortably. Also keep in mind I don’t have the time or resources to carry out massive undertakings (sorry, no AI swarms, etc )

46 thoughts on “Hacking The AR Drone: Intro

  1. A funny “weapon” could be an adjustable Mirror.

    With that the drone could be programmed to blind a certain person from way above. :D

    would be pretty annoying and not a real weapon.
    Could also be used to establish temporary data transmittion ways for optical transmission.

    could be cool …

  2. attach a bunch of those tiny bottle rockets and put an ignitor made out of a tiny light bulb and some black powder put on all the fuses that way when you press a button the rocket would take off like a missile and you can shoot down all the other pesky drones that are invading your airspace

  3. I’m actually thinking about using a quadcoptor in outdoor airsoft/milsim games.

    It would need to be mostly hands off, meaning it would need to follow the squad leaders via RF beacon or maybe the SQDL would transmit GPS position info the quad via xbee or similar.

    The biggest problem I see is that it would have to be huge to handle wind, etc and to carry enough power to run for even a 30min skirmish.

    And it would be LOUD.

    Some of the larger national milsim ops employ helicopters that allow passengers to make ‘gun runs’ – i.e. they shoot at the other team on the ground while flying overhead.

    Great fun for the gunner, but somewhat demoralizing for the ground troops because they can’t shoot back.

    I’ve also considered FOV airplanes with very strong bodies and CHEAP wings – with a fully automatic electric airsoft pistol you could use it to attack the other team. Cheap wings and strong body means they could shoot you out of the sky with little risk of major damage.

    1. yeah, it looks like serial input shouldn’t be a problem. I’d really like to go the other way though. I don’t need to add a costly rf mod for my purposes, but I’d really like to be able to trigger something external. I wonder if I can have it write to the serial port during flight.

      1. I like the way you’re thinking. These guys were on sale here last week. I was very tempted to pick one up but sadly didn’t.

        I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that it had a serial port available.

  4. I own one, the only payload I tried so far is a 50g GPS logger (DG-200), it coped fine, although the GPS Signal was abnormally noisy).

    If you want to launch your own events/actions, there’s only two possibilities so far : write your own app using the SDK, or go for the RC mod and get an arduino pro mini onboard. For the action part you will need an additional board, so why not go RC from the start (it’s 200 to 300$ including the remote) ?

    Keeping it light on the action side, the rubber band shooter seems nice, but the release mechanism may be too heavy. The firework ignited by a heated filament seems the most promising suggestion to me (with added showtime bonus).

    1. This is what I haven’t been clear on. Can I have an app with the SDK that will write OUT to the serial port? If so, I can use that to trigger external events using something like the arduino pro mini.

      Otherwise I’ll have to either convert the whole thing to R/C, or rip a tiny R/C circuit from something and just stuff it in there (which might actually be a performance/finanacial winner).

      1. The command exposed by the SDK (page 6 of the SDK documentation PDF) seem to be flight related only.
        So a garage door remote or something like that may be the cheapest solution. I have a few unused DSLR flash radio remotes here that would work fine and are tiny, but I would need to step down the 11,1 3S LiPo voltage to 3V (the two original AAAs would be too heavy).

    1. yes, it is very fake. There is a physical model for when people have to touch it, the rest is digital.

      the reasons are too numerous to break down individually here, but the independently angled motors is a dead giveaway. No one does that but 3d artists working for a game studio who think that it looks neat.

  5. I’d love to see a combination of tricks with the AR Done.

    Combine a bigger battery for longer flight time with a Oculus Rift VR Headset for immersive flying!

    I assume the RC mods don’t transmit the video? If they did that would put the icing on the cake for long range, extra flight time with VR! :)

  6. What about adding 3g to this thing? Open VPN Layer 2 bridge back to Squidfoo. Depending on how much bandwidth this thing needed you might be able to get some considerable distance. Just thinking it might be fun to blind the hoodlums on the square with the mirror mentioned above.

    How long does the battery last on this guy?

    1. 8 minutes. There have been mods that allow for 3g connectivity, though they’re not well documented. Blinding people with mirrors will be next to impossible due to stability issues. Even when hovering, it is drifting around.

    2. Sorry I got a little excited didn’t see that above. Maybe just an annoying noise. High pitched squeal? Need more than 8min for hoodlum work. RP with 3G might work but is probably way to heavy with added battery.

  7. lol. Fake?
    1. This is NOT RUSSIA weapon trade company, but USA.
    2. Copter NOT fake, fliyng behvior it is easier to make than to imitate.
    3. Weapon+minicopter? Analog such devices really made and tested long time ago, but it’s have high cost and low effective.

    1. I don’t believe Apple and Parrot have reached ANY settlement on the ‘Absolute Control’ fiasco that is really just Apple being greedy. I am working on some of these mods suggested above for LE and PMC use. This is a practical drone platform to BUILD ON (kinda like the AR-15 MSR, the AR stands for ArmaLite Rifle model 15 not Assault Rifle like many would like to believe and MSR stands for Modern Sporting Rifle). What sucks about this platform; is that I have to rebuild is half of the drone as the body is too light and fragile (it is recreated out of a polymer similar to that of firearms and magazines). This is by Parrot’s design as they want this to not last forever (they must sell new versions you know…)

      Other than making the hull still light but flexible and rigid enough it will not break when it is shot out of the nearby airspace is a challenge. There is also the challenge of better power systems, better imaging in low or no light situations – not to mention control, range and speed issues that one would need to resolve. I use these as a base platform, strip and recompile my own OS image on them and then add the modular upgrades I offer to each as requested by the LE agency or PMC. These are much more economical for law enforcement agencies since if you shoot them down, it’s considered no different that shooting at a helicopter or police car and won’t damage much not to mention it’s serviced by me. It is possible to mount certain firearms on here but your payload will be minimal – forget stun guns, tasers are more appropriate with riot control as are 35mm gas cartridges. You can’t do them all and BTW – IF YOU ARE NOT A FFL – Federal Firearms Licensee – who has been licensed to own NFA (see National Firearms Act) items, most of what I am talking about will get you a felony charge for even having ‘constructive possession’ of these items before figuring out how to make them work. KEEP THESE AS A TOY AND YOU WON’T GO TO – AS THEY SAY IN TEXAS AND THE MOVIE ‘OFFICE SPACE’ – ‘Watch out for your cornhole dude’ and don’t get served in a ‘Federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison’ for being a tool.

      I am a defense contractor who works with an organization that makes components for UAV and also cyber defense solutions, besides being in the ‘family business’ of ammo and firearms for three decades. If you think even adding a laser to this is funny, see how the State (Republic) of Texas and the United States chose to make a local resident into an example for having curiosity of causing mayhem with a laser.


  8. Did anyone think about controlling a peripheral (externally mounted) attachments such as cameras or missile launchers :) using the LED commands?
    The color LEDs on the motor controllers are useless anyways, so why won’t we make them to do a useful job?
    As far as I understand from the documentation the LED commands get broadcasted to all of the drone’s serial ports (one at each motor controller (4) plus one at the bottom of the drone). Motor commands are sent to the individual ports (again, as far as I understand), but the LED are broadcasted and can be read from any port including the bottom one, which is very convenient.
    It should be enough just one PICAXE 08M2 IC to read serial input, interpret and output to the peripherals.

    I did not do anything to proof this theory yet, do not have any spare time right now, but planning to start messing with the quad’s serial this spring/summer…

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