In mid-July Propel Star Wars hosted a presentation event for their new line of drones, with a strict information embargo linked to Force Friday and the greenlight to The Last Jedi promo. Expectations were high after their presentation from last year, when three small quadcopters were introduced, shaped as an X-wing, Tie fighter, and Endor Moon speeder bike, so we were excited for this year's event.
Before the event and after checking the Propel website, we were admittedly hoping for First-Person View drone combat, which involves usual drone racing using special goggles to receive video feed from an onboard camera. The FPV experience is totally different from the conventional Line of sight (LoS), and the level of immersion proves addictive. Add some lasers and Star Wars figurines on top of that and you'll have Futurama shut-up-and-take-my-money memes everywhere.
Unfortunately, this was not the case though. Overall, the product presentation and the event were great, but a bit of a letdown in terms of the evolution of this hobby. It felt more like a further step into a broader promotion and distribution effort in Europe of a good existing product (with a few new cool features, like the app simulator) rather than the presentation of a brand new concept.
The drones we were shown at the event were essentially evolved and tweaked versions of those already described on Propel's official website, presented in late 2016. By June 2016 the Millennium Falcon variant was still on the table, but it was discarded in the end.
The collection comprises of three small quadcopters (about 10cm, less than 100g) intended to fly indoors or in your backyard, parks, parking lots, etc. without much wind. All of these are based on the original trilogy, as you can see below:
Claimed Key features:
• Speeds up to 30mph (50km/h). Never mind it was claimed to be 35mph before, you won't notice the difference.
• Multiplayer game with other Propel Star Wars battling drones.
• Push button aerial stunts.
• Multiple speed settings for beginner to advanced pilots.
• Highly detailed, hand painted and numbered.
• Special edition collector's box with light up display case.
• Average run time: 8 min per battery. Two of them included.
• Training mode augmented flight training.
It's important to note, though, that no matter where you live in the world, you shouldn't worry about the legislation to fly them, as to the authorities, they are just toys. Also, each of these drones is expected to retail at just under £200. Two batteries seems like not much at all, though, and are likely to be a bit pricey - if you're really into flying you'd better have around 8-10 of them. Right now, on the spare parts website, a battery is $10 USD, and £16 in the UK (similar off-the-shelf batteries shouldn't cost more than $5). They integrate and fit perfectly into each drone, which also means, for example, that your extra speeder bike battery is useless for your friend using the Tie, unfortunately.
Brussels Docks Dome provided a great environment for Propel to show off, with four dedicated rooms; Technology, App, Q&A, and Battle, all aimed at different aspects of their products. Around 200 people were in attendance, mainly press, a few retailers and YouTubers, so splitting the crowd into four groups was crucial for a closer experience with the product, and also to get in touch with Propel staff. In the end Propel managed to let every one of us try a drone and the simulator at least once, which is still remarkable.
In essence, the underlying intention from Propel was clear: showing how easy their products are to fly, and how anyone without drone background could enjoy the experience. We think they made their point, as most of the people attending didn't have any piloting background and still did well (although most of them did feature certain gaming prowess).
The event started with an excellent one-hour presentation of the product in the main room by Propel CEO Darren Matloff and his Chief Pilot (now that's a job title), with a choreographed battle among Propel pilots as the finale. It was a shame that there was no direct presence from Disney in the event, or any major announcement concerning the film, even if we did see the trailer.
After the dedicated sessions, the most capable competitors in the Battle room continued in a series of classifying rounds up to the final. Unfortunately, we screwed up in the qualifying rounds... we're not great LoS pilots, our battery was low, it was dark and foggy, we lost a contact lens, we took an arrow on my knee, etc., so we stayed as humiliated spectators. The Force wasn't with us for this one.