Flying Eye Relies on Digi XBee for Drone Connectivity and Parachute Deployment

"We chose Digi because it is simple and reliable and it supports the range that we need for our applications. The XBee is perfect for our needs and is very cost effective – I don’t think there’s anything better."

Alexandre Thomas, co-founder and technical director

From thermal imaging, agricultural spraying, and campus security to video production, property marketing, land surveying, and more, France-based Flying Eye has been one of the emerging industry’s leading designers and manufacturers of high-performance drones. Today, the firm offers a growing portfolio of drones adaptable and suited to a range of applications.

Business Challenge

Around the world, drones of all shapes and sizes from the market-pioneering Flying Eye are filling the skies. They incorporate a wide range of sensors, cameras, batteries, and radio controls, making them an increasingly valuable proposition to a broad cross-section of industries. Today, Flying Eye drones are spraying crops, capturing breathtaking photos and videos of remote locations, and extending the reach and agility of customers around the world.

But, according to Alexandre Thomas, co-founder and technical director of Flying Eye, significant safety issues emerge as these tiny aircraft crisscross overhead, since these vehicles are often flying quite near crowds of people. “A drone must be safe, and designers must have contingencies in place to respond to unplanned events and failures,” he said. “We take a lot of measures to ensure reliability in our aircraft. Our electronics are tested to ensure the drone won’t unexpectedly shut down. We design propellers from durable materials, and we invest in battery technology to keep the drones aloft for longer periods of time.”

Of course, no vehicle is 100-percent foolproof. Technical errors and operator errors can disrupt flights, which is why Flying Eye builds in contingency parachutes and redundant communications into its aircraft. And that’s where Digi XBee® RF modules play a key role.


To ensure higher levels of safety, Flying Eye drones are designed and built with backup parachutes that can be remotely activated in the event of drone failure or flight disruption. “That chemically opened emergency parachute can help us save the drone aircraft,” said Thomas. “But more importantly, it can help protect the people below the drone from a collision.”

For added safety, the operator’s connection to the drone has two separate RF links – one devoted solely to emergency parachute deployment. Flying Eye uses Digi XBee® RF modules to control two separate radio links. XBee modules provide best-in-class wireless connectivity to devices, taking advantage of the XBee® 802.15.4 for point-to-point connectivity, with line-of-sight ranges of up to two miles and data rates of up to 111 Kbps.

The XBee requires no programming and can be configured easily using Digi’s free XCTU software or through a simplified command set. XBee modules are pre-certified for use in multiple countries, further reducing development costs and time to market. Because the wireless software is isolated, applications can be developed without any risk to RF performance, security, or additional certifications.

Flying Eye remote controllers have a dual-channel design. One channel controls all of the drone’s in-flight operations, including navigation, camera, and sensor activation. A second separate channel is built in solely to govern parachute deployment. If any flight anomaly develops, the operator can simply hit a switch on the remote. The Digi XBee sends a signal to the drone, which instantly shuts down operations and chemically deploys the parachute to bring the craft back to the ground with minimal impact.

“This emergency system is helping us sell a lot of drones,” Thomas said. “It makes a difference–especially in France, where this is a legal requirement. But we also have customers in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, and soon in Spain. And we’re able to meet these countries’ regulatory requirements.

“We chose Digi because it is simple and reliable and it supports the range that we need for our applications. The XBee is perfect for our needs and is very cost effective – I don’t think there’s anything better.”

For the UEFA Euro 2016, Europe’s quadrennial football championship, Flying Eye will be in the skies to capture video of numerous cities and stadium sites. That video will be seen around the world on TV before and during matches.

“Thanks to Digi, we are selling lots of drones because of our safety features,” said Thomas. “We’re anticipating continued success and innovation as well.”